Apple allows developer to offer newspaper-style in-app subscriptions for games

Nov 23, 2011
Games

Apple is allowing game developers to offer their services as subscriptions, alongside newspapers, magazines and video programming services, and that could change the way iOS owners approach gaming. The report comes from Bloomberg. Big Fish Games is the first developer to make use of the subscription program, offering several iPad games to players for a […]

Apple is allowing game developers to offer their services as subscriptions, alongside newspapers, magazines and video programming services, and that could change the way iOS owners approach gaming.

The report comes from Bloomberg. Big Fish Games is the first developer to make use of the subscription program, offering several iPad games to players for a monthly rate of $6.99. This marks the first time that any developer has been allowed by Apple to make multiple games available at one time for a fee. Other titles have packaged multiple games in a single app and some titles, such as Gameloft’s World of Warcraft-like Order & Chaos require a monthly subscription to play, but none have been able to move to a software-as-a-service model before Big Fish Games.

Like other subscriptions offered by things such as publications, Apple will get a 30-percent cut of all sign-ups that come through iTunes. Under Apple’s subscription rules, Big Fish Games will be able to take game subscriptions from the web as well (without cutting-in Apple), but it won’t be able to use a button in its app to send users to the web to bypass giving Apple its piece. The subscription service will start at $4.99 per month, as GigaOM reports, and move up to $6.99 sometime in the future. It’ll work by streaming content over the Internet, so it’ll require an Internet connection to use.

If it catches on, though, games as subscription services could potentially signal a big shift in the iTunes App Store. Games on iOS make up a huge market in the mobile space, and this could be a brand new way for games to make money on the platform.

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Subscription services for games seem to be just barely coming into their own in the wider video game industry. For PC gamers, there’s OnLive, a service that streams PC games over the Internet, which allows players with computers that aren’t supercharged to still enjoy triple-A video game titles by letting some other system do the heavy lifting. Big Fish’s model will be similar to OnLive’s, and that company maintains that it has seen a high number of subscriptions (though nobody knows for sure).

The mobile sphere has seen developers find a lot of success with the “freemium” model for games – in which a download is free but users pay for in-app purchases to keep a game going – and it seems possible that subscription gaming services could fill a similar niche. Players seem to respond well to freemium, and that has led to a big increase in freemium games and the way they affect the App Store and other titles. It’ll be interesting to see if software-as-a-service titles will have a similar effect now that they’re beginning to appear in the App Store.

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Phil Hornshaw

Phil Hornshaw is a freelance writer, editor and author living in Los Angeles, dividing his time between playing video games, playing video games on his cell phone, and writing about playing video games. He’s also the co-author of So You Created a Wormhole: The Time Traveler’s Guide to Time Travel, which attempts to mix time travel pop culture with some semblance of science, as well as tips on the appropriate means of riding dinosaurs. Check out his profile.

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