Google Play Pass bundles 350 Android games and apps for $4.99 per month

Illustration by William Joel / The Verge

Today, Google is launching a new service called “Google Play Pass,” which for $4.99 per month gives Android users access to over 350 games and apps which will be served ad free and without any in-app purchases. Google will give users 10 days free and is also planning on offering the first year at $1.99 per month. It will be available in the US this week and other countries “soon.”

Google’s take on the app subscription model is a little different from Apple, which just last week launched Apple Arcade, its $4.99 games subscription service. Firstly, Google Play pass includes apps as well as games. Secondly, Google isn’t directly funding development their development nor demanding exclusivity.

At launch, all of the apps and games included in Google Play Pass were already available on the Play Store and will continue to be available as standalone purchases (or ad-supported). If you’ve previously installed any app that’s included in the service and sign up, your current app should automatically have its ads removed and its in-app purchases unlocked.

In a demo, Google showed me a game that normally would have an in-app purchase for an expansion pack — but as a part of Play Pass, it was simply free. The Google Play Store will soon begin showing a small, multi-colored ticket next to apps that are included in the Play Pass bundle, showing subscribers that it’s free and enticing non-subscribers to sign up.

Google says roughly two thirds of the apps included in Play Pass are games, including longtime favorites like Stardew Valley, Monument Valley, Limbo, and Risk. In other words, they include a mix of indie and institutional developers. Similarly, the non-game apps include biggies like AccuWeather and smaller, well-loved Android apps like Hi-Q recorder. I haven’t seen a full list yet, but other notable games that I noticed include Star Wars: KOTOR, Mini Metro, Old Man’s Journey, and Eloh.

Play Pass subscriptions can be shared with up to five family members and also integrate with Google’s parental controls for the Play Store. Unlike Apple, Google isn’t requiring more stringent privacy standards from apps included in Play Pass — though the removal of all ads is a big step forward for many of them.

Also unlike Apple, Google was willing to share at least a little about how it plans to pay developers: via user “engagement” with the apps. What precisely that entails is not entirely clear yet — Google says it’s more than simply tracking screen time or number of opens per week.

Developers may balk at their income being handled by another algorithm, but then again the state of Android apps is such that anything that brings in money at all would be a big improvement for Android developers. The platform has a reputation for doing a worse job of monetizing apps than iOS, after all.

Fortunately, developers shouldn’t need to do a lot of work to make their apps compatible with Google Play Pass. The company says that as long as apps use standard APIs for ads and in-app purchases, it should be a simple switchover — either way, developers shouldn’t need to ship two separate versions of their app.

Google says that the program is “invite only,” but will put up a web form where developers who want to participate can “express interest in participating.” A company representative also waved off my question about how it’s quite a coincidence that Google Play Pass comes within a week of Apple Arcade, saying that it had been in the works for some time and was simply ready for launch now. Although Google wouldn’t speak about specifics, I was told that long-term the intention is for Play Pass to make money — it’s not Google subsidizing apps.

The Google Play Pass “ticket” logo, indicating an app is free with the subscription service.

I, along with many others, have been thinking about the potential implications of app stores switching to subscription bundles. For games, it could motivate developers to make stuff that’s less scammy, moving them away from in-app purchases that prey on the weak points in our psychology. In that sense, both Apple Arcade and Google Play Pass could be literal game changers.

But the longer-term implications are potentially bigger. Patricia Hernandez sees a potential future where apps sink to a “Netflix” level of quality where “The content doesn’t need to be ‘good,’ just good enough.” For both Apple and Android, that may be a champagne problem — right now it seems much more important to find a way to extract games from the in-app purchase gutter.

After that, who knows? Google Play Pass has the potential to be a very big deal for the Android app ecosystem. It includes both apps and games — I know for a fact that if I signed up I’d be more likely to use a weather app that’s included than one that’s not.

That puts more power in Google’s hands to pick winners and losers. But if Play Pass is even moderately successful, it could also put more money in developers’ pockets.


Google: open always wins
Also Google: let’s pick winners and losers

I mean, people can always just buy the apps lol

But are people likely to even try a competing app when it isn’t included in their subscription? If the included one is good enough and has a decent level of promotion then unknown, not-included apps wouldn’t draw in the same following.

People weren’t buying apps to begin with, so I don’t see the problem. If I were Google, I’d just let other’s make their own subscriptions that include paid games and apps as well. Keep Android as open as possible.

apps wouldn’t draw in the same following.

This is already a huge issue, it’s nothing new. It is extremely hard to get any traction on any app stores.

I’m trying to think about the results of these subscriptions in 2-5 years. It will likely be a success and what will it mean for the rest of developers?

Alternate subscriptions should be available. It’s the best option they’d have.

That would make it interesting.

Seems like a response, not a something they’ve planned.
"Let’s get a bunch of things together, package it and do it at the same price as them"

To an extent but the fact that they give you apps as well as games potentially makes it a much better value to the consumer. Some of those photo and video editing apps are expensive and if they have a good pro photo and video editor included for the price apple is charging for a games only plan that could change the conversation but time will tell.

Yeah, this actually seems better…I’m still not really interested, but it’s slightly more interesting than the apple one.

The thing I find interesting about the Apple one is that the games will work across all of their operating systems (once they are all updated this fall), and progress syncs over iCloud between them all. So you can start a game on the iPad, continue on your iPhone on the bus, pick up on your AppleTV when you get home, and even play on your Mac laptop if you want a bigger screen on the road.

It doesn’t seem like Google is going for something quite that ambitious here. You will probably be able to play on Android tablets, but how many of these games/apps will be usuable on Chrome?

I’m pretty sure Chromebooks support Android Apps, now, don’t they?
You’re right that Apple has a little wider scope, though.

You are correct, most chromebooks support android apps now. And even if you are running a Windows machine, you can always download one of the many emulators out there (like bluestacks) and just sign in with your Google ID and boom you are off to the races. So while it isn’t as much of an "all in one" type solution as Apple presents it’s also a much cheaper and more accessible option for those that don’t have expensive apple devices. Android emulators are free and chromebooks are cheap.

Not only that but Apple seems to have required certain privacy restrictions and worked with developers who made the games. Each game on it really feels high quality.

The games Google presented for Play Pass are also high quality.

The games on Apple Arcade feel like indie console games. I haven’t had an Android in several years but from what I remember and read now is that the gaming on Android is less fleshed out because there are so few handsets running high end GPUs and other hardware to allow game devs to push the bar.

Oh and I don’t want to de-emphasize that the privacy things is important. It feels creepy to know that games can and do track kids.

It doesn’t seem like Google is going for something quite that ambitious here.

cough Stadia. cough

Stadia is neat and all, but how different is it from other game streaming services like PS NOW? And even then, I don’t think you’re going to be playing many of those games out and about on mobile internet or spotty WiFi. You certainly won’t be able to play offline.

True, but the same could be said about say, Apple Arcade vs Xbox Game Pass. Both cater to different audiences though as does Stadia cater to a different audience than Play Pass.

And at the end of the day neither Apple or Google are being original here as both these new app services are just paid versions of the now-shuttered Amazon Underground program, which functioned more or less the same way I think if I remember correctly.

Apple Arcade caters to a specific audience. As does Game Pass. Who does Stadia cater to?

Core gamers. Of course I can’t say as to how much interest it’s garnered so far but it seems moderately hyped (founders edition selling out in Europe for instance). I know I for one plan on trying it when they deal out their free tier next year because why wouldn’t I at least try it? I don’t expect it to be better than local console/PC gaming but I got to try it out first hand at Pax West a few weeks ago and it was really impressive (albiet with hard wired gigabit internet which I can’t get at home so we’ll see).

And while I don’t see it taking off right away, once games start not releasing on PS4/Xbox One I imagine a lot of people would rather get their next game on Stadia without having to pay a $400 upgrade fee. I know I’d be tempted anyways.

Core gamers are not going to be putting up with split second input lag though. And core gamers don’t mind building a $1000+ PC or dropping a few hundred on a new console.

I think it would do better with casual child gamers. Kids who play Fortnite with their friend and parents who don’t want to or can’t pony up for new consoles. Even then it’s tough because the social pressures of wanting to game with friends means that groups of kids plan to buy MS/Sony consoles to play.

I tried it myself (on really good internet) and it was fine. Maybe for twitch multiplayer games people will care but enough people won’t that I’m sure Stadia can carve out a market segment for itself, especially when it comes down to negligible input lag (which won’t even matter in a lot of single player games) vs a $400-$500 upgrade to the next console. Do core gamers mind that price jump? No, not really. I sure don’t. But if I can get Stadia which is catered to core gaming for free then why wouldn’t I at least try it before upgrading to the next console? And if it works fine then I might find myself with no reason to get the next console. Or if you’re like me and you’ll end up getting the next console anyways (I own a PS4 Pro, Switch, and a gaming PC and plan on upgrading all of them as necessary), you might find yourself preferring Stadia over them due to the play-anywhere-and-on-anything aspect and choosing it for your 3rd party needs.

And like you said, it’ll be great for kids/parents/casual gamers as well, which is a huge market.

It doesn’t seem like Google is going for something quite that ambitious here

I don’t see what’s so ambitious with the things you mentioned.
Google is going to launch Stadia which is something Apple doesn’t do for example.
Actually Google is the one that looks more ambitious.

Google has never lacked for ambition. It’s the discipline for follow through that they don’t have.

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