San Francisco (AFP)

With the launch of Apple Arcade on Thursday, the US giant of luxury technologies enters the lucrative world of video games with a business model very different from what is already done, but which does not threaten a priori the heavyweights of the sector.

For $ 4.99 per month, subscribers will have access to a catalog of games exclusive to the Apple ecosystem, with the promise of being able to play on their iPhone, iPad, Mac or Apple TV. , without ads or additional expenses.

Video games have exploded on mobile in recent years, thanks in particular to the "free-to-play" model: downloading costs nothing, but players are exposed to advertisements, and can choose to buy virtual objects that facilitate their progression in the scenario.

"The Apple Arcade offer will perhaps nibble shares in the gaming sector + free-to-play +, or it may attract new players who have not yet decided to pay for content on mobile", said Mat Piscatella, research director at NPD.

In 2019, the global video game market will exceed 114 billion euros, including more than 51 billion generated by mobile video games, according to the think tank Idate. A figure that includes paid downloads and optional purchases, but not advertising revenue, which is at least 10% more.

- Beginning middle end / convert -

"The old model of paid downloads is dead with the invention of free-to-play," said Michael Pachter, an analyst at Wedbush Securities. "The games of Apple Arcade, it is still different: There will be a beginning, a middle and an end, without purchases".

Apple's service "does not really pose a threat to the conventional gaming industry, but I think it's going to find its audience - it should convert smartphone users over time," he says.

It remains to know which audience. The amateurs and the occasional amateurs already have a very wide choice between games on console (including the "blockbusters" of the sector, very sophisticated on the graphical and narrative level), multiplayer online games (like the planetary phenomenon Fortnite), or a tetrachie of games on mobiles, small refined productions, often paying, addictive and colorful puzzles like CandyCrush.

To appeal to casual gamers, the Californian group can count on its reduced price. For the more experienced, it will have to offer a catalog sufficiently expanded, with a real fluidity of experience from one medium to another.

"They start with 100 games, for me it will take more than 1000. This is an objective below which players may not join," said Laurent Michaud, director of study at Idate.

Apple will also have to convince the studios to design games that work as well on a pocket screen as on a big screen in the living room.

"This requires developers to work for different interfaces and will need guarantees to ensure that their extra costs will be paid for by a significant amount of players," says Laurent Michaud.

- "Deploy our wings" -

Apple has not released details about revenue sharing with publishers.

"For us, this is the opportunity to explore new financial models and deploy our wings in the subscription," said Alexandre De Rochefort, chief financial officer of Gameloft (Vivendi), a studio that produces games for Apple Arcade .

"The subscription model is becoming very popular in music, movies and series, but the video game industry is lagging behind in this area," he adds.

Subscriptions to game catalogs already exist, especially at Xbox (Microsoft) and Playstation (Sony).

But the market especially expects the launch by Google in November Stadia, its streaming video game platform, no download, with the ability to play both on his PC than on his television.

Silicon Valley groups have begun to diversify their offering, while keeping their customers in their ecosystem as much as possible. This is especially true of Apple, whose games will be confined to its devices.

Apple Arcade "will attract a portion of the billion and a few active users of iOS (Apple's operating system)," said Piers Harding-Rolls, research director at IHS Markit Technology. "But given their huge fanbase, we'll probably end up with a subscription game service that is bigger than most of those who have come before."

© 2019 AFP