14/04/2021   Louise Shorthouse
Apple Arcade reboots its content strategy to drive uptake

Apple Arcade, Apple’s premium games subscription service which launched in September 2019, recently unveiled its largest expansion to date with the addition of 30 new titles. This adds up to a library of more than 180 games, and nearly triples the size of its launch catalogue.

The service can be accessed for $4.99 a month, or $49.99 annually, with a one-month free trial, and offers offline play of titles free from ads and in-app purchases.

Ad-free casual games a unique proposition; will draw a broader audience

Apple Arcade’s new “Timeless Classics” category includes familiar puzzle titles such as Sudoku (MobilityWare), Backgammon (Adikus) and Tiny Crossword (PlaySimple Games). Typically these games are free-to-play but laden with ads and triggers for in-app purchases. With Apple Arcade, however, supplementary monetisation is removed, meaning users can enjoy these games without interference. On average, Apple device owners spend substantially more on apps and in-app purchases than Android users, and this willingness to spend suggests that premium, quality-of-life upgrades may be well-received.

Mobile app versions of board games have enjoyed substantial growth during the covid-19 pandemic, as families and older people have sought to connect or engage with new entertainment forms in lockdown. Many will continue to enjoy the digital versions on their Apple devices post-pandemic, and the promise of ad-free play will be extremely enticing. Apple will be courting casual gamers with premium tastes and spending capabilities; a niche which has yet to be filled.

New titles’ incompatibility with Mac and Apple TV suggests majority play via smartphone or tablet 

Two new types of Apple Arcade titles were introduced with this content expansion – Timeless Classics and App Store Greats – and games which fall into these categories are only playable on iPhone and iPad. Arcade Originals, on the other hand, can also be played on Mac and Apple TV.

The company originally committed to making Arcade titles playable across all Apple devices, and so dropping this requirement  is likely done to attract publishers to the service and also suggests that optimising the catalogue for multiple systems is no longer worth the resources. Instead, Apple is focusing on maximising its iPhone and iPad offerings, which are clearly the main access points for the vast majority of subscribers. There may also be a development reason for this: older games may need extra work to be optimized for these platforms, but again this supports the idea that Apple feels they are not worth the additional efforts.

Greater content diversity suggests push towards more mainstream appeal

Previously characterised as a curated selection of high-quality indie titles, the expanded Apple Arcade catalogue now includes something for almost everyone. Genres covered now include JRPGs, sports games and sandbox titles, in addition to the new casual roster.

Established favourites from the App Store have also been added, but with a “+” in the title to differentiate it and indicate that it is the Apple Arcade version. The subscription service was originally a place for games that could not be found anywhere else, and the fact that Apple is reaching into its App Store for user favourites underlines its shift in strategy to improve user acquisition.

However, quality-driven indie developers may suffer as a result of this change in tack. Apple may now be less willing to fund these unique titles – which seemingly are not delivering in terms of prolonged user engagement - and the games themselves could be drowned out by the influx of casual and familiar content. Alternatively, the draw of big names could grant these lesser-known developers greater exposure once users begin to explore the service.

Ampere Games Consumer research reveals churn partially driven by constrained content library

Ampere Games’ Q4 2020 consumer research indicates that, across six key Western markets, more than one quarter of churned Apple Arcade users left the service because they did not enjoy the games available. The second most popular reason for churn was that the service was not good value for money, and this also links to an unfulfilling catalogue – one that does not warrant its cost. Numerous users were also lost because they only subscribed to play a specific game, something which was enabled by Arcade’s limited library of high-quality indie titles: variety was lacking.

As such, the addition of a wide array of new content may serve to combat future churn to some degree; as well as attracting new subscribers, existing ones will be better-satisfied. What’s more, almost half (47%) of churned Apple Arcade subscribers in these Western markets are situated within the top two socioeconomic groups. This indicates a greater wealth of disposable income, and suggests that cost is not a substantial barrier – something that is underlined by the small percentage (8%) of consumers who stated they left the service because they could not afford it.

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