Can you play games on Apple TV without subscription? An in-depth guide for gaming enthusiasts

As both a long-time gaming enthusiast and electronic expert with over 10 years experience covering the latest trends and releases in the TV and videogame industry, I‘m often asked whether an Apple Arcade subscription is required to play games on an Apple TV.

The quick answer is no – the Apple TV offers access to thousands of free and paid games outside of Apple Arcade. However, Arcade does provide some exclusive benefits that may appeal to hardcore iOS gamers. In this comprehensive guide, I‘ll compare the pros, cons, costs and capabilities of Apple Arcade versus Apple TV‘s general App Store games, so you can decide what‘s best for your needs.

Apple Arcade versus App Store games: Key differences

Apple Arcade and the App Store provide two distinct options for accessing games on your Apple TV:

Apple Arcade

  • Subscription service with access to over 200 exclusive premium games
  • No ads or in-app purchases
  • One monthly fee includes sharing with family
  • New games added monthly

App Store

  • Thousands of free and paid games available
  • Download free games instantly
  • One-time purchase required for paid games
  • No recurring subscription fees

At a quick glance, Apple Arcade provides unlimited access to exclusive titles for an affordable monthly fee. App Store games allow you to hand-pick free and paid titles individually without a subscription. But lets dig deeper into the key differences.

Game Selection

Apple Arcade‘s major advantage is providing over 200 games encompassing all genres for one low price. However, App Store individuals purchases allow you to be highly selective and only acquire the games you actually want to play.

Per a 2022 survey by Pearl Research, over 50% of respondents said they only actively play 2-3 games per month on a subscription service like Apple Arcade. Having access to 200+ titles may not matter if you don‘t have time to play most of them.

Cost comparison

After the 1 month free trial expires, Apple Arcade costs $4.99 per month. Let‘s assume you only play 3 paid games per month from the App Store priced at $4.99 each. Here is the cost comparison:

Month Apple Arcade 3 App Store Games
1 $0 (free trial) $14.97
2 $4.99 $14.97
3 $9.98 $14.97
4 $14.97 $14.97
5 $19.96 $14.97
6 $24.95 $14.97
Total $74.85 $89.82

While Apple Arcade starts out cheaper, after 6 months the costs become comparable if you are only actively playing 3 paid App Store titles per month. And the App Store gives you full ownership of games forever, compared to relying on an Apple Arcade subscription for access.

Game ownership

With Apple Arcade, you only retain access to games while you are subscribed. If you unsubscribe, the games are no longer playable. App Store purchases are truly owned and can be redownloaded forever, even if they are eventually removed from sale.

Lifetime ownership may not matter for casual players. But according to avid gamers surveyed by Pearl Research, over 85% said they re-play favorite purchased games regularly, so long-term access is extremely valuable to them.

Offline play

Apple Arcade allows full offline play once games are downloaded, which is essential for travel or limited connectivity. The same is true for App Store purchased apps. In both cases, an internet connection is only required for initial app downloads, updates or networking features.

So whether you opt for Apple Arcade or App Store purchases, connectivity interruptions won‘t ruin your gaming as long as you download titles to your Apple TV in advance.

Popular Genres and Games Worth Trying

Both Apple Arcade and the general App Store provide games across all genres and for all levels of play. Here are some excellent Apple TV titles worth checking out:


  • Sonic Racing – Arcade kart racer
  • Oceanhorn 2 – Zelda-like adventure
  • Red Reign – Top-down shooter


  • Beyond Blue – Ocean explorer
  • The Gardens Between – Surreal puzzler
  • The Bradwell Conspiracy – Exploration mystery


  • Lego Builder‘s Journey – Creative play
  • Frogger in Toy Town – Classic franchise
  • Rosie‘s Reality – Coding discovery


  • Possessions – Minimalist perspective shifts
  • Hexaflip – Logic challenges
  • Spek – Relaxing atmosphere


  • Gear.Club Stradale – Custom cars
  • Lifeslide – Paper folding sprints
  • Splitlings – Quirky karts


  • LEGO Brawls – Build armies
  • Might & Magic: Chess Royale – Battle royale
  • Mistwalker – Card-based RPG

This is just a small sample of the diverse, creative Apple TV games worth checking out across any genre you enjoy. I suggest reading reviews and downloading games that align with your preferences, since everyone‘s tastes differ.

Getting the most from your Apple TV gaming

Beyond choosing between Apple Arcade or App Store purchases, here are some universal tips to maximize your Apple TV gaming experience:

  • For improved precision, invest in a compatible third party controller like the PS5 Dualsense or Xbox Series X controller. Many titles support console controllers.

  • Browse the App Store‘s dedicated "Great on Apple TV" gaming section. These titles are optimized for the big screen.

  • Use Apple device syncing to pick up gameplay from your iPhone or iPad on the TV.

  • For multiplayer fun, Airplay from additional iOS devices right to the Apple TV.

  • Check App Store charts for current top games by downloads or revenue.

  • Follow gaming news sites to stay on top of major Apple TV releases.

  • Set screen time limits if sharing Apple TV access with kids.

The future of Apple TV gaming

While mobile gaming on iOS already dominates, Apple TV is steadily growing as a mainstream living room gaming platform thanks to Apple Arcade exclusives and greater compatibility with popular third party titles like the Call of Duty franchise.

Apple recently signed exclusive partnerships with both Major League Baseball and Major League Soccer to bring live sports games to Apple TV moving forward. Multiple analysts predict Apple TV gaming revenue will grow by over 30% annually over the next 3 years.

So whether you opt for an Apple Arcade subscription or individual App Store purchases, Apple TV offers a strong and rapidly expanding library for casual and serious gamers alike. Just approach Apple TV gaming the same way you would curate games on a PlayStation or Nintendo console – focus on quality over quantity and choose titles that truly appeal to your personal tastes or family needs.

In closing

I hope this comprehensive guide gave you deeper insight into getting the best Apple TV gaming experience. While Apple Arcade provides a compelling catalog for one monthly fee, you can certainly enjoy awesome games through selective App Store purchases without any subscription required.

Let your own playing preferences and budget guide your ideal path. And as an avid gamer myself, I‘m always happy to provide additional Apple TV gaming advice. Just reach out anytime!

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