November 23, 2011
We're hearing some surprising and unexpected news from Bloomberg that suggests Apple has decided to allow subscription based game distribution in the App Store. According to Bloomberg, Seattle-based game publisher Big Fish is claiming that Apple has allowed them to start charging a subscription fee for their games, similar to what Netflix does for movies and TV shows. Instead of a one time purchase, and potential in-app additions, their iPad app/game platform will charge you an "all-you-can-eat" $6.99 monthly fee that will grant you access to all of their games (reportedly dozens of titles such as Mahjong Towers), which will be streamed over Wi-Fi to your device. Without a connection, apparently you won't even be able to play. Furthermore, Big Fish will also be releasing a limited version of their game platform, free of charge, that will give you access to all of their games for up to 30 minutes, and will feature ads. As we said, this is a bit of a surprise. When Apple introduced subscriptions earlier this year, they were clearly meant for publishers. Yet, we haven't heard that Apple prevented "software as a service" apps from using it. For example, you can sign up for a search feature subscription in Instapaper or better maps in Navigon. Streaming a game online, isn't all that different. Also, while it does appear that creating a whole platform of games available by subscription is a first on iOS, at the moment we can't confirm if this is a real change in policy or not. The second strange point in this story is that Apple has been against allowing shareware-type apps on the App Store. That is, while developers are free to make a light, limited or ad-based version of their app, these can't be limited in time. Did Apple really change their mind? All in all, we'll have to wait for Big Fish app's to make it to the App Store to see what is really going on. Most likely, Bloomberg just fell for a PR-spin and Apple hasn't really changed its stance on subscriptions or games. On the other hand, we certainly wouldn't want such platforms to become a trend, as I don't think it fits the App Store model. In particular, you can't expect a game that needs to be streamed to you over-the-air in real time to be good and responsive. This has been tried before, and probably won't go anywhere, or so we hope.