"This is the first time that the technology has matched the business model."
That’s what Big Fish Games founder, Paul Thelen, told Bloomberg News when Apple decided to allow that game company to offer subscription-based pricing options for its iOS content.
As Ars Technica’s Chris Foresman reported:
“Until now, Big Fish has offered each of its titles as a separate app on the App Store for about $1.99 each. However, founder Paul Thelen saw the new iOS subscription APIs as a way to offer his company’s games on an ‘all-you-can-eat’ basis. The idea is that users could simply download one app, pay a monthly subscription via an iTunes account, and play whatever game struck their fancy. (Big Fish’s catalog largely consists of casual puzzle and mystery games.)”
Like other subscription services, including those to print media like the New York Times and streaming media like Netflix, for a flat monthly rate Big Fish Games would allow users to take advantage of all of their content rather than invest in each app on a per piece of content basis.
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What was amazing about this news was that it hadn’t come sooner. Apple is understandably resistant to this kind of business model. For a company that regularly brings in large streams of revenue from its digital media store, allowing venders to package content like this could potentially hurt the company’s bottom line as the overall number of financial transactions goes down and consumers spend less time browsing the App Store.
However, a shift of this type is long overdue. In fact, it’s built into the very nature of the mobile media market Apple has helped develop. Smartphones, tablets, and advanced mp3 players like the iPod Touch are all about being “of the moment.”
You choose what music you want to listen to at a given point in time. Then maybe the urge strikes to play a game and you load that new app your friend keeps telling you to check out. Only a few minutes in that same friend calls to see what your plans are for the night. Maybe you check your email before you go to meet up. Perhaps on the cab drive there you check the latest news headlines, before getting to the night’s rendezvous point and firing back up that app while waiting for the rest of the gang to arrive.
In other words, we want what we want the moment the desire or whim arises and not a moment longer, and sometimes not ever again. And it’s the obsolescence made possible by digital distribution that has accelerated this common sentiment in the context of media consumption. No one’s concerned about not owning all the TV shows that come on during their daily cable intake. Instead, they pay a flat monthly service in order to access “channels,” that offer menus of media entertainment, some bits of which will be better than others.
Similarly, it makes sense that few people would be concerned about having “ownership” (to the degree it exists in the world of licensed digital content), and would rather pay a set amount to be insured continuous access to new content (e.g. Netflix, Newspapers, and music sites like Pandora). Maybe, maybe I need to own Angry Birds in order to dependably satiate my ongoing addiction to the physics of brightly colored avifauna.
But that’s the exception, not the rule.
What’s this though? Apple’s having second thoughts on this new arrangement?
Indeed, the techno-behemoth has pulled Big Fish Games’ subscription app from its store for still unknown reasons.
In response to this plot thickening event, Thelen stated, “We were notified that the app was removed…The app had been available since Nov. 18…We’re trying to follow up with Apple to try to figure out what happened.”
Despite this apparent reversal on the part of Apple, I can’t imagine them stemming the tide at this point. Sooner or later the subscription deluge will spill forth and could even envelope Apple itself. Who wouldn’t love to pay-per-month for some bundle of stream-able apps and discounted content?
Sony has already attempted this with Playstation Plus, and though that service has its problems, it’s both an affordable and sensible service for a growing segment of gamers, especially if Sony is able to continue expanding its benefits to include access and discounts to newer and more recent digital content.
Because in the end this isn’t about any one company’s business model or any single consumer. It’s about the entire market and what kinds of modes it lends itself to. And it’s increasingly apparent that with the continuing digitization of media consumers are less interested on holding on to content, re-watching/re-playing/re-reading it at a later date, then getting caught up in whatever’s hot at the moment. Not only are people’s schedules so tight that they don’t have the time to get out every last bit of fun from their investment, but there’s so much entertainment, available at such cheap prices, accessible nearly all the time, that to spend too much time on any one game, app, movie, album, or book is to sacrifice the chance to be experiencing the hundreds of millions of other things all available at that same time.
So hopefully Apple changes it’s mind, and other distribution platforms follow it’s lead and start moving to subscription services as soon as possible. It’s not just what the consumer wants, it’s what the moment demands.