Why Apple Arcade Falls Short of its Promised Cross-Platform Experience

Despite the growing clamor from the media and parts of the public for Apple to merge its iOS and MacOS platforms, the tech giant remains firm in its stance against amalgamation. It might seem like a peculiar move, but Apple is inadvertently illustrating the potential disaster that could arise from such a merger through its own product: Apple Arcade.

Apple Arcade serves as a showcase for the inherent problems of blending two distinct operating systems into a mishmash where nobody triumphs. Because developers are required to create games that function on both the smallest iPhone and the largest iMac, they are forced to make compromises that weaken the gaming experience on both platforms.

Let’s be clear, Apple Arcade does have a plethora of outstanding games. However, my concern lies with the platform’s functionality and its attempt to cater to every possible audience. If Apple wants to make a smart move, it should take its own advice and address this issue.

The Mac Misses Out

Apple Arcade games appearing on a MacBook, iPad, and iPhone.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Recently, I delved into Fantasian on Apple Arcade, a Japanese role-playing game (JRPG) developed by Hironobu Sakaguchi, the visionary behind the acclaimed Final Fantasy series. Given his impressive track record, I had high expectations for his latest creation. However, I found that Apple Arcade held it back.

Upon launching Fantasian for the first time, its standout feature becomes apparent: its world spaces take the form of beautifully handcrafted dioramas, with digitally superimposed characters and non-player characters (NPCs). On an iPhone, these visuals are truly captivating, and they still retain some allure on a Mac—until you take a closer look and notice the slight blurriness and low resolution. It appears that the developers optimized the textures for a smaller screen, leaving Mac users in the cold.

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Furthermore, the controls pose another challenge. Most Mac games provide players with a standard set of hotkeys: M for maps, J for journals, I for inventory, and so on. While these inputs may vary, the point is that players typically have numerous quick shortcuts at their disposal. In the case of Fantasian, players are limited to only two: C opens the menu, and S activates a designated shortcut. There are no accommodations for gamers equipped with a keyboard and mouse; only the limited options available to iOS players.

Once players access the menu, they’ll notice that every button is oversized, designed with chubby fingers in mind rather than precise mouse pointers. It’s evident that Fantasian was primarily tailored for a specific audience.

However, I don’t place the blame solely on the developers. They had to make difficult choices because games on Apple Arcade cannot have different versions for different platforms. Consequently, Mac players not only miss out on vital optimizations but also receive a game version that doesn’t look quite right on their computers. Ultimately, Apple shoulders the responsibility for this disappointment.

More Than Just Visuals

A gameplay scene from Divinity: Original Sin 2.
Divinity: Original Sin 2 Image used with permission by copyright holder

The issues with games on Apple Arcade extend beyond visual fidelity. Gamers on MacOS and iOS have different expectations—Mac users often prefer longer gaming sessions, while iOS users gravitate toward shorter bursts of play. This means that the gameplay and the types of games differ across platforms.

However, Apple Arcade fails to accommodate these distinctions. Gaming experiences must be standardized across devices, whether it’s an iPhone, iPad, Apple TV, or Mac. Once again, Fantasian highlights the fallacy of this approach.

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The combat in Fantasian is astonishingly simplistic: hit, get hit back, repeat ad infinitum. Compare that to revered RPGs like Divinity: Original Sin 2, where combat is deep, layered, and highly strategic. Divinity is available on both Mac and iPad, benefitting from larger screens that allow for more buttons and complex gameplay. However, it is noticeably absent on the iPhone. This demonstrates that cross-platform games can indeed succeed, but only if they consider the unique requirements of each device they run on. Unfortunately, Apple Arcade disregards all of these considerations.

Bad for Developers, Bad for Gamers

Fantasian being played in Apple Arcade on a Mac Mini.
Fantasian for Mac Image used with permission by copyright holder

There’s no denying that Apple Arcade presents numerous opportunities for developers and gamers alike. Developers can showcase their creations to gamers across various Apple platforms, while gamers gain access to an ever-expanding library of games that can be played anywhere.

However, in reaching this stage, too many compromises have been made in terms of visuals, gameplay, and performance. When games need to run smoothly on vastly different devices, developers are forced to target the lowest common denominator, resulting in a compromised experience for everyone.

This is precisely what Apple has warned against when rejecting calls to merge iOS and MacOS. The hybrid that would ensue could be overly compromised, devoid of the unique features that make each system exceptional. Yet, ironically, this is exactly what we witness with Apple Arcade.

Apple wants us to view its devices as genuine gaming platforms, but it needs to concentrate its efforts more effectively, particularly on the Mac. Fantasian serves as just one example, but every Apple Arcade game faces the same restrictions and obstacles. As a Mac gamer, I reluctantly suggest that it might be time to exclude the Mac from the Apple Arcade equation. Such a move could lead to a better outcome for everyone involved.

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OnSpec Electronic, Inc.

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