Apple Arcade’s new secret sauce
This week in Protocol Gaming, your weekly guide to the business of video games: Apple Arcade introduces a back catalog, Ubisoft has a new head of HR and how hands might evolve for gaming controllers (yikes).
(Was this email forwarded to you? Subscribe here.)
The Big Story
What Apple Arcade learned from Netflix
When you don't know what to watch, there's always "The Office." Or "Friends." Or any of those other shows and movies you've watched so often that turning them on feels like checking in with old friends more than it does watching TV. Apple Arcade may have just found a way to replicate that success in the game-subscription world.
There have been two routes to on-demand streaming success so far: The services have either been cheap, or packed with decades of content that viewers can fall back on if the new shows aren't to their liking.
- So far, Apple TV+ has primarily leaned on its price; it costs $4.99, whereas many other subscription services start at around $9.99.
- Although its shows have started winning critical acclaim — "Ted Lasso" alone is worth the price of admission — there isn't really enough content to satisfy streaming-hungry customers, such as what's on offer from other plus-size services like Disney+, Discovery+ or Paramount+. You could watch "The Simpsons" for nearly 15 days straight on Disney+, or "Diners, Drive-ins and Dives" for a fortnight on Discovery+. Apple TV+ has no back catalog to fill the gaps.
Now, Apple Arcade is going down one of those paths, too: Apple recently added a slew of new games to its Arcade subscription service, including remastered mobile-gaming classics like Monument Valley, Threes, Fruit Ninja and Cut the Rope, and popular titles such as NBA 2K.
- The subscription now also includes time-passing games, including solitaire, sudoku and checkers.
- Rather than fun new games from indie developers, it's these types of games that are likely going to get casual gamers to take a chance on Arcade. (Just to make sure this statement was accurate, I downloaded Cut the Rope to see how the game had changed in the decade since I'd played it, and somehow an hour disappeared.)
Perhaps this isn't too surprising: Last summer, Apple canceled some games that were in the works for Arcade, with reports citing that the company wanted games with a higher level of "engagement."
- From a mobile gaming perspective, these new games seem likely to give Apple that stickiness.
- And perhaps down the line, the partnerships it's made at companies like Take-Two Interactive (owner of the 2K franchise) could mean bringing full-fledged versions of games like NBA 2K to Apple devices that are powerful enough to run them.
Apple has sown the seeds to make Arcade a long-term proposition for customers, but considering the company's recent push to unify all its subscription services into one offering, it's going to have to make all the services available in Apple One more valuable if it wants to see growth in that business. A third season of "Ted Lasso" and a few extra Fitness+ classes alone aren't going to be enough to convince people to spend $30 per month. Each of these offerings need its own Cut the Rope, its own "Office." What else does Apple have up its sleeve?
— Mike Murphy
- "These objective, factual and verifiable elements, confirmed by the competent judicial or administrative institutions, show indisputably that the allegations contained in these articles were untrue and likely to damage the studio's honor and reputation. Quantic Dream has chosen to make these elements public today in order to set the record straight." —Quantic Dream won an appeal that overturned a 2018 court case in which a former employee alleged being targeted by inappropriate Photoshopped images.
- "The gaming industry must stop dehumanizing Muslims. Video games like Six Days in Fallujah only serve to glorify violence that took the lives of hundreds of Iraqi civilians, justify the Iraq War, and reinforce anti-Muslim sentiment at a time when anti-Muslim bigotry continues to threaten human life." —The Council on American-Islamic Relations is asking Sony, Microsoft and Valve to stop distribution or hosting of first-person shooter Six Days in Fallujah, which was first announced in 2009 and faced backlash.
A MESSAGE FROM SLACK
Business leaders who understand that success rests on superior customer experience are always seeking better ways to unite their teams in order to best serve the customer. That means weaving support and service teams throughout the entire organization rather than pushing customer care into its own silo.
- GameStop is on the hunt for a new CEO. Sources told Reuters that the board is looking for people in the gaming and ecommerce industries, which makes sense as the company pivots away from brick-and-mortar.
- There's some turmoil at Sony's game studios as the company's focus on exclusive blockbuster games — at the expense of niche studios — has led to staff churn.
- Chinese video-streaming platform Bilibili is in talks to take a 24% stake in Yoozoo Games worth around $475 million, according to Reuters. Yoozoo is the developer behind Game of Thrones: Winter is Coming and has exclusive rights to the Chinese bestseller "The Three-Body Problem."
- Tencent is investing $1 billion in an esports arena in China, a huge bet that esports will overtake the NBA in terms of revenue. And according to Newzoo, global esports revenue will grow 15% to $1.1 billion in 2021 alone.
- Epic is trying to secure market share from Steam, but at a hefty price. By offering exclusive titles and free games in its Epic Games Store, the company is on track to lose $330 million.
- Anika Grant is joining Ubisoft as chief people officer, replacing the previous head of HR, Cécile Cornet, who was among several leaders who left the company amid workplace harassment scandals at several studios. Prior to Ubisoft, she held HR roles at Dyson and Uber.
- Atari is splitting into separate blockchain and gaming divisions. Atari Gaming will focus on retro titles, including releasing new versions of old games; Atari Blockchain will create Atari-specific cryptocurrency, as well as exploring blockchain gaming and — you guessed it — NFTs.
- Valve says that it will offer support for UTM codes on Steam. This will allow developers to track the success of their marketing campaigns.
- There have been plenty of funding announcements. Play Ventures has raised $135 million to fund early-stage developers and startup gaming services. It's invested in more than 20 game startups all over the world in the past couple years. Data-tracking company Grid Esports has raised $10 million; Alinea Capital, Bumble Ventures and Steelers player JuJu Smith-Schuster are among the backers. And London-based mobile game studio TripleDot has raised $78 million. It has an active user base of 11 million players, and is profitable, boasting a $100 million ARR.
- The Esports Integrity Commission and the FBI are investigating a "relatively small but significant group of players" involved in a match-fixing scheme in Counter-Strike: Global Offensive in North America. In January, 35 Australian players were banned for betting in their own matches, which goes against the ESIC's betting rules.
Look out for
Every few years, researchers release a sketch of what our hands (or bodies, or faces, or posture) might look like if they evolved for gaming. Last year it was this guy, sporting pale skin, hunched shoulders and dark circles under his eyes. And this year we get this monstrosity: the longest pointer and middle fingers you've ever seen, and a giant, muscular thumb. Not to be gross, but maybe having hands like this might not be all that bad? Typing would be a chore, but being able to pick up things off the floor without really needing to bend down would be kind of cool. Especially with all our new bad-posture back problems.
— Karyne Levy
Thanks for reading. Tell your friends and colleagues to subscribe here, and send tips, feedback and ideas to email@example.com. See you next week.