Apple in-app subscriptions are now open to games, too

Update: Bloomberg is now reporting that the Big Fish subscription app has been pulled from the App Store. Big Fish founder Paul Thelen expressed his confusion over the decision, saying that his company worked with Apple throughout the approval process. We’ll have to wait and see what this means for non-periodical use of in-app subscriptions.
Apple (s aapl) will be letting game publishers use in-app subscriptions, too, according to a new report from Bloomberg. Big Fish Games is the first publisher to use the feature and will allow users to access dozens of its titles for a recurring fee of $6.99 per month.
The subscription plan for games has been a long time coming. We predicted back when in-app subscriptions were first announced that they could be the start of a brand-new revenue model for apps and games outside digital magazines and newspapers and could start a trend of Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) offerings on the App Store. Basically, Big Fish’s subscription gaming package is exactly that kind of SaaS experiment.
The question is, Will it catch on? It isn’t without precedent. On other platforms, OnLive has provided all-you-can-eat subscription gaming packages via its streaming PC gaming service for a while now. OnLive is doing pretty well, too, according to recent reports, with CEO Steve Perlman saying that “overwhelmed is not even the word” for the kinds of sign-up numbers they are seeing. Netflix (s nflx) also offers a similar model, albeit with movies instead of games.
The subscription from Big Fish will use a similar streaming setup to deliver games to users’ iPads from its servers, and it will require a Wi-Fi connection in order to play as a result. It will launch at a cheaper $4.99 per month rate and then climb to $6.99 sometime later. Apple will take its usual 30 percent cut of any subscriptions, and there will also be a free version that caps users at 30 minutes of play per day and also serves ads.
Big Fish told Bloomberg that Apple “took longer than usual” to approve the app, which is understandable given that the in-app subscription model has heretofore only been available through Newsstand. Now it looks like the door is open for iPad gaming apps, at least, and likely for more in the future should the experiment prove successful.
I think we will see developers who have embraced the freemium gaming model flock to an SaaS pricing structure in the App Store; after all, if you can convince someone to buy a recurring subscription to Smurfberries in addition to onetime purchases, there is little downside for developers. And beyond gaming, this could present a unique opportunity for apps that provide services that require recurring maintenance and tech support, like online billing services.
Hopefully, app publishers and Apple use this as one more tool to be employed when most appropriate and we don’t see too many apps going with recurring billing. I’m sure subscription billing quickly become irritating to users if it isn’t used with moderation.