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Big Fish claims Apple approval for game-subscription system

updated 02:30 am EST, Wed November 23, 2011

App hosts dozens of games for monthly fee

Seattle-based game marketing and hosting service Big Fish Games has told Bloomberg it has won approval from Apple to sell games via a monthly subscription on the iPad, the first time any game publisher has been able to offer such a service. The new app would work like digital magazine apps or the Netflix streaming application, with subscribers getting unlimited access to dozens of games from within a single app.

Apple was apparently very hesitant to approve the idea, unconvinced that subscriptions for games would work, founder Paul Thelen said. Eventually he won over Apple executives, saying that while game-subscription services themselves have a mixed record of success, none have ever been able to tap into both a popular gaming platform (the iPad) and the easy payment method of the App Store. Should the venture prove successful, the company can easily convert the app to work on smartphones and Android devices, or even internet-connected televisions. Because the games stream from Big Fish servers, the user can only play games when they have an active Wi-Fi connection, at least in the first versions of the app.

Big Fish plans to offer two plans; a free version of its service that limits play to 30 minutes per day and includes ads, and a subscription plan that will kick off at $5 per month for a limited time but normally cost $7 per month (which will kick in early in 2012 as more titles are added). Apple will collect its usual 30 percent commission on the subscriptions.

As part of the report, the company revealed that it did $140 million in sales last year, mostly from downloaded games , and that 75 percent of its players are women over 30 -- an unusual demographic in the game business, but the company's titles often feature titles that appeal to both sexes, including a wide range of hidden-object and mystery games along with other "casual gamer" titles. The subscription model gives players the freedom to jump from one title to another without having to purchase or download titles, though the option of purchasing games will be available.

The company says they expect to have an Android version of the service available early next year, and the iPad app is now available at the app store but is open to only a limited number of customers while Big Fish ramps up its servers. The move opens the door to other opportunities for game publishers, such as Electronic Arts and Gameloft among others.

by MacNN Staff



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