For more than six years, designer Zach Gage has been toying with an idea for a game where players explore dangerous dungeons, but did so through various cards stacked in a grid, rifling through piles to heal or fight a monster. It’s an idea he played with endlessly, until around two years ago when he turned it into a functioning prototype that he’d show only trusted friends.
But Gage wanted to do something bigger than he was used to. He made a name for himself with twists on existing games like Sage Solitaire and Really Bad Chess, but he also typically developed games solo. His new idea, he thought, would be perfect for a bigger production, with lots of great art to showcase monster designs and spell cards. The problem was that the state of premium-priced games on mobile was becoming increasingly dire, which made investing a lot in the game a risky proposition. Then Apple Arcade came along.
“Basically once Apple got in touch I was like, ‘Oh! Yes! This is the perfect time for me to make this game,’” he explains.
The final product, Card of Darkness, was one of more than 70 launch titles that debuted alongside Apple Arcade last month, and to develop it Gage collaborated with indie studio Choice Provisions and Adventure Time creator Pendleton Ward. All told, around 10 people worked on the game, which now sits alongside new releases from the famed indie studios behind games like Monument Valley, Alto’s Adventure, and Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP on Apple’s fledgling subscription service.
Apple Arcade — and in particular the funding from Apple — has given mobile developers the freedom to think big without having to worry about how they’re going to make that money back. With the premium market all but untenable for everyone but the biggest games, Arcade has now become a home for mobile games that otherwise might not have existed on the platform. “It’s creating a space where you can take risks,” says Andrew Schimmel, producer at Alto developer Snowman. “You don’t have to think about the monetization model as you’re designing.”