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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Game on: Sonic Dream Team’s Apple Arcade exclusivity triggers fan outrage

The only thing more unusual than announcing a video game just one month before its release is announcing a video game exclusive to Apple Arcade. Sonic Dream Team will launch Dec. 5 exclusively on Mac, iPhone, iPad, and AppleTV.  (Courtesy Sega Corp.)
By Riordan Zentler For The Spokesman-Review

Forthcoming title Sonic Dream Team was announced Nov. 1, showcasing vibrant new levels and the return of multiple playable characters in a 3D Sonic game – while that might not sound significant, it’s been surprisingly rare for even a portion of the series’ ensemble cast to be fully playable since 2007.

Accordingly, many fans were dismayed to subsequently discover that this fully fledged game developed by mobile game studio Sega Hardlight would be exclusive to Apple Arcade, a video game subscription service that debuted in 2019 offering seamless integration between iPhone, iPad, Mac and even Apple TV+.

This isn’t the first time gamers have felt snubbed by Apple Arcade exclusivity. Exit the Gungeon, an Apple Arcade launch title, didn’t make its way to other platforms for six months. Rayman Mini has been exclusive to the subscription service since it was released in 2019, and Rayman games are very few and far between.

Which is exactly why peoples’ angst over Sonic Dream Team’s exclusivity seems somewhat misplaced. Sonic fans aren’t exactly starved for content – Sonic Frontiers released last November, followed by The Murder of Sonic the Hedgehog on April Fools’ Day, Sonic Origins Plus in June and Sonic Superstars in October.

Unless Sonic Dream Team turns out to be the hedgehog’s greatest game in a decade or longer, it seems unreasonable to be upset about missing out on just one game from a franchise that typically goes out of its way to grace as many platforms as possible. Reception wasn’t nearly so negative when Sonic had numerous Nintendo Wii-exclusive titles.

Like it or not, exclusivity is typically how companies attract gamers to their system or service. Microsoft’s Xbox has flourished or floundered based on the quality of Halo releases. No one expects Mario, Kirby or Zelda to be on anything but Nintendo systems. Sony’s exclusive games like The Last of Us and God of War are renowned and celebrated.

Some have argued that Apple scooping up exclusive games is unfair or unjust because it isn’t a gaming company. And while it’s true that the $3 trillion corporation has often failed to prioritize video games – Steve Jobs himself was a known detractor – it appears times are finally changing, with Apple introducing the Game Porting Toolkit for developers and recently showcasing a myriad of gaming-focused improvements for the forthcoming Mac M3 chip.

I can understand gamers’ reluctance to accept Apple’s gaming industry bid – they’re latecomers, and it’s difficult to root for a gaming industry “underdog” that is such a dominant force in adjacent industries. Apple Arcade only segments the gaming industry further, without adding much value – its cross-platform integration is well-executed, but there’s not much pioneering technology at play yet.

But once upon a time, Sony wasn’t a gaming company either – renowned primarily for their Walkmans and Trinitrons, gamers and critics alike were baffled when they released the PlayStation in 1994 to an already-oversaturated market dominated by Nintendo and Sega, with minor competition from Atari and 3DO.

People were even more baffled when the system, despite its formidable competition, began attracting developers by the handful, who prioritized development for the PlayStation and started leaving behind the Sega Saturn and Nintendo 64.

The video game industry has matured significantly in the almost-30 years that have passed since that time, and such shakeups are even more improbable today. Unless something big happens – even bigger than Resident Evil 4 Remake running flawlessly on the latest iPhone, which is admittedly very impressive – Apple Arcade is not going to achieve PlayStation levels of success.

Perhaps Apple will finally make a real dent in the gaming world, or perhaps they won’t. It’s difficult to trust a company that historically changes course so rapidly. While I’m personally not opposed to Sonic Dream Team’s exclusivity, my only fear is that the game experiences the same lack of care that Sega and Apple gave ChuChu Rocket! Universe, which was removed from Apple Arcade three years after release and hasn’t been ported anywhere since.

Sonic Dream Team will launch on Dec. 5.