Mobile gaming has always been a big part of Apple’s iOS strategy. Although the company doesn’t necessary tout it often, naturally preferring to present the iPhone as a well-rounded device that’s good for a variety of applications, there’s no escaping the fact that its dominance has made it a huge platform for all but the most hardcore gamers, and the App Store reflects this, with pretty much everything on it divided into the broad categories of “Games” and “Apps.”
Now a new report from Cheddar indicates that Apple may be taking another big step in the mobile gaming market with the introduction of a subscription service for accessing game titles that would function like a “Netflix for games.” According to five different people familiar with the matter, Apple began quietly discussing the initiative with game developers last year to try and see who would be willing to come on board.
The service is reportedly still in the very early stages, and there’s no information available as to what Apple would charge for the service, what kind of games would be available, or what any of the other terms would be. Likely whether such a service could even be viable would depend on Apple’s ability to woo game developers into coming on board.
The report also adds that Apple has even discussed getting into the role of game publisher, partnering with developers in order to provide distribution and marketing for select games. While this would certainly be a boon to smaller developers, it’s unclear what developer market Apple would be looking to serve with such a plan, but it may also be a way to attract developers into a subscription service by having Apple front many of the marketing and exposure costs.
It’s become clear over the past few years that Apple has been trying to strengthen its services business, which already includes the iTunes Store and subscription services such as iCloud and Apple Music, and is likely looking for new sources of revenue in that area amidst reports that hardware sales may be starting to slow. A new gaming subscription service could definitely be a major win for Apple in this area if the company could put it together in such a way as to make it attractive to mobile gamers.
The timing also seems interesting for such a move, with the mobile gaming industry having moved almost exclusively to “freemium” apps — those that are free to download, making their money from in-app purchases instead of an initial selling price. Many modern games are technically free-to-play, but users will be strongly encouraged to make in-app purchases to get the most enjoyment of the games, and it’s very uncertain exactly how an Apple subscription service would be able to provide any benefit to either developers or end users for games in this category.
However, subscription-based games are also slowly starting to become more prevalent now as well, and it seems like this category of apps would be a particularly good fit for Apple’s new service, along with of course the staple of App Store games that still sell for a traditional one-time price — either up-front, or via an in-app purchase.
While Apple’s service wouldn’t be the first time a gaming subscription service has been attempted — console gaming companies such as Microsoft and Sony have been doing it with some limited success for several years now — it’s an initiative that’s unproven in the mobile space. However, the increasing shift to subscription models for apps over the past few years has not only softened the resistance of many users to paying recurrently, but has had the effect of making many consumers less willing to shell out even small amounts of money up-front to purchase an app, which has many developers also looking for new ways to make money off their apps.
Apple has also recently been showing a renewed interest in mobile gaming in other areas, with Apple likely to revamp the iPod touch this year, likely strongly positioning it as a more current gaming device that can take advantage of the App Store’s huge catalog of games. A gaming subscription service would seem like a natural fit for the iPod touch as a gaming device in much the same way that Apple has positioned Apple Music in the past.