Saturday, August 20, 2022

Subscriptions have made gaming on an iPhone fun again

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Shreya Christina
Shreya has been with for 3 years, writing copy for client websites, blog posts, EDMs and other mediums to engage readers and encourage action. By collaborating with clients, our SEO manager and the wider team, Shreya seeks to understand an audience before creating memorable, persuasive copy.

Once upon a time, my smartphone doubled as my most used gaming platform. It’s hard to believe now, but there was a time when app stores felt like a new frontier and game developers loved experimenting with a little touchscreen rectangle that you always had in your pocket. Then the economy changed. Games slowly got cheaper before finally becoming completely free. New releases had to choose between a declining audience for premium games or saddle their game with in-app purchases. Things got bad. But lately, I’ve been enjoying my phone again — and that’s almost entirely thanks to subscription services.

I recently came to this realization when I switched from Android to an iPhone and started loading my new gadget with games (that’s always the first command of any machine I buy). I started downloading titles from the subscriptions I have — Apple Arcade and Netflix — and before I knew it, I had two dozen games in a folder, ranging from old favorites to games I keep trying. Subscriptions, even on mobile, are not an entirely new phenomenon. Arcade has already been launched in 2019. But they’ve matured so much now that I think this is the best way to game on an iPhone.

Let’s start with Arcade, which is arguably the best deal in gaming that people never seem to talk about. It launched with a huge lineup of games, it went pretty quiet for a while and in 2021 it got a huge boost with the introduction of classic games. There is a good mix between the typical mobile time wasters (at the moment I play a lot sharpening stone, Good Sudokuand Skate City) and bigger experiences like the old-school RPG fantastic or Yu Suzuki’s wonderfully bizarre railshooter air shifter.

Netflix, on the other hand, got off to a much quieter start. There wasn’t much to play when mobile games were first added to the service. But that is slowly changing. I really started to notice it with the release of in the breach, an incredible mech vs. Kaiju strategy game that originally launched on PC in 2018 but came to mobile via Netflix earlier this month. It fits your phone perfectly, and while poking around Netflix’s admittedly limited game library, I found several titles that I really enjoy. These range from the colorful climbing game pointpy (from the creator of the excellent falling game Downwell) to the dungeon crawler / item store simulator Beunhaas to the very fun arcade shooter relic hunters.


I wouldn’t recommend subscribing to Netflix purely for games at this point; the library is way too small and limited. But in addition to the service and as a compliment to Arcade it is great. The games on these services are also completely devoid of the heavy microtransactions that so often plague mobile games these days. (That’s part of what makes them ideal for families.)

That’s not to say these are the only options for gaming on a phone — far from it. I also play various games without subscription, such as keywords, Pikmin Bloom, Super Mario Runand the recently launched prequel to Octopath Traveler. I hovered my finger over the download button for Genshin impact, afraid of what will happen to my free time if I tap. But most of the games I play now, and the games I want to play in the future, come from these two subscription services.

Now I have no idea what the future holds. Subscriptions are still a relatively modern game phenomenon, and it’s unclear how they will affect the economy for developers in the coming years. We’re already seeing games leave Arcade as the service changes tactics to focus more on engagement. And since neither Apple nor Netflix are primarily gaming companies, there’s always a chance that at some point they’ll decide to switch gears and focus on their core products. Also: Given the plethora of subscription services for just about everything, I’m sure most people aren’t looking for a few more extras.

But for now, and for the foreseeable future, things are looking good. Arcade has added new titles of varying quality every week and Netflix has announced releases from the makers of Monument Valley and Alto’s adventure. Just today I installed a storytelling adventure from Netflix that you control by blinking. We’re not quite back to the glory days of early iPhone gaming, but we’re getting pretty close – while it lasts.

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