If you like playing video games, you, up until fairly recently, had two choices of how to play them at home, a console or a PC. If you play them on console, then, basically, you can just stick in the game and it will work. But the downsides are that it will only work on that specific console model, so good luck being able to play that game in a decade; that the console manufacturer keeps very tight control over what games are even allowed on the console; and that the manufacturers only put out new console models every five years or so, so the hardware gets obsolete very quickly. Whereas, on a PC, all this is flipped: it’s up to you to find the magic incantation to get a game working on your specific machine (and even to keep the machine running at a basic level without viruses and what not), but Microsoft and fan communities do try pretty hard to make it possible to keep on playing your favorite games indefinitely, anybody can publish whatever game they want on a PC, and there’s an extremely competitive hardware market constantly making the machines better and driving down the price of the former bleeding edge.

Some of the details of what I’ve said above have actually improved over the last decade, but still, the broad picture holds. Or at least it holds for those two business models, but a third model is available, namely the smartphone ecosystem. And smartphones do a pretty good job of taking the benefits of both consoles and PCs: smartphone games are easy to install and get running, it’s closer to the PC side in terms of the ease of publishing games, and the hardware capabilities are actually growing at a faster rate than on a PC. (Though it’s much less clear to me what the longevity of smartphone games looks like: I don’t see why you shouldn’t be able to play a smartphone game on your new phone 15 years after you originally bought it, but in practice it’s not clear that it’s working out that way.)

In other words, yay for smartphones. (And for tablets, everything about phones applies to tablets as well.) The problem is that while what I wrote above is true enough from a capabilities point of view, the actual games on smartphones mostly aren’t what I want, for two reasons. One is the input model: these are devices that are natively controlled exclusively by touch, which just does not work well for the majority of games that I’ve historically enjoyed. And the other is the business model: app store prices quickly raced to zero, at which point companies switched to free to play plus microtransactions, which again is a very bad fit for most of the genres of games that I enjoy, and which also led to abusive practices by game developers. Maybe there’s a third issue, too, which is that there are a lot more phones than tablets in the world, and phone screens are quite small.

So: not at all what I wanted. Or at least mostly not what I wanted: the iPad is, in my view, the best platform for puzzle games and for card-based games. (I just wish companies would publish their roguelike deck builders on the iPad! It’s certainly my favorite platform for Slay the Spire.) And I do have some puzzle games that I spend a lot of time playing on my phone and tablet, possibly more time than I spend playing games on consoles! But it’s still the case that most games I play and am interested in playing are games that I play on consoles.


When Apple released the first version of Apple TV that supported apps, I felt like ingredients were there to solve those problems. It plugs into your TV just like a console does, and while it doesn’t come with a game controller, Apple did at least talk about using game controllers with the Apple TV starting pretty early on. Yes, the Apple TV came with an underpowered GPU, but Apple had already shown that their CPUs were improving incredibly quickly, so if they could do the same thing to GPUs and if they would just release a new Apple TV every year (or maybe every two years) with a new system on a chip, then the Apple TV would catch up to consoles within three or five years, and be better than traditional consoles in pretty much every aspect not very many years after that.

There weren’t a lot of game publishers supporting the Apple TV, though, and I heard a lot of bad things about the remote that came with the system, so I held off on buying one. And, as it went on, it seemed like Apple wasn’t actually interested in directly building the Apple TV up to being a game console competitor.

But then Apple announced Apple Arcade. Which, at the very least, was an attack on some of the downsides of the traditional smartphone business model, since microtransactions aren’t a thing in Apple Arcade. And all the games on the service are supposed to work on all of Apple’s platforms, so maybe it will start making the Apple TV more of a viable game platform? Or maybe not, because it’ll require games to work with touch controls because games on the service also have to work on touch-first platforms.


So I figured I’d give Apple Arcade a try. I still didn’t have an Apple TV, and I still didn’t want to get one (among other things because Apple wasn’t updating it like they were their other devices, so it was getting even more underpowered), but I could at least try things out on the iPad, and I could connect up a game controller to the iPad for games that would work better with one. And it looked like Apple was working with good developers; mostly good developers in the smartphone space, but still, I was happy to see those names.

And, well, it was okay? Some pleasant enough puzzle stuff, some other light narrative games that I enjoyed. To my surprise, most of the games worked well on my iPad Air 2, even though that machine was from 2014; that was a really good machine! But not all did, so I had an excuse that I’d been looking for anyways to upgrade my iPad.

I did end up getting a game controller, to play Sayonara Wild Heards, though that ended up being a bit of a warning sign: when I connected a controller to my iPad, the audio through my AirPods started getting interrupted constantly. Which you would think would be a pretty standard setup; either I’ve got some bad hardware somewhere, or Apple didn’t care enough about that combo to test and fix it. And that latter hypothesis would mean that Apple doesn’t actually care about game controllers, since they certainly care about AirPods.


A couple of times a year, I’d try out another batch of Apple Arcade games, and I’d have the same feeling: these games are fine, I’m not unhappy playing them, but I could come up with a hundred other games that I’d get as much out of and a couple dozen games that I’m more interested in playing than anything in the service.

And then Apple did release a new Apple TV model (without the apparently awful remote), so I figured I’d get one; it was time to upgrade our video streaming box anyways, and if I can try out games, so much the better. I’d been thinking I wanted to try The Pathless, so I gave that a shot.

And, again, it was okay? Pleasant enough to have played, but not great. But also it was specifically bad on the Apple TV: slightly little janky at the start, though that got better, but then when I got to the third or fourth boss fight, the framerate was like fighting a slideshow.

So, basically, Apple and the Apple Arcade developers don’t prioritize having their games run at all acceptably on one of the potential hardware pillars for the service. I mean, maybe that’s a bit strong, it’s a sample size of one game, but right now it looks to me like at least some of the potential console benefits aren’t there for the service: even on a service with a limited number of hand-selected games, there’s still either too little oversight or too many hardware variants for me to be confident that games work well across those hardware variants.


In retrospect, this is all completely unsurprising. Apple is an unusually consistent company: they have the same priorities year after year, and for things that aren’t their priorities, they might make noise about them every so often but they don’t put in the effort to make them consistently work.

And games are something that isn’t a priority for Apple. For example, they used to periodically make noise about improving gaming for the Mac, but nothing every came out of it. (They did regularly showcase games in product announcements, but those all felt like those were because Apple wanted a tech demo rather than because Apple institutionally cared about games.)

In multiple ways, Apple isn’t the company I would like it to be; I should accept that instead of getting sucked into spending time either leaning into wishful thinking and pretending that isn’t the case or getting frustrated by the fact that that isn’t the case.


Anyways, I’ve unsubscribed from Apple Arcade. Though I did think about that for a bit; Apple Arcade isn’t what I would most like it to be, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t value in what Apple Arcade actually is. Looking at the games on the service, though, Patterned is the only game that I’ll miss, and I won’t miss it five bucks a month.

Which leads to two other points. One is that, while I do like all-you-can-eat services, I have a strong preference for ones that are making stuff available that I can also buy individually (either from the service owner or from other sources); boo Apple Arcade, boo Netflix.

And the other is that Apple Arcade actually does a good job with games that play to the strengths of the iPhone / iPad; a few months back, they added versions of a lot of older games to their back catalog, and whoever was in charge of that had very good taste. So, if you didn’t already have those games, that selection of games probably would provide enough value to be worth the $5/month that Apple Arcade costs! But I’d already bought copies of most of those games, so it didn’t make a difference for me personally.

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