June 21, 2024
1 Solar System Way, Planet Earth, USA

YouTube Playables doesn't have the games to compete with Apple, yet

YouTube launched a new feature on Tuesday: free mobile games that you can play right in the app or on your desktop. After several months of testing the feature with YouTube Premium subscribers, the hybrid platform of less than 100 games is now available to all users and, as expected, it is disappointing.

To comply with Apple App Store regulations, the YouTube app cannot compete directly with the App Store itself, that is, it cannot sell applications or games. So Google's YouTube offers free games within the app itself, and the accelerated experience does little to inspire competition even with free games on the App Store. Instead of downloading the games you want to play, Playables essentially works like any other website that hosts games. (If you can't think of any, it's probably because most games are on our hard drives or in the cloud these days, but AddictingGames.com is an approximation that comes to mind.)

That means some well-produced games, like Tomb of the mask, you can do things like save your progress. Others reset every time you open the game in Playables. Some include controls designed for keyboard input, and others let you switch between trackpad and mouse.

In addition to some highlights such as Tomb of the mask, Angry Birds Showdownand Cut the rope, there are dozens of extremely cheap games that aren't very fun to play on the desktop. (Draw climber, Lunch box readyand Color Matching are some examples of, uh, less polished options in Playable.) The mobile app is also a pain to play since the interface cuts off about a tenth of the screen and has no full-screen mode. The browser version's full-screen mode simply enlarges the browser to fill the screen, rather than just the game, like a YouTube video.

a screenshot of Level 4 of The Tomb of the Mask on YouTube Playable

Image: Happymagenta UAB/Playgendary via Polygon

I can't fault YouTube for finding a way to make some of these games easily and legally (ha) playable in a browser without ads; Beating a few levels of any web-based game between meetings brings me back to the computer room. mid-2000s, in a good way, but with the arrival of Steam, this move feels more like Google signaling to Apple that it's still here to compete in the digital gaming market space, rather than a move to benefit the players. You may find me playing some Tomb of the mask in the YouTube web browser, but I'm certainly not going to play it on the YouTube mobile app considering it's free on the App Store. So to keep my progress in one place, I'll continue playing on my iPhone.

As for the interface, there is a lot of room for improvement. Currently, you can only filter your playable games by “Home”, which shows the games you have played, and “Browse”, which shows all available games in alphabetical order. You can also search for a game in YouTube's search bar, but you'll have to sift through a few rows of videos and ads before you get to the Playables module.

That, along with the poor selection of titles, speaks to one of the main reasons why the Google Play Store hasn't beaten Apple's App Store: curation. I have access to both marketplaces and consistently find that Google's marketplace is filled with poor quality games that are predominantly there to draw attention to the ads hosted in the games.

The App Store also has this problem, but Apple is notoriously incisive about which apps are allowed in the store, particularly in terms of privacy and data collection. That means games with higher production value – that is, teams with more money and time to go through Apple's research process – could be more likely to reach both markets, while low-budget, blockbuster games They could quickly reach only the Play Store.

I expect Playables to get a lot busier in the coming months, which means a lot of these early complaints could go away. I'm especially curious to see if YouTube releases any original games, which would be a much more compelling argument for spending more time on the platform. And while I think Playables is a smart and clever way to get people to play Google Play Store games on iPhones, I don't think it's going to push the industry one way or another, at least not in its current state.

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