What Apple Arcade can learn from Xbox Game Pass

Xbox Game Pass
Xbox Game Pass (Image credit: Windows Central)

Out of the gate, there are no other ways to describe Apple Arcade other than a huge success. It launched with a compelling list of unique titles spanning nearly every genre, supports the entire Apple ecosystem as soon as you buy in, and is available at a reasonable price. As Freshman efforts go, this is a fantastic service with a lot of room to grow. But it does need to grow, both in the total number of titles available and the features currently offered through the platform.

To get a better idea of where Apple Arcade is headed, it's probably best to look at the biggest game subscription platform available today - Xbox Game Pass. Here's where I think Apple Arcade can borrow from Microsoft to make this already great platform just a little better.

Better gifting options

You've been able to give someone an iTunes gift card for almost as long as the service has existed, to use as a purchasing gateway for everything on the site. And it's true that if you want to sign up for Apple Arcade you can pay for it with your iTunes balance, making it possible to just add a gift card every once in a while and keep the service going without involving your bank account directly.

The standard iTunes system works, but being able to specifically gift someone Apple Arcade has value. Xbox Game Pass allows you to redeem many kinds of Xbox-related codes and gift cards to apply to your Game Pass credit, effectively making it so you may never need to pay for the service if you've received gifts from friends long enough. Apple Arcade could really benefit from a more targeted system like this, especially with the sheer volume of unique games available on it. Even if it's a largely symbolic gesture, Apple treating Arcade almost like a standalone service has perception benefits that will help its adoption and retention.

Benefits outside of Apple Arcade

The pricing for Apple Arcade is just right. $5/month for unlimited access to a huge game catalog across the entire Apple hardware ecosystem, and that access is shared with everyone in your family group. That's a lot, and when you consider how well used Apple's family system is because of how well it has been around that means it's adoption rate for Arcade is likely to be higher than most other places. As long as you or someone in your family enjoys one great game a month, this service is easily worth it.

But where do you go from here with Apple Arcade? Looking at the Xbox Game Pass Ultimate model, you can get a feel for something a little more in-depth than just access to games. Through Ultimate, there are bonuses to other services. For example, six months of Spotify is included with Ultimate. Now, obviously, Apple isn't likely to offer free access to a competing service when Apple Music is sitting right there, but there are other options.

Twitch Prime, for example, along with a simple way to stream the games you're playing in Arcade to Twitch for everyone to enjoy. Maybe even exclusive access to bonus content surrounding a game, like a soundtrack or developer diary. For multiplayer games, Apple could even arrange times to play with the developers and offer feedback. There are so many options available here without colliding with the ecosystem lock-in Apple has worked so hard to create, and each of them would add value for people enjoying the service.

Show me why I want this game, don't keep it from me

Apple Arcade launched with more than 50 titles, and nearly all of them are exclusive to the platform. Games that had never been on iOS before are in this store and only available if you sign up for Apple Arcade. It's a known fact that exclusives sell services, there's no doubt that's the right way to go out of the gate to get people to really appreciate how much they have to start with. It'll be months before I play even most of the Apple Arcade games that excited me in the launch lineup. But after that early period wears off, I think Apple needs a different approach.

When you go to get a game on the Xbox Store, you see the price of the game if you want to buy it outright and a reminder that this game is included in Game Pass. For Xbox games, this seems like an easier sell. When a brand new $60 game comes out and is available for "free" in a service you already have, that feels great. Being able to do the same thing in Apple Arcade can be a big deal. When you look at a game like Sayonara Wild Hearts, it's impossible to know from the Apple Store listing how much this game would have been without Arcade. The Nintendo Switch version of the same title is $13, which tells me a lot, but most people aren't going to go looking for that kind of thing.

There's value in letting people know how much they're saving by jumping into a service like this, and also letting people who aren't going to choose to sign up for a subscription service still access those titles. There's still room for exclusives, of course, but presentation in that situation has a lot to do with helping users understand the value of what they're signing up for. That's the best part of this whole mental exercise, Apple Arcade is already really good. But it has the potential to be a whole lot better.



Russell Holly

Russell is a tech nerd who chases the best of everything, from phones to game consoles to laptops and everything glowing or beeping. He's the Managing Editor of gaming content for Mobile Nations and can be found contributing to all of the Mobile Nations sites. Reach out on Twitter!