A Peek at the Big Fish Streaming Game Service That Scared Apple

Big Fish provided an early look of its streaming game service this week, which it plans to launch this summer on PCs and Android tablets — but not on Apple’s iOS.

The streaming game service allows consumers to play games across a variety of devices, similar to the way Netflix enables consumers to watch movies across their phones, tablets, computers or TVs.

A player’s game progress is saved in the cloud, allowing users to pause a game on one platform and then pick up where they left off on another device. That is a big switch from the company’s current model, which requires users to download large files to their PC or mobile devices.

In an interview, Big Fish’s VP and general manager of cloud gaming, Will O’Brien, said he expects the game service to launch this summer, supporting Android tablets and both PCs and Macs. Initially, it will operate as a subscription service, but later this year, he anticipates being able to offer an ad-supported version.

The service will launch with approximately 100 casual games, including hidden objects, arcade, puzzle and strategy games, and he said they’ll be adding several new games a week from its catalog of 2,500 titles.

But this summer’s launch is not the first time the Seattle company has attempted to roll out the service.

In November, Apple removed Big Fish’s service subscription from the App Store after it was live for a couple of weeks. O’Brien says he forgets exactly what happened, and now refers to the experience as a “pilot,” but flash back to last fall and it didn’t seem very temporary.

At the time, Bloomberg reported that Apple suddenly pulled the app from the App Store, and quoted Big Fish’s founder Paul Thelen as saying that he was surprised since they had worked with Apple for several weeks to ensure that it met the requirements of a subscription service, which was more commonly used by magazine and newspaper publishers.

Thelen added that Apple had even approved the company’s press release announcing the product.

To be sure, games are one of Apple’s most important app categories, often outperforming any other category. It’s unclear why it suddenly felt threatened by the streaming game service, or felt it didn’t reach its standards, but for some reason it removed the app from its store.

Other similar game services have successfully launched on the iPad, like OnLive, which streams console-quality games to tablets. But one inconvenience of OnLive’s iPad app is that all games have to be bought on the PC, because of Apple’s policies on in-app purchases.

Big Fish is now ready to test the waters again this summer with its streaming service, but this time it has no immediate plans to support Apple devices. Without support for the iPad, it is unclear how popular the service will be since fewer consumers own Android tablets.

O’Brien said the service may eventually come to iOS, as well as other platforms, including connected TVs and Facebook.

The cloud-gaming service is expected to create a new revenue stream for Big Fish, which has a big PC and iPad business today. “It is a way to increase our revenue opportunities without having to build for every platform,” O’Brien said. “Plus, it is piracy proof, enabling us to go into new markets, like China and Korea, without concerns of the games being pirated.”

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— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik