updated 02:00 am EST, Thu November 24, 2011
Dev confirms Apple removed the app
[Updated: Big Fish confirms Apple removed the app] Big Fish Games' Play Instantly iPad app, which the company claimed had "won approval" from Apple executives to introduce subscription gaming to the App Store, has been pulled without comment from Apple. The app disappeared after being available since Nov. 18th, following widespread reports about the change in Apple policy it heralded. An update to an earlier Bloomberg report confirms that Apple removed the app, not Big Fish.
Big Fish Games's other standalone game apps, including it's own "catalog app" Game Finder, are still available. The company makes most of its' $140 million in annual sales through downloads of purchased games, and the subscription model was new for the company as well as the App Store, which allows subscriptions within Netflix and various magazine apps but had never approved a game-subscription app before now. The change came with no announcement from Apple, which is unusual for such a shift in policy.
The Play Instantly app would have allowed players to jump from game to game with re-downloading, since the games would be streamed from Big Fish's own servers (and thus required a continuous Wi-Fi connection to play). The company had planned to offer a free "30 minutes per day" subscription with ads, or a paid option that offered unlimited playing time and a wider choice of titles for $7 per month (it was to be $5 per month for a limited promotional period). Apple would have collected its usual 30 percent commission on any subscriptions.
The app attracted a lot of interest in its brief appearance, with the company putting a note on the description saying that the offer was open "to only a limited number of customers" before disappearing altogether. Big Fish Games founder Paul Thelen told Bloomberg in an update that the company had been informed that Apple had removed the app, but is still trying to "follow up" with Apple to determine exactly why. "It was officially approved," Thelen insisted, saying that Apple had even see the company's press release before it was distributed, and that the company had spent several weeks making sure the recurring monthly charges were handled in compliance with App Store guidelines.
In the original Bloomberg report, Big Fish Games founder Paul Thelen said the company plans to make a Android version of the subscription service available early next year. If the app should return to the iPad, it could open the door to other opportunities for game publishers, including rival service Steam and game producers like Electronic Arts and Gameloft among others.