Apple Arcade wants to become the Xbox and PlayStation of mobile gaming

Apple's come up with a new way to play video games on our phones. But at what price?

Ian Sherr Former Editor at Large / News
Ian Sherr (he/him/his) grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, so he's always had a connection to the tech world. At CNET, he wrote about Apple, Microsoft, VR, video games and internet troubles. Aside from writing, he tinkers with tech at home, is a longtime fencer -- the kind with swords -- and began woodworking during the pandemic.
Ian Sherr
3 min read
Technology Illustrations

Apple's hoping to upend the gaming industry.

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Apple's iPhone is already home to some of the most popular games ever. It's got puzzlers like Candy Crush Saga and Words With Friends, the battle game Cash of Clans, and even the cultural phenom Fortnite .

Now Apple is hoping to level up those games with Apple Arcade, a new service, announced Monday, that's set to go live in the fall. Pricing hasn't been announced.

Apple Arcade is designed to give people access to mobile, desktop and Apple TV games. It features a collection of more than 100 games -- from independent game designers as well as gaming legends like Sim City creator Will Wright and Final Fantasy creator Hironobu Sakaguchi -- that will be exclusive to Apple Arcade. And the games will work in 150 countries, even without an internet connection.

"We're not just curating, we're backing their development," Ann Thai, a senior product manager for the App Store, said during an event at the company's California headquarters. That means Apple will help fund the creation of new games that will then be exclusive to Apple Arcade. "You won't find these games on any other mobile platform or any other subscription service."

Watch this: Apple reveals Apple Arcade, a new subscription gaming service

Apple is doing more than just trying to get us to spend more time on our iPhones and iPads. It's also a play to win over big-name game makers, who've largely focused their efforts on the Microsoft's Xbox One, Sony's PlayStation 4, Nintendo's Switch and the PC. Game makers have made intricate and visually stunning games for those other platforms, including the cowboy epic Red Dead Redemption 2 and the mythic brawler God of War.

With Apple Arcade, the company is focused on mobile games, but it's clearly aiming higher. To get there, Apple's promising a more player-friendly experience along the way. In addition to promising to help fund game development, the company also said it won't include apps that charge for extra attempts at puzzles, power-ups and different looks for characters. Instead, Apple Arcade games will have all the goodies paid for with your subscription.

"We want to make gaming even better," said Apple CEO Tim Cook.

Arcade was just one of the news services unveiled Monday. Cook also announced Apple News Plus, a $9.99 per month ($12.99 in Canada) subscription service that delivers access to about 300 magazines and other news publications. Apple TV Channels, a bundling service, and Apple TV Plus, a series of exclusive original shows from high-profile directors and talent including Steven Spielberg, J.J. Abrams and Oprah Winfrey.

Each of those services has its own mix of competitors, including Netflix, Hulu , Disney and CBS (which owns CNET). With video games, Apple takes on an even larger group of rivals.


One of the titles Apple's touting in its new Apple Arcade service is a puzzle game called Where Cards Fall, by popular game developer Snowman.


Leveling up

Microsoft, Sony, Nintendo and game download store Valve have dominated the video game world for decades. But Apple sees a chance to change that -- and it's not the only one.

Last week, Google took the wraps off Stadia, a new service that will allow people to play games streamed to their computers, TVs, mobile devices and underpowered laptops, similar to the way Netflix streams TV shows and movies. There's no word on pricing for Stadia yet.

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Google's Stadia will offer more traditional games, like Ubisoft's popular Assassin's Creed adventure series.

James Martin/CNET

"Our ambition is far beyond a single game," said Phil Harrison, Google's Stadia head, when he announced the service. Instead, the company sees the opportunity to give players "instant access" to a game by clicking a link. "The power of instant access is magical, and it's already transformed the music and movie industries."

For Apple, the promise isn't to upend the traditional video game market so much as to offer a different take on the more than 300,000 games already in its app store. It's promising premium game experiences by removing the specter of charging for extras in a game. And, like the company's other TV, music and news, services Apple promised it won't sell or share user's data.

The question will be whether Apple's approach can attract award-winning series like Microsoft's sci-fi saga Halo, Sony's zombie adventure The Last of Us or Nintendo's iconic Mario.

"Apple's not known for making its own content," said Joost van Dreunen, head of Nielsen's SuperData Research. Apple's got the right message focusing on privacy and making games easily accessible across a family's suite of iPhones, iPads, TVs  and Macs, he said. But, whatever the company ends up charging, "they better have some cool stuff too."

"They're coming at this correctly," van Dreunen added. "I just have questions about how ambitious they're going to be."