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Apple has named the App Store’s best games and apps of 2020, and Genshin Impact won the iPhone Game of the Year award. The game caused Chinese game studio MiHoYo to become recognized on a global stage — and reap an estimated $393 million in revenues in its first two months, according to measurement firm Sensor Tower.
Apple’s team of editors chose the game as its winner because it fit within the theme of “helpfulness.” In this case, it was one of those game worlds that could take our minds off the pandemic. All told, Apple honored 15 apps and games in different categories. (Wakeout! from Andres Canella won the iPhone App of the Year, and Zoom won the iPad App of the Year). The theme of “helpful” applied to the apps and games that helped us stay fit and mindful, keep our children’s education on track, fight world hunger, and otherwise distract us from an awful 2020.
Other game winners included Legends of Runeterra, Disco Elysium, Dandara Trials of Fear, and Apple Arcade’s Sneaky Sasquatch. Pokémon Go was recognized for reinventing its popular outdoor location-based game with at-home experiences. To reward the winners, Apple crafted an App Store logo out of recycled aluminum, with the name of the winner engraved on the other side. I was able to interview four of the teams that won gaming awards.
I liked how the winners were from all over the world, showing some of the diversity of the 1.7 million App Store developers.
Genshin Impact (Best iPhone game)
This award for Genshin Impact comes a day after it won the Google Play Game of the Year. The title cost $100 million to make, and it has nearly quadrupled that investment, taking in more than $393 million since its debut on September 28.
The free-to-play role-playing game combines MiHoYo’s love for animation, comics, and games, said Forrest Lin, president of the Shanghai-based company. MiHoYo was formed by three grad students in December 2011. They started with anime-style games and grew to a staff of more than 400 people. With Genshin Impact, they shot for PC-level quality on a mobile device, as they knew that the processing power of the latest smartphones was growing dramatically.
They even hired a couple of orchestras — one in London and one in Shanghai — to make the music for the game. The big bets paid off, with an RPG whose beautiful open world captured people’s imagination. The game has been downloaded more than 50 million times.
“We have brought the console quality to a free-to-play mobile game,” Lin said. “Three years ago, people thought we were crazy. It was a big risk we took from the technical and design perspective. But we knew the flagship Apple devices would have to be powerful enough to run a game that we could make.”
Dandara — Trials of Fear (Best Apple TV game)
Brazilian game studio Long Hat House and publisher Raw Fury won for Dandara — Trials of Fear, which combines the legend of Brazilian folk hero Dandara and Metroidvania 2D platformer gameplay.
In an interview with GamesBeat, Long Hat House cofounders Lucas Mattos and João Brant said the game tries to capture the spirit of the escaped slave Dandara and her gravity-defying conflict with her oppressors. Her battles offer a ray of freedom amid overwhelming despotism. The story about a black woman from Brazilian legend offers some hope for those who resist oppression and slavery, Mattos said.
The team of four (three of them from Belo Horizonte, Brazil) has been working together since 2014, when they joined together during a World Cup vacation. Dandara is their second game, and it came out in 2018 on iOS. The title debuted this year on Apple TV, and that’s why it is eligible to get the award.
“We wanted to bring more about our culture and our environment to the game,” Brant said. “We constantly get inspired when we see our oldest art and architecture, and we try to find what it means to be Brazilian. We aspire to bring something new and meaningful to players, something that was never seen before, so the experiences stay with them.”
They noted that slavery in Brazil lasted for more than three centuries. The game was their attempt to capture the culture and story in an immersive experience.
Pokémon Go (App Trend of the Year for reinventing the way we play)
Pokémon Go won because the developer and publisher Niantic pivoted the game after the pandemic began. It put a stop to large raids that brought people to the same physical spot in the location-based game and enabled people to participate in the game and group activities from afar.
“The core identity is about getting people to exercise, move around in the real world, and meet each other,” Matt Slemon, Niantic senior product manager, said in an interview with GamesBeat. “We had to do a whole bunch of pivots to figure out what does that mean in a world where COVID-19 has completely changed what is acceptable socially and what is safe.”
Niantic spent a bunch of time this year rolling with that idea and figuring out how to change the game so people could still play it in a safe way. It added things like the ability to pick up rewards or capture Pokémon from a greater distance. The company was able to relax the social distancing requirements for a bit, but then it had to reinstate them as the virus surged again.
“Things are trending in the opposite direction once again, and so we recently made another announcement responding to that,” Veronica Saron, product marketing manager at Niantic, said in an interview. “A lot of this is staying responsible and making sure we’re listening to feedback.”
The company managed to convert its in-person Pokémon Go Fest to a remote event where players could socialize with each other and compete in long-distance events. Millions of people participated in the July festival, and each player walked an average of 15 kilometers. The team was ready to launch a major TV commercial during the summer, but with the pandemic, they had to re-create the commercial in six weeks using Star Wars director Rian Johnson.
In an example of how the game makes people more active, Saron cites one New York family that hatches at least one egg per day by walking at least two kilometers. Now the game has launched its biggest update ever, raising the level cap in the game to 50.
To further help small businesses, the company is planning on expanding a part of the game that drives people to local businesses. But it will do so when the pandemic eases again.
Sneaky Sasquatch (Best Apple Arcade game)
I got my first look at Sneaky Sasquatch a year ago at an event at Apple’s headquarters in Cupertino, California, as the company showed off the first games for Apple Arcade. The Sasquatch title was a cute game where a friendly Bigfoot creature sneaks into camps and steals food from the campers.
The title came from a two-person team called RAC7 in Vancouver, Canada. Cofounder Jesse Ringrose said in an interview that the inspiration came from a childhood growing up in the suburbs of the city, near wooded areas. He and cofounder Jason Ennis wanted to create a game that could make people feel “stress-free,” just roaming around campsites and engaging in hilarious activities.
The fans responded so well (even sending pictures of Sneaky Sasquatch cakes) that the founders decided to do updates that eventually tripled the size of the game. They let the Sasquatch infiltrate a company and sneak around its offices dressed as a human, starting in the mailroom and then eventually getting to go on golf outings with the CEO.
“We’re still going, and there’s no end in sight,” Ringrose said. “We feel like we’ve got 10 years’ worth of ideas.”
That’s interesting because the game is an Apple Arcade title, which people can play as part of a $5 a month subscription. Normally, the games that get the most updates are free-to-play titles that always have something new to sell to players. Because of the subscription model, Ringrose said his company can make decisions that are divorced from the need to monetize the game.
“The motivations behind the updates are very different for us,” Ringrose said. “That makes it easier to sleep at night.”
During the pandemic, fans have been writing to say the game helps distract them from reality. The top player has logged more than 5,000 hours in the game.
“Parents say ‘thank you so much for this game.’ They say with their kids bouncing off the walls, they don’t know what they would have done,” Ringrose said.
Best of 2020 winners
iPhone App of the Year: Wakeout! (Andres Canella, U.S.)
iPhone Game of the Year: Genshin Impact (MiHoYo, China)
iPad App of the Year: Zoom (Zoom, U.S.)
iPad Game of the Year: Legends of Runeterra (Riot Games, U.S.)
Mac App of the Year: Fantastical (Flexibits, U.S.)
Mac Game of the Year: Disco Elysium (ZA/UM, United Kingdom/Estonia)
Apple TV App of the Year: Disney+ (Disney, U.S.)
Apple TV Game of the Year: Dandara — Trials of Fear (Raw Fury, Sweden)
Apple Watch App of the Year: Endel (Endel, Germany)
Apple Arcade Game of the Year: Sneaky Sasquatch (RAC7, Canada)
App Trend of the Year: Shine for helping users practice self-care (Shine, U.S.)
App Trend of the Year: Explain Everything Whiteboard for helping bring remote classrooms to life (Explain Everything, Poland)
App Trend of the Year: Caribu for connecting families to loved ones (Caribu, U.S.)
App Trend of the Year: Pokémon Go for reinventing the way we play (Niantic, U.S.)
App Trend of the Year: ShareTheMeal for helping users make a difference (United Nations, Germany)
Beyond the App Store editorial picks, charts for the most downloaded apps, and most downloaded games of the year are now available.
Most downloaded charts
Top free iPhone apps
1. Zoom Cloud Meetings
10. Cash App
Top paid iPhone apps
2. Procreate Pocket
3. Dark Sky Weather
6. AutoSleep Track Sleep
7. The Wonder Weeks
10. Sky Guide
Top free iPhone games
1. Among Us!
2. Call of Duty: Mobile
4. Subway Surfers
5. Ink Inc. — Tattoo Drawing
6. Magic Tiles 3: Piano Game
7. Brain Test: Tricky Puzzles
8. Brain Out
9. Coin Master
10. Cube Surfer!
Top paid iPhone games
2. Plague Inc.
3. Heads Up!
5. Bloons TD6
6. Geometry Dash
7. NBA 2K20
8. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
9. The Game of Life
10. True Skate
Top free iPad apps
1. Zoom Cloud Meetings
5. Google Chrome
7. Amazon Prime Video
10. Google Classroom
Top paid iPad apps
2. GoodNotes 5
4. Duet Display
5. Teach Your Monster
7. Affinity Designer
8. Toca Hair Salon 3
9: Toca Life: Hospital
10. Toca Kitchen 2
Top free iPad games
1. Among Us!
3. Magic Tiles 3: Piano Game
4. Ink Inc. — Tattoo Drawing
5. Call of Duty: Mobile
6. Subway Surfers
7. Dancing Road: Color Ball Run!
8. Tiles Hop — EDM Rush
9. Mario Kart Tour
10. Save The Girl!
Top paid iPad games
3. Bloons TD 6
4. Plague Inc.
5. Geometry Dash
6. The Game of Life
7. Five Nights at Freddy’s
8. Human: Fall Flat
9. Stardew Valley
Top Apple Arcade games
1. Sneaky Sasquatch
2. Hot Lava
3. Skate City
4. Sonic Racing
5. Pac-Man Party Royale
6. SpongeBob: Patty Pursuit
7. Oceanhorn 2
8. Crossy Road Castle
9. What the Golf?
10. Lego Brawls
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