Apple Eyeing Game Subscription Service for iOS: Report

Apple is reportedly eyeing a subscription service for one of the App Store’s most lucrative and sustainable categories: games.

First reported by Cheddar (which cites five unique sources), this subscription service is meant entirely for games. There’s no known price-point, though Apple’s usual standby of $9.99 per month is a reasonable assumption.

Here’s what it could mean for developers:

Red (The Bad Stuff)

  • Apple reportedly wants to be the publisher for all games on its subscription service.
  • No official price-point was mentioned; could be too low for developers to make much.
  • In-app purchases and ads will likely be removed.

Green (The Good Stuff)

  • It’s games-only, making it easier to target the right audience.
  • Apple acting as publisher may actually be a good thing.
  • The model for subscriptions is typically unlimited access, so gamers win.

Refactor (Our Take)

If this game subscription service takes off, it will compliment Apple’s existing Apple Music subscription service. It may also join Apple’s rumored foray into e-magazine subscriptions, a Netflix-like streaming-content hub of some sort, and iCloud as ways Apple will wet its beak in the shallow pool of your wallet every month.

Subscription gaming is also ‘the gift and the curse’ for users. Unlimited access to games is nice, but are most people really spending $10 per month (an assumption, by the way) on games now? The cost of a streaming music subscription service boils down to one album purchase each month, which is approachable for most people. But as App Annie data shows us, the most popular games are those that are free to play, and only charge for items and levels purchased in-game.

Those games are also the most lucrative, suggesting we spend a lot on in-game widgets and character skins. But would Apple be able to attract those types of titles onto their service?

More to the point, would companies behind those class-leading titles bow to Apple becoming the publisher of such games? Do you really think King, the company behind Candy Crush, would turn titles over to Apple, even for a significant up-front payment?

Apple has some leverage here. All games made for iOS have to go through a review process, which gives Apple the earliest glance at titles that may catch on in a big way; it also knows how much these games are earning, since it takes a cut of all revenues.

This rumored initiative is reminiscent of Setapp, a subscription service for macOS apps that pays developers based on how many ‘downloads’ an app racks up. With that service, you have access to dozens of apps for $9.99 per month, which allows you to download as many available titles as you like. If you stop paying, the apps no longer work; you’d have to re-start your subscription, or buy the apps outright elsewhere.

Apple could track game downloads and other metrics via a discrete ‘game subscription’ app, similar to what Setapp does. If it were the publisher, it could dictate payment terms (if any) to third-party developers.

Essentially, this is Apple’s attempt at creating an iOS version of Steam for iOS, Valve’s popular storefront (and digital-rights manager) for gaming. Last Spring, Apple blocked Steam Link, a game-streaming service that beamed Steam games to iOS or Android devices, from iOS. At the time, Apple cited “business conflicts” as cause for blocking the app. We have to wonder if, ultimately, this rumored subscription service is what those conflicts were about.