In-app subscriptions come to Google Play for games, services and more

By Kathleen De Vere Comment

Google has brought in-app subscriptions to Android. Starting today, Android developers can offer reoccurring monthly and annual subscriptions within any kind of app in Google Play. This means Android users can now buy everything from magazines to in-app currency on an automatically renewed plan.

According to a post on the Android Developer Blog, Google Play subscriptions can be set up for any digital content and will renew automatically, with Google notifying subscribers of price changes and charges at each renewal. Developers can see what device a user has bought a subscription on, and extend the subscription to multiple devices owned by the same user. Subscribers will also be able to access their subscription content across multiple platforms (Android, Chrome, and even a developer’s own website) if a developer sets up a user profile and password system that can be validated by Google’s publisher API. As with Apple, Google keeps a 30 percent share of all subscription revenues.

Today’s announcement brings Google’s payment options more closely in line with those on iOS, which introduced in-app subscriptions in Feb. 2011. However, more importantly the move could put Google ahead of Apple when it comes to monetization for one of the most profitable type of app on either platform — games.

Unlike Apple’s subscription system, which covers content-based apps like digital newspapers and magazines, and subscription-based services like Rdio, Android developers can offer subscriptions for anything. Developers can also offer subscriptions that are accessed across several apps, such as a currency bundle that can be used in all of a developer’s games.

It’s no surprise that one of the first companies that’s taking advantage of Android’s new subscription system is game developer Glu Mobile. In order to support subscriptions, the company has standardized its IAP bundling and introduced a single, universal currency that can be used across all its games.

Glu’s new’s VIP Club offers players the choice to set up a monthly renewing subscription for in-game currency, instead of making one-time purchases. A $9.99 a month Gold Membership rewards players with 520 Glu credits a month, double the amount of credits a user would receive if they made a one-time purchase of a $9.99 in-game currency pack. VIP Club members are also further incentivized by being automatically entered into a monthly sweepstakes where they can win everything from electronics to paid vacations.

“We see that there’s tremendous value in this,” says Adam Flanders, the company’s SVP of sales and marketing. “There’s not a lot of difference between a magazine publisher who goes out and updates on a subscription basis every month and a company like us who is constantly servicing these games to keep people playing and keep them wanting to come back and see new content.”

Although a new option on smartphones, according to Flanders, in-game subscriptions mark a return to a business model Glu used on feature phones. “Carriers always offered subscriptions as a billing option,” he explains. “It was a decent portion [of our earnings] but what it did was reduce some of the volatility.”

Although one of the first developers to come on board, Glu probably won’t end up in the minority. Because game developers ultimately depend on a hit-driven revenue model, the option to establish a steady stream of income based on monthly subscriptions will likely prove to be extremely enticing.

“This is definitely something that could keep [Android] competitive,” says Flanders. “I think it’s going to be big. It’s definitely an exciting move for us and Google. If you look at any other subscription based model or company — companies like Netflix have done quite well with the subscription model.”

Developers who wish to learn more about subscriptions in Google Play can find more information in Google’s in-app billing documentation.