ISwifter, which launched originally as an iPad (s aapl) browser for playing Flash-based games and watching Flash (s adbe) video, is doubling down on social gaming by repositioning itself as a subscription service for gamers. With iSwifter 3.0, the app has made a host of changes to improve the performance of Flash-based games, which are enabled on iOS devices by streaming from the cloud.
The changes are meant to make the app a go-to resource for Facebook social gamers, and massively multiplayer online game fans who currently can’t access Flash content on iOS devices because of Apple’s ban on the technology. It’s also a boon to social game developers, who are able to bring their Flash-based games to the growing iPad audience without having to build native apps for iOS.
While the previous version of iSwifter allowed users to play Flash games, the new improvements are geared toward providing a high quality of service for games, with back-end support that dynamically provides resources to match the needs of a game. The results are faster responsiveness, high frame rate rendering, lower latency and more support for gestures and touch usability. ISwifter said it can play about 80 percent of Facebook games completely while about 20 percent may require some tinkering by developers to perform better for iSwifter.
With these improvements come a change to the business model. Instead of the old $2.99 flat fee, iSwifter is now charging $4.99 a month for the new games browser, and an additional $2.99 a month for the existing video browser. Previous owners of iSwifter are grandfathered in, and can play the new games browser without paying again. Users can try out the service for free for seven days before deciding whether to pay. Rajat Gupta, co-founder of iSwifter, said the pricing shift was necessary to keep up with the recurring costs of running a streaming gaming service. He said downloads may drop overall as a result of the change, but he believes it’s still possible to build a solid business around serious gaming fans, who don’t have any other real options for playing Flash-based games on the iPad. He said 40 to 60 percent of iSwifter users are heavily engaged in iSwifter with the most popular use Facebook games.
iSwifter’s growing bet on social gaming on the iPad is interesting because it’s clear social games are becoming more mobile. The App Store is crowded with social games that monetize through in-app purchase, for instance. But many traditional Facebook game developers have had trouble porting their games to iOS, or haven’t found the same type of success in building native apps. This should help some of those developers get past those hurdles. ISwifter is poised to help even more, with a service that will allow developers to port their games to the iPad individually as discrete apps in the App Store.
The move to a subscription service is also a recognition that streaming cloud-based gaming is not a cheap business, and requires steady infusions of cash to keep it going, something that bigger cloud-based gaming start-ups like OnLive and Gaikai are also learning. It’ll be interesting to see how many people sign up for iSwifter’s ongoing monthly subscription, considering most of the games they’re playing are free on PCs. But if they can continue to grow, it’ll show the true power of social mobile gaming.