In his opening keynote speech at the Casual Connect game conference at Benaroya Hall today, Big Fish founder Paul Thelen announced a big plunge into cloud gaming.
The company today is launching “Big Fish Unlimited,” an online service that streams games to phones, tablets, PCs and TVs.
The service will cost $7.99 per month for ad-free access to 100 games from 42 developers. There will also be a free version with a rotating selection of 20 games supported by ads.
Big Fish also announced a partnership with Roku to bring the service to Roku’s set-top boxes in the fourth quarter.
Thelen made his case for developers to build premium casual games – the sort that people buy and download, as opposed to free, ad-supported titles.
Thelen said the premium market is still growing, with Big Fish seeing 30 percent growth last year. It’s also giving the company traction on Apple’s iOS platform; Thelen said Big Fish is the fifth highest grossing game publisher on the iPad, ahead of sixth place Zynga.
Yet Thelen still sees big opportunity on the PC platform. Big Fish is now in the process of moving its hit mobile games back to the PC platform where the casual video games business was born.
“We’re going to take some of the hit games that are on mobile – namely the tablets – we’re actually porting them back to PC-Mac,” he said.
To build the cloud service, Big Fish has built a team of more than 100 developers.
Large, 2 gigabyte games are being virtualized on the “Big Fish Unlimited” cloud where they’ll be available to play within four seconds.
The “all you can play” service streams games to devices ranging from phones to Web-connected TVs. Big Fish plans to bring at least 1,000 of its games to the cloud service.
Games are played in the cloud – online – where progress is stored, so players can stop and resume at the same place.
Big Fish Unlimited games are played through the browser using HTML 5 technology.
Large applause followed demonstrations of games being resumed on different devices, and pinching and zooming into a cloud game streaming to an iPad.
“When we tested this with customers they couldn’t tell the difference between a native game and a streaming game,” said Big Fish’s Will O’Brien.
Other speakers took a different tack.
Matt Hulett of RealNetwork’s GameHouse group said the industry’s moving away from paid games and most growth is coming from free or “freemium” games.
“The PC download space is definitely on the decline, it’s not a space that’s going to grow,” said Hulett, whose company also offers downloadable games but is turning toward other models.
Alex Seropian, a founder of Bellevue’s Bungie who went on to start several other studios, talked about the big opportunity on smartphones, particularly for games in the sweet spot between casual and core games.
Facebook’s Sara Brooks said three genres have done particularly well on the social network over the last year. They include hidden object games; casino and bingo games and casual/arcade titles. In the latter category, there are 75 million Facebook users playing “bubble shooters.”
Brooks said the next big opportunities (or at least where Facebook would like to see more games …) are in core action games, sports games and casual turn-based games such as DrawSomething and SongPop.
Facebook also sees big opportunity for game developers to extend their titles to new geographies, localizing them for markets such as Turkey and Brazil.
This is the seventh Casual Connect held in Seattle by the Casual Games Association. It runs through Thursday with more than 160 speakers covering the casual games business from Apple to Zynga.
A view of the lobby: