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Apple's Arcade shifts, Steam's cookies & more 2

We look at an interesting widening of Apple Arcade’s subscription service, Steam's new European cookie rules, and lots more.

[The GameDiscoverCo game discovery newsletter is written by ‘how people find your game’ expert & GameDiscoverCo founder Simon Carless, and is a regular look at how people discover and buy video games in the 2020s.]

Welcome back, my friends.  It’s Easter Monday in Europe, which is pretty much a holiday. But the U.S. isn’t so jazzed about giving everyone time off. So my boss (me!) is telling his report (also me!) that it’d be great to send out a GameDiscoverCo newsletter, anyhow. (You can read it on Tuesday if you’re off today.)

Which is lucky, because we have a fair amount of things to get through, starting with an interesting widening of Apple Arcade’s subscription service:

Apple Arcade - not just for exclusives anymore!

On Friday, Apple stealth-announced a large expansion to Apple Arcade, expanding the service by over 30 games, and for the first time diverting from the ‘must run on all Apple devices’ plan. Specifically, there are now three types of Apple Arcade titles: “Arcade Originals are playable across iPhone, iPad, Mac, and Apple TV. Timeless Classics and App Store Greats are available on iPhone and iPad.” Killercow has a super-useful Airtable document listing all the gamesAnd this makes a lot of sense - for a couple of reasons.

Firstly, from what we’ve heard, non-phone/tablet usage is miniscule at this time. As we wrote to our paid Plus subscribers when we deep-dived into Apple Arcade in December: “We [believe] the iOS store is the vast majority (95% or more) of the reviews and play time on Apple Arcade. (Apple Arcade is also available on tvOS and MacOS, which have 1-2% of the amount of reviews.)” And I guess the new M1 Macs can run iOS apps anyhow

Secondly, the original concept behind Apple Arcade - ‘all original, custom commissioned games’ - always seemed a little odd. There were already a host of great premium (one-off paid) iOS games that would fit wonderfully with the service. These would have been cheaper and easier to license - alongside a modicum of originals.

So this is precisely what has been added: lots of classic casual titles like chess, backgammon, and Zach Gage’s ‘board games with a twist’ titles, plus already-hit titles like Don’t Starve: Pocket Edition, the original Reigns, Monument Valley, Fruit Ninja, and many more. (Apple got around the ‘Apple Arcade titles have to be in a separate part of the store’ issue by making two App Store entries with different game names: the Apple Arcade version of Monument Valley is called Monument Valley+, for example.)

The initial Apple Arcade line-up faltered a bit because it overemphasized artsy one-off narrative games. (Which are great in a minority, but semi-overwhelmed the line-up.) And its ‘everything to everyone’ platform approach created issues around game controller vs. touch interface. Titles like Crossy Road Castle are awesome, but use onscreen pad/button controls, which just aren’t that intuitive to the average player.

So there’s been a refocusing - which also includes a tranche of sudden-drop Arcade Originals, such as NBA2K1 Arcade Edition, Star Trek: Legends (looks like an expanded F2P game without IAP - interesting), and The Oregon Trail reboot, plus Sakaguchi’s Fantasian. It it has impressively expanded what was already decent value for $5 per month, while providing a lot of replayable, native touchscreen experiences.

Perhaps it’s not for core console gamers, but Arcade is bundled into all Apple One subscriptions, and you get three months of Arcade free with all new Apple hardware purchases right now. And in some ways, Apple is cleaning up a problem it indirectly created. You can’t play many mobile games without ads and microtransactions up the wazoo. And this is a great way to build a catalog where the commercial prompts are silent.

Possibly, some of you think I overfocus on Apple Arcade. But, two things in conclusion. Firstly: now you can get your premium iOS game licensed for Apple Arcade, even if it’s already available on the App Store (I wonder how wide they’ll go in this category?)

Secondly: I do think both Xbox Game Pass and Apple Arcade (and PlayStation Now, in time) are harbingers of major long-term changes to the game business. Not a cataclysmic one, but one that requires careful monitoring - especially for anyone making ‘buy once to play once’ games.

The witty British politics show Yes, Minister (an ancestor of Veep) featured a UK civil servant version of how these big changes tend to roll out: “In stage one we say nothing is going to happen… Stage two, we say something may be about to happen, but we should do nothing about it… In stage three, we say that maybe we should do something about it, but there’s nothing we *can* do… Stage four, we say maybe there was something we could have done, but it’s too late now.” So… which stage are we currently at?

(Thanks to Lee Healey for the custom commissioned Apple Arcade illustration header, btw.)

Steam, GDPR, and cookies - notable changes!

For anyone who is tracking Steam traffic via Google Analytics for marketing purposes: you might want to keep an eye on a major change to Steam’s European cookie permissions which rolled out over the last few days.

Specifically, there is now a Steam cookie preferences page which lists all the opt-in cookies (and some ‘mandatory for technical reasons’ cookies) that Valve will serve you if you visit Steam. In the rest of the world, this page just ‘exists’, and it’s not brought to your attention actively.

But in Europe, these cookies now default to off - likely due to the GDPR data privacy rules. And last weekend, everybody in Europe’s cookies were switched off, and get turned back on via accepting the below agreement (pic via xPaw of SteamDB) prominently displayed when you load Steam:

You can see chatter about this in Reddit’s r/privacy. Related to this, game devs have shared with GameDiscoverCo that they currently see only about 30% of their European traffic in Google Analytics, compared to earlier in March.

(We also notice that another of the cookies is for Valve’s internal analytics. So it’s possible that Steamworks analytics will also be missing a lot of European traffic. It depends on how players decide to push those buttons, or if they use fine controls to e.g. block Google Analytics, but not Valve’s tools.)

I’m sure we all agree that users having control over their privacy is, abstractly, a good thing. But for anyone who relies on this type of information to tune advertising or track week-on-week changes, just be aware: the baseline has changed on Steam, and it may change further, as more people set their preferences over time.

The game discovery news round-up..

We’re starting to ramp up for the summer announcement season (whatever the heck that looks like nowadays, in this COVID-tinged lanscape.) So let’s look at all the other news going on out there in Game Discovery-land:

And that’s it for this newsletter. Sign up for GameDiscoverCo Plus if you want to support our good work here, and talk to you all on Wednesday!

[We’re GameDiscoverCo, a new agency based around one simple issue: how do players find, buy and enjoy your premium PC or console game? You can subscribe to GameDiscoverCo Plus to get access to exclusive newsletters, interactive daily rankings of every unreleased Steam game, and lots more besides.]

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