Apple Arcade is a no-brainer investment for devoted iPhone gamers; for five dollars a month, you get a wealth of top tier, original mobile titles. But if you’re not already actively invested in mobile gaming today, Apple Arcade may not be the service that makes you a believer. As an already devoted console gamer, the service didn’t provide enough to keep me paying.
That caveat shouldn’t distract from the quality of games offered here. Given the usual knocks against mobile as a gaming platform — lack of genre variety, monetization in the form of annoying microtransactions — Apple had an uphill climb. But as a credit to the high bar Apple has set, I found many quality titles within a few hours of play.
One of these features that snuck out months ago that I had no idea that existed. As developer Jon Hollin explains, with a simple change in the viewport meta tag you’re able to auto hide the top and bottom nav bars as the page loads.
Emanuel Maiberg over at Kill Screen talks to Ubisoft about their commitment to “companion apps” for smart devices on their big AAA games like Assassin’s Creed 4. I came into the whole concept pretty skeptical, but admittedly seeing a full, real time AC4 map on my iPad as I’m gaming on the PS4 is pretty cool. Far from revolutionary, but it’s a nice touch. Looks like Ubisoft is in it for the long haul:
In fact, Early said Ubisoft’s so committed to the companion app concept that any game being pitched today within the company has to describe its companion app before it’s greenlit.
I put a lot of stock in work by the Filament group with their past work on the Picturefill polyfill; this small extension they recently created looks especially cool. It’s basically a super quick, jQuery based method to kill off the annoying delay you get by default when tapping links on a mobile device. Faster interactions make for a better user experience.
There’s been a lot of debate on the iOS 7 visuals, especially among designers. I myself fall a bit in the middle – there’s some icons I can’t stand, but largely I’m trying my best to reserve judgement until I actually get a stable beta build on my phone. But designer Khoi Vinh correctly identifies one major problem I have with iOS: the typography. Helvetica Neue Ultra Light was never meant to be used this across the board, especially at such small sizes.
iOS developer Dave Addey:
Apple’s iOS hardware business model – currently its largest revenue stream – is based on making a large margin from a premium hardware product. Their trick is hiding this fact from customers, and selling the iPhone and iPad not on their hardware specification, but on what you can do with them. And that, in every Apple advert, is all about the apps…
…This business model means that it is in Apple’s interest for the hardware to be as expensive as possible, and for the apps to be as cheap as possible.
True, and Dave has a lot of smart suggestions. But I don’t expect Apple to offer much of anything in terms of change, especially when iOS is still the considered the premier platform for third party developers. The numbers of the tech savvy begging for paid upgrades and trial periods are dwarfed by those that rarely make big purchases on the App Store.
Designer Khoi Vinh:
This inverse relationship between active user input and automated output is wonderfully consistent with how real people use mobile software. Unlike desktops, mobile devices are more often than not complements to other, real world activities, where ‘computing’ is not the main activity. Phones and tablets are used in situ, and so their software cannot afford to demand high levels of input effort.
EA’s mobile driving game Real Racing 3 has gotten a lot of flak since its debut last week. The primary controversy surrounds the game’s free to play model that leverages artificial timers to generate revenue. Repair or upgrade a car and it’s unavailable to play for a set amount of time, anywhere from 5 to 25 minutes (in rare cases, far longer). Of course by spending real money you can end a timer early, and EA clearly hopes you will. Many tech and gaming journalists on my Twitter feed have called the practice “abominable” and refuse to play. Others have taken the exact opposite stance: it’s a free game on your phone, relax and wait a few minutes! I disagree with a one sided position on RR3; the right answer for me lies somewhere in the middle.
One aspect RR3‘s critics get decidedly wrong is the impact timers have on gameplay. Many make the mistake of judging RR3 from the perspective of a traditional console or PC game, not a mobile title. Console and PC games tend to be played in longer sessions of at least an hour; in that context a twenty minute repair timer would be catastrophic. In contrast, mobile games are usually played for far shorter intervals, which minimizes the impact of RR3’s timers. Furthermore, early on in the game (in my case, with less than an hour of gameplay) you start acquiring multiple cars. By just shuffling between cars that are not in repair, you can nullify a timer’s effect. Already I’m at four cars and timers are effectively a non issue.
The real problem with RR3‘s economic model is less about actual gameplay than principle. Traditional games charge for extra content, not to pay off an arbitrary delay timer. Normally games give you the full package for a set price, while the equivalent with RR3 (to unlock all tracks and cars) costs hundreds of hours or dollars. Overall RR3‘s timers are, as Alex Navarro over at Giant Bomb wrote, just plain invasive. It’s applying a Zenga or Farmville like min-max model on what should be a fun racing game.
While RR3 is a mobile game, it’s also an AAA game on all levels: polished graphics, depth, varied gameplay and a big budget. I want to hold the game to a similar standard as a full console title and expect a more traditional pricing model, or at least free to play with real enhancements, not repair timers.
But that didn’t happen, and the larger root problem here wasn’t EA or RR3. Instead we should direct more blame to the mobile app store market as a whole. Over the last few years, a race to the bottom price mentality has eliminated almost any iOS or Android game that’s more than $3, and the app store supervisors, most notably Apple, haven’t done a thing to slow or stop it. EA knows $1 or $2 purchases en masse couldn’t come close to matching their high budget; free to play was the only viable option. Even the “traditional” free to play (e.g. paying money for more cars and tracks) that we’re use to on mobile wouldn’t cut it. Only invasive timers, in EA’s mind, ensures profitability. In short, timers may be wrong on principle, but given the mobile app store climate, they are likely a sound economical bet for EA.
Overall RR3‘s strange free to play model is a clear signal that gaming is in a tricky, experimental and indeterminate state. Yet as gamers we can vote with our dollars. We should support games financially that are fun and worth the investment, from assorted free to play or cheap iOS diversions to $60 console games and everything in between. I’m conflicted over RR3, a solid game with a sketchy business model; I’ll continue to play but I’ll minimize how much I spend on it.
Every few episodes the Iterate podcast team add an extended roundtable discussion to the mix with generally great results. No exception here: host Rene Ritchie gathers a mix of mobile app developers to predict where the iOS and Android app economy will shift in the long run.
Startup founder Vibhu Norby:
All in all, mobile service apps turn out to be a horrible place to close viral loops and win at the retention game. Only a handful of apps have succeeded mobile-first: Instagram, Tango, Shazam, maybe 2 or 3 others…
…You have an entirely different onboarding story on the web. You can test easily, cheaply, and fast enough to make a difference on the web. You can fix a critical bug that crashes your app on load 15 minutes after discovery (See Circa). You can show 10 different landing pages and decide in real-time which one is working the best for a particular user. You can also close a viral loop: A user can click an email and immediately be using your app with you.