Apple Arcade and the conversation around game curation

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You see this? EXPERT CURATION.

A week after Google entered the ring into the gaming industry with Stadia, Apple announced its own service, Apple Arcade. While these two tech giants are now competing in the gaming space, their approaches couldn’t be more different. While Google Stadia is a game streaming platform, Apple Arcade is taking a similar approach to Xbox Game Pass. It has its own dedicated tab on the App Store that users pay a subscription fee to play games through. The rise of smartphones took mobile gaming to new audiences and new heights, and Apple Arcade wants to continue that by trying to be “Netflix of gaming”. There are also some interesting features with the service, including the fact there will be no advertisements or games that feature additional in game purchases. Apple also mentioned on its website that curation will play a big part in Arcade, stating:

Apple Arcade games will redefine games and be curated based on originality, quality, creativity, fun and their appeal to players of all ages. Apple Arcade will give customers the freedom to try any game from its handpicked collection of titles that are all-you-can-play, have no ads, ad tracking or additional purchases, and respect user privacy.

This focus on curation is especially important in the games industry, as players are constantly bombarded with more content every day, more than ever. According to a 2016 Gamasutra article, over 500 games were submitted to the iOS App Store every single day, and the number is most likely bigger now. However, with this staggering amount of content comes the need for tighter curation, something that the video games industry isn’t all that great at.

Valve’s PC game service, Steam is a prime example of poor curation. Steam previously had a program called Steam Greenlight, where developers would pay a one time $100 fee and be able to publish as many titles as they want. However, the community would have to vote on certain titles and then when enough votes were received, Valve would work with the developer to list the game on Steam. Seems like a good idea right? Well, as the platform grew, more and more games were “greenlit”. As a result, it was hard to distinguish between what was a good, quality game, and one that was poor, obvious cash grab. Valve later replaced Steam Greenlight with Steam Direct. This time around, developers would pay $100 for every game submitted and Valve would check the credentials of the developer, skipping the community voting process entirely. Valve clearly did not do a good job of properly vetting, as Steam Direct approved over twice as many games as Steam Greenlight did. The problem with this approach is that it essentially lets the developer pay its way on to the Steam storefront, regardless of the game’s actual quality. It was hard enough for honest indie developers to highlight their games on the front page of the store, but now with more and more competition, there’s even more trash on the front page where a genuinely good game could have had a spot on.

Valve also came under fire during two incidents where there was a game about mass shootings called “Active Shooter”, and a game called “Rape Day”, where players “verbally harass, kill, and rape women as you choose to progress the story”. Yes, it’s just as bad as it sounds. Eventually, Valve did pull both games from Steam, but only after immense backlash from the gaming community. Steam’s hands off approach to game curation really didn’t help here, as Valve shouldn’t be giving these types of games any sort of platform.

In a more lighthearted example, the Nintendo Switch also experienced the issue with curation. The Switch’s eShop has become a hot spot for indie developers to bring to, as some games on the Switch outsold their PlayStation versions at a four to one ratio. However, as the indie scene on the eShop became more saturated, curation also became an issue. Susumu Tanaka, Chief Director of Operations at Nintendo, even said during a shareholder meeting back in 2018:

“Some of the indie games already released have gone on to become million sellers worldwide. In the future, we are looking to release around 20 to 30 indie games on Nintendo Switch per week, and we definitely expect to see some great games among them.”

As discussed in a previous article of mine, Nintendo’s online infrastructure isn’t the best, and that extends to its digital eShop. It has gotten better, but it’s still just a front screen dump of random games in vague categories like Featured, and Great Deals. No wonder that curation and discoverability is an issue on the eShop.

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Games dominate the app space (Via Statistica.com)

So where does this leave Apple? It had already announced that Arcade will be curated by its “team” of expert editors. Games outnumber every single other category of apps on the App Store, and it’s increasing every day. Remarkable curation will be needed to make Apple Arcade a viable subscription service in the gaming industry. If users can’t find quality games or ones that they like among the vast ocean of titles, then they’ll turn away. It’ll be very interesting to see how Apple tackles curation compared to its more established “gaming” peers such as Valve and Nintendo.

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Writes and talks about video games in his spare time when he’s not playing video games in his spare time!

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