Apple opens door to Big Fish Games subscriptions

By Adam Satariano

Apple is letting a video-game company offer its titles by subscription on the iPad, expanding the role of a feature typically used by magazine and newspaper publishers.

Big Fish Games, a Seattle-based game publisher, won approval from Apple to become the first to offer users access to dozens of titles for US$6.99 ($9.38) a month. Until now, games have been available only one at a time, requiring users to download individual applications.

When Apple introduced its subscription feature this year, Big Fish founder Paul Thelen saw it as a chance to offer an "all-you-can-eat" service.

That lets players jump in and out of different games without having to make a bunch of downloads. Although game-subscription services have a mixed record of success, Thelen said the popularity of the iPad and the easy payment method provided by Apple's App Store would make the offering attractive.

"This is the first time that the technology has matched the business model," he said.

The set-up is similar to Netflix's streaming application for the iPad. Subscribers can get unlimited access to games such as Mystery Case Files and the Mahjong Towers series from inside the Big Fish app.

Games played through the subscription service, which are streamed to a user's iPad from Big Fish's data centres, will initially require wi-fi access to play. Apple will collect a 30 per cent commission.

Thelen said Big Fish had designed the app so it could easily be modified to work on smartphones or tablets running Google's Android operating system and internet-connected TVs.

An Android version should be ready by the first quarter, he said.

As well as the subscription plan, Big Fish will offer a free version of its game service that limits play to 30 minutes a day and includes ads.

Big Fish, founded in 2002, generated US$140 million in sales last year, mostly from games downloaded to a personal computer or mobile device.

Thelen said about 75 per cent of its players were women over 30.

The company was in a position to pursue an IPO, he said. "We're at scale, have great momentum and remain in a position to pursue a public offering or any number of alternatives if the markets allow."

- Bloomberg

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