That was fast: Apple pulls first subscription-based iPad game

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Seattle’s Big Fish Games scored a bit of a coup this week by being the first app developer to get a subscription-based game app into the iTunes App Store. But, the bubble has burst, at least for now: Apple has removed Play Instantly from the iTunes App Store.

Play Instantly was the first iPad app to offer subscription access to games: for $4.99 a month, subscribers could play any available titlle as much as they liked, without having to purchase a separate copy of the game app. Play Instantly’s operation is similar to the OnLive PC gaming service: instead of downloading versions of the app, users connect to gamed via the cloud (which means Play Instantly only worked via a solid Wi-Fi connection: 3G doesn’t cut it).

Big Fish has expressed surprise over the removal, telling Bloomberg the company was trying to contact Apple to find out why the app had been pulled. Big Fish Games was very public about the release of the Play Instantly app and its revenue model: the $4.99/month subscription price included access to “dozens” of Big Fish premium casual games, and the company anticipated that Play Instantly would expand to “several hundred” titles for iOS, Android, and PCs in 2012—that would also come with a higher subscription price of $6.99/month.

Play Instantly may be the first game service to use Apple’s subscription model, but numerous publishers have been using it since the launch of the original iPad. Like app sales and in-app purchasing, Apple takes a 30 percent cut of subscription fees, leaving 70 percent for developers. Apple’s high share of subscription fees has led some publishers (like the Financial Times) to eschew Apple’s subscription technology in favor of iPad/iOS-optimized Web services.

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