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Sizing Up Apple Arcade, the Newest Contender in the Game Subscription Category

Amid the rise of music, movie, and television subscriptions, video games were one of the last holdouts bound to the traditional buying model. Until now.

Tuesday, Apple unveiled new details on its game service Apple Arcade. But as subscriptions become more commonplace in the gaming industry, some might wonder how Apple's service compares. Will the affordable price and unique original content help make it a hit?

How much will it cost?

The mobile-focused Apple Arcade, available on Sept. 19, will work across iPhones, iPads, and Macs, and will cost $4.99 for a family subscription. The price is a fraction of what other companies charge for their game subscription services: PlayStation's PS Now costs $19.99 a month; and Microsoft's Game Pass runs $9.99 for PC or Xbox, or $14.99 for both.

Piers Harding-Rolls, an analyst with IHS Markit, emphasized that Apple Arcade's $4.99 price also allows up to six family members to use the service, making it very consumer friendly. However, its mobile-first focus makes it slightly more akin to Android's Play Pass, which is also expected to cost $5 when it's released.

"Whether [Google] invests like Apple has done in terms of original content though, it's unlikely," Harding-Rolls said.

What games will be included?

Similar to Apple's investment into original TV shows and films for its upcoming Apple+ streaming service, Apple has worked with game studios like Capcom, Konami, and Lego to product games exclusive to its service. Apple Arcade will launch with 100 new games, Ann Thai, the company's app store product lead, announced at the Tuesday event.

"A subscription product with that kind of content has not been done before," Harding-Rolls says.

Who will want to subscribe?

Despite a built-in audience of Apple product owners and an appealing price point, Apple Arcade probably won't appeal to a larger consumer base, Harding-Rolls says.

"I don't see this as a mass market proposition at the moment," he says. "Having looked at the content offered, it fulfills a niche, but I don't think every parent of family will subscribe to this."

Yes, Apple has billions of devices in the hands of people all over the world. But it's important to consider that the ability to play across devices and to share subscriptions with family members already trims down the number of likely subscribers.

But even a small fraction of Apple iPhone, iPad, and Mac owners is still a sizable number, allowing for a possible payoff of Apple's investment.

Apple Arcade could also benefit from its placement within the App Store. Apple Arcade will get its own tab making it highly visible to anyone downloading or searching for a game or app.

"It's interesting, but they're trying to be different, authentic, and independent in their approach," says Harding-Rolls. "It makes the content interesting, but whether all that translates to a mass market audience, I question that."

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