Apple’s games curation is helping SEA developers with visibility

apple app store 10th ann

Apple made waves earlier this year with their Apple Arcade announcement, a gaming subscription that promised no in-app purchases, no ads and offline play for more than 100 curated games. We’re still pining for details before it launches in Fall 2019, but just what sort of games can we expect?

The March announcement dropped plenty of recognizable names: publishing giants the likes of SEGA, Cartoon Network and Konami, as well as heavyweight indies such as Annapurna Interactive, Klei Entertainment and Bossa Studios. They even had debut footage for Fantasian, an iOS-exclusive action RPG by Final Fantasy creator Hironobu Sakaguchi and his studio, Mistwalker.

Yet Apple has a vested interest in the smaller studios too – teams who’ve poured just as much heartfelt effort into their creations but haven’t met the same giddy success as Florence or Donut County (they’re great, by the way). How? By granting these creators a prominent spotlight on the App Store itself, through a process that seems far less mystifying than Google’s.

And according to indies we spoke to, that storefront exposure has been a significant help.

In what appears to be the start of a bigger push into mobile gaming, Apple invited three Southeast Asian developers to speak to the press late last week. You may be familiar with them: Singapore’s The Gentlebros, Malaysia’s Weyrdworks and Thailand’s True Axiom Interactive.

We were given only ten brief minutes with each party, in which we were free to ask questions while the developers pitched their latest projects in turn. Given the context of the setting, however, we had to know what working with the big Apple is like.

One key difference lies in the App Store experience. Users are greeted by a Today tab, where the company has built a reputation for manually curating games. There’s a daily editorial that dives into top lists or developer profiles and more, as well as a prime spotlight known as ‘Game of the Day’.

apple app store today tab

JT Yean, the one-man art department for the two-man Weyrdworks, said that getting on GotD “definitely helps” with their game’s discoverability. Gentlebros’ Desmond Wong saw similarly positive results as well, with the co-founder noting better sales for their premium game, Cat Quest.

In fact, mobile revenue for Cat Quest wound up matching console and PC sales (each platform accounted for approximately 33% of total sales), despite the mobile version costing less. With Unity making it easy to develop and port over to iOS, there weren’t any platform obstacles to leap over either.

After speaking to the developers present, we also learned about the communications divide between them and the anonymous editors (Apple has its own editorial team based in SEA). While the studios have business contacts within Apple, all the latter could do was to present these games for consideration – the better to uphold fairness and root out bias.

That should come as another reputation boost for Apple’s curation methods, though that doesn’t mean things become an all-or-nothing affair for developers. Should the Game of the Day spot lie beyond reach, they still have the App Store’s ‘Games’ tab for more visibility opportunities via rankings and lists.

apple app store games tab

It’s interesting to see that Apple’s take on support largely centers on their platform, whereas Google had a more community-minded approach with last year’s indie games accelerator. While developers stand to benefit either way, the bigger question on our minds is how they’ll be incentivized (and financially compensated) for signing up their games with subscription models like Apple Arcade or Google Stadia.

What did the developers show?

We’re not leaving without talking about the games, of course. After all, these developers had made the time to talk about their studios’ future.

For The Gentlebros, its hardly a secret that they’ve been hard at work on Cat Quest 2. The original action RPG was inspired by games such as Zelda and Skyrim, and its sequel promises even more of what we’ve loved. Wong, who handles the art and game design, says they’ve doubled the amount of content in terms of land mass and quests, pushing expected completion time to 25 hours and more.

Cat Quest 2 takes place 100 years after, so returning players get to see how familiar locations have changed. However, its core appeal is the inclusion of – surprise, surprise – dogs. They’ve opened up the lands of the Lupus Empire, which is directly connected to Felingard on the overworld, while still maintaining the game’s seamless map travel. Instead of fighting, cat and dog must cooperate to defeat a greater evil, and players can easily swap between the furry-pawed heroes on mobile to access their different skills.

Cat Quest 2 is coming in 2019 to iOS and all major gaming platforms: PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch and Android.

In a similar vein, Weyrdworks are capitalizing on their successful WarPods with an in-universe follow-up, StrikePods. We’ll get to see the same great character designs that Yean made in the former, except this time they’ve been expanded for a different genre. Where WarPods was a turn-based block breaking RPG, StrikePods is a roguelite shoot-em-up.

It has all the telltale prerequisites of a ‘shmup’, from the vertical orientation and brightly colored bullets and power-ups, down to the boss fights and diverse selection of fighters. Fans might enjoy seeing how their favorite characters actually go to battle on the field, each with different abilities and attack patterns.

StrikePods is coming in 2019.

On the other end of the spectrum is Invictus: Lost Soul, the first game coming out of True Axiom Interactive (by “a 90% Thai” dev team). As such, it warranted CEO Nithinan Boonyawattanapisut joining creative director Tanapon Petapanpiboon in presenting the hybrid 3D fighting game.

Petapanpiboon, who is also lead game designer, stressed that combat plays out in real-time and against other live players – in a quick hands-on, GameAxis duelled between ourselves. It uses card commands instead of button inputs, where players build a deck of 8 cards but use a hand of 4, each tied to a different intention and stamina cost. You’ll have to read the other player’s movements to predict what they’ll be doing next, and a huge incoming blow can be interrupted by a faster attack or a defensive manoeuvre on your part.

I felt that there was plenty of nuance I was still missing from that short hands-on, but what I did see was plenty of customization options to toy around with. You can see the game in action for yourself — Invictus: Lost Soul is out now for Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand.

Aaron Yip

Aaron Yip is an industry veteran with more than 15 years of experience. When not spending time on his gaming PC and consoles, he can be found in Hyrule solving ungodly puzzles and collecting gems.