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Subscription games headed to the App Store

You could soon be renting games from the App Store instead of buying. Big Fish Games is reportedly the first publisher to work this out.

App Store

One day you might not own the games on your portable device. You might be renting them instead.

At least that's the vision from Seattle-based Big Fish Games, which has become the first developer to get a subscription-based video game on Apple's App Store, Bloomberg reports.

For $6.99 a month, users of the company's upcoming iPad application can play "dozens" of game titles within the single piece of software, versus the publisher coding each title as its own application and submitting it to the App Store. Those games are streamed to the app, versus being downloaded, requiring a user to be on Wi-Fi, the report says.

The streaming solution follows efforts from companies like iSwifter, which stream Adobe Flash-based content to the iPad, and soon Mac OS X, doing the processing itself on the company's servers to offer access to games on Facebook and Google+. That too began as a subscription-based service, though switched over to a one-time fee.

Multi-function apps are not a new idea for the App Store. In fact, there are numerous games and other software titles that take this idea of combining software tools into single apps. What's of note in this case, is that the app itself can effectively be locked down for non-paying users, making app users more like renters than buyers.

Bloomberg says that Big Fish has a free version of the same app that keeps play time at 30 minutes to non-paying users. That same version comes with ads.

Big Fish already has more than 30 titles on iOS, and says it has more than 2,500 games in its online catalog. More than half of the company's revenues come from outside North America.

Apple launched its App Store subscription service in February, targeting publishers of magazines, video, and music. No mention was made for games, of which developers have relied on a mix of upfront pricing and in-app purchase for revenue.

Apple did not respond to a request for comment.

Update at 3:00 p.m. on 11/23: iLounge points out that the app was on the App Store only briefly before disappearing. There's no news on if it's an error, or if it's been pulled--either by Big Fish Games or Apple. John Gruber at Daring Fireball suggests the subscription-based app managed to slip through Apple's app review process, and was pulled when Apple got wise to it.

Neither company had responded to a request for comment at the time of this update.