Apple announced the winners of its App Store Awards for 2023, honoring the best games and apps of the year.
All told there are 14 apps and games that the company called out among the 1.8 million available now on the iOS App Store. Thse apps and games empowered users to unleash their creativity, discover a world of new adventures, and have fun with family and friends.
This year’s winners include developers from across the world, whose apps and games were chosen by the App Store’s Editorial team for providing users with meaningful experiences and inspiring cultural change. App Store Award winners were selected from nearly 40 finalists for delivering exceptional technical innovation, user experience, and design.
“It’s inspiring to see the ways developers continue to build incredible apps and games that are redefining the world around us,” said Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO, in a statement. “This year’s winners represent the limitless potential of developers to bring their visions to life, creating apps and games with remarkable ingenuity, exceptional quality, and purpose-driven missions.”
In the gaming category,
Honkai: Star Rail (iPhone game of the year) from Cognosphere takes players through a narrative full of complex characters and tactically rich combat on iPhone.
Lost in Play (iPad game of the year) from Snapbreak Games invites players to tap into a charming, childlike imagination during an epic point-and-click adventure.
Lies of P (Mac game of the year) from Neowiz presents players with an exquisitely crafted dark fantasy world, and
Hello Kitty Island Adventure (Apple Arcade game of the year) from Sunblink delivers an immersive gaming world with its main goal being as sweet as can be: making friends.
This year’s winners showcase the scope of creativity, technical innovation, and design possible across the App Store and Apple’s ecosystem.
AllTrails (iPhone app of the year) from All Trails nurtures community through comprehensive trail guides and outdoor exploration for everyone.
Prêt-à-Makeup (iPad app of the year) from Prêt-à-Template offers a true-to-life makeup sketchpad on iPad for professional artists and casual users, while fostering inclusivity and self-expression.
Photomator (Mac app of the year) from UAB Pixelmator Team has machine learning-powered tools that make advanced editing tasks streamlined and seamless.
MUBI (Apple TV app of the year) from Mubi curates exceptional indie films and international documentaries with a human touch.
And SmartGym (Apple Watch app of the year) from Mateus Abras shines on Apple Watch with its comprehensive library of exercises, routines, and robust fitness reporting.
Interviews with winners
I also had a chance to do interviews with the winning game teams.
At Neowiz, the makers of Lies of P included Jason Park, studio head; Brian Kang, head of product management; and Justin Carnahan, business development lead.
In an interview with the press, Park said the action RPG launch on the PC a couple of months ago and sold over a million copies. The game is based on the story of Pinocchio, paired with Souls-like gameplay.
“We decided to take the source material, put our own spin on it, and create something truly unique with Lies of P,” Park said, noting the character’s journey to become human and have the ability to cry.
“As you journey through the game, you will be presented with situations where you have to decide whether to whether to lie or tell the truth. You will not only fight your fears, but [it will change] how NPCs interact with you and alternatively change the story’s ending,” Park said.
He noted the sound in the game is immersive, making combat more impactful. The combat patterns are carefully designed and are fluid. You could collect albums and play the soundtracks in a hotel, and that helped make the songs popular in the community. You can mix and match weaponry components and create over 800 different combinations. The company is developing an update that could add a significant amount of playtime to Lies of P. Neowiz said that the performance on the Mac was impressive.
At Snapbreak Games, the winners for Lost in Play included Yuval Markovich, cofounder; and Oren Rubin, cofounder.
Yukovich said in an interview with press including GamesBeat that the company is an indie studio based in Israel. It was founded four years ago by a trio of friends who had backgrounds in animation and making games. It’s a snappy 2D-animated experience that looks like a good-quality cartoon by design.
“It is so [integrated into] a comic puzzle adventure game it is supposed to make you feel like you’re playing cartoon,” Yukovich said.
It tells the story of Tato and Galois, two siblings who get totally immersed in make believe games. And they play games together and get lost in both their imaginations and in real life. It was funded by Joystick Ventures and published on mobile with Snapbreak Games.
“We are trying to create a feeling in the game like you’re actually playing with your sibling,” Yukovich said.
It was based on the the children of one of the founders. It is a point-and-click experience that is a collection of minigames, each with a uniquely crafted mechanic. It’s a family-friendly and non-violent game.
“It’s important for us as players to play games with our children that are not forced upon us, that we like to play ourselves, that are not patronizing in any way,” Yukovich said. “It’s non-violent, light-hearted and funny so the whole family can enjoy together.”
At Sunblink, the makers of Hello Kitty Island Adventure, the winners included Julian Farrior, CEO; Chelsea Howe, chief product officer; and Tom Blind, game director.
Farrior said that the team launched Hello Kitty Island Adventure on Apple Arcade on July 28, after three years of development.
“We call it a cozy adventure life sim so we definitely wanted to use the open world adventure genre with the cozy life genre and mix the exploration, adventure, puzzle solving style of gameplay with the self-expression, decoration, and avatar customization side of things,” Farrior said. “And then we wrapped all of that in the fantastic cast of Sanrio characters.”
The game has a 4.9 rating on the App Store. Pretty good for a 30-person team based in Boulder, Colorado. It’s Farrior’s second run at an iOS game company, as he previously ran Backflip Studios and sold that to Hasbro in 2013 for $112 million. A bunch of the team worked on Monopoly Go at Scopely, while a bunch also joined Sunblink to make the Sanrio game.
“We’re incredibly proud of what we made and we had a good budget for this game, but we did not have $100 million budget,” Farrior said. “We’re really proud of what we’ve been able to create in this genre. It’s really the game we’ve always wanted to make.”
The idea behind the game was to bring the Sanrio culture to life with lots of gifting, big smiles, kindness, connection, accessibility and friendship. Those are the core aims for the game.
The island itself is a huge place with lots of activities where you can do things like make foods, craft items, create gifts and make new tools that can unlock new functionality around the island.
“We have a huge world for players to discover,” Farrior said.
You can snorkel and dive underwater to see reefs or visit floating islands in the sky.
Farrior said it was easy to work with Sanrio to get approvals on content and that the Apple team trusted the developers to make a big game.
The game has already had three big updates.The team plans to invest in more multiplayer tech over the coming months. The game shipped with perhaps 50 hours of content and it could be closer to 80 hours by mid-2024, Farrior said.
“This universe turned out to be way more interesting than we ever thought. It’s just the amount of characters has allowed us to really invest in storyline and narrative and really exciting way,” Farrior said.
I wasn’t able to reach anyone at Cognosphere.
Cultural Impact Winners
In addition to recognizing the best apps and games on iPhone, iPad, Mac, Apple Watch, and Apple TV, Apple’s App Store Editors also selected five Cultural Impact winners, recognized for their ability to drive positive change through apps and games.
This year’s winners encouraged users to learn and grow in an inclusive and accessible space, contribute toward a more sustainable future, and explore self-reflection and connection across generations.
Pok Pok from Pok Pok. Designed with inclusivity in mind, Pok Pok is a digital toy room for kids, offering a universal space for preschoolers of all backgrounds and abilities to play, explore, and see the world as one.Proloquo from AssistiveWare. An accessibility app pioneer for over a decade, AssistiveWare’s Proloquo is creating augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) tools that help the world communicate in new ways.Too Good To Go from Too Good. Too Good to Go enables users to minimize food waste by connecting them with restaurants and stores that have a surplus of unsold food at an affordable cost.
Unpacking from Humble Bundle. Unpacking mixes meditative puzzles to create a soul-soothing triumph around familiar experiences of change and connection.
Finding Hannah from Fein Games. Finding Hannah is a colorful coming-of-age, hidden-object game with inclusive and heartfelt tales that explores the power of healing and self-discovery.
Trend of the Year
Apples said that apps are a reflection of culture, and in 2023, generative AI captured users’ collective imagination with its evolution unfolding in real time.
Apps started integrating AI throughout the year in a variety of ways. Although many features are still in their infancy, they gave users a chance to see, firsthand, the technology in action and come to their own conclusions about the benefits and risks. In addition to this year’s App Store Award winners, App Store Editors across the globe have highlighted a collection of generative AI apps that exemplify the Trend of the Year. Read more from App Store Editors.
The App Store, which launched in 2008 and had 500 apps back then, is home to 1.8 million apps and visited by over 650 million average weekly visitors across 175 countries and regions.
Apple said the App Store is an engine of global economic growth, facilitating $1.1 trillion in developer billings and sales in 2022. It’s worth noting that Apple is still locked in an antitrust lawsuit with Epic Games over the fact that it takes as much as 30% of the cut for apps and games.
The App Store helps creators, dreamers, and learners of all ages and backgrounds connect with the tools and information they need to build a brighter future and a better world. Apple said it provides developers with tools to manage their products, improve their app performance in context with peer group benchmarks, and applies its resources to create support for a more inclusive tech sector.
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