Google Play Pass is just a lazy response to Apple Arcade
Apple Arcade launched in September and not a week passed before Google also launched a subscription service — the Google Play Pass for $5 per month. No matter how you look at it, the timing and pricing just make it look like a direct response to Apple Arcade. And yes, one might argue that we’ve been hearing about Play Pass since late last year, but it would be silly to think that Apple wasn’t developing Arcade that far back, and it’s very probable that Google knew about it.
But there are some major differences between the type of content that the two services offer. To the point where one might wonder “Why do you exist, Play Pass?”. Let’s explore:
Investment in quality
Apple went above and beyond to secure exclusive deals with some talented developers and paid for entirely new games to be made specifically for Apple Arcade. According to reports, Cupertino fronted north of $500 million to get Arcade off the ground. And, as far as we can tell, some games might appear on consoles — like the Nintendo Switch — but will be exclusive to iOS when it comes to mobile.
Apple Arcade is on its second month now and we’ve seen a steady stream of quality titles being added each week. To the point that we are concerned that we might miss a cool game and how to keep up with all of them. So, while a subscription service to gain access to games is still an iffy concept, Apple at least tries hard to make it worth our while.
The Google Play Pass, on the other hand, doesn’t offer anything new or exclusive. When you pay for Play Pass you simply get access to some paid Android apps (or you get ad-free experience in others). They are the same apps that you can buy and keep forever or the same apps that you can download for free and use with ads in them.
And how do the developers get compensated? Well, instead of paying upfront for their software, Google will use an algorithm to evaluate how much customers “value” each of the apps. According to the company, this will not be solely based on “time spent in app”, since Google understands that users treat each app differently. Still, it’s a shaky, murked concept. And it doesn’t help that Google says it will “continuously refine the model” to make sure it rewards developers fairly. Uh, yeah, sounds reassuring...
Why would anyone buy in?
So, OK, Google Play Pass will offer you hundreds — if not thousands — of apps and games that would otherwise be paid for the low, low price of $5 per month $2 per month for the first year, $5 per month onwards. That’s hundreds of dollars worth of software for a pretty cheap monthly fee. If you cut the subscription, you lose access to those apps.
But let’s be realistic. You won’t be needing all of those apps. You probably won’t even want half of them. Some people will find value in one part of the Play Pass collection, others will prefer another part. And since the apps and games there are not exclusive — why not just buy what you want from the Play Store and not worry about the subscription? Why continue to cough up $5 every month when you can get the 10 premium apps you want for $50 and be done with it forever?
Apple Arcade, on the other hand, has a more enticing hook. Don’t get me wrong — I certainly don’t believe that you will enjoy every game on there. Personally, I have 3 or 4 favorites right now that I chose to keep on my iPhone. But I keep going back every week to see what the new releases are. Even if this week’s game doesn’t tickle my fancy, I know for a fact that next week’s title will be another high-quality game that just might. If I cut my subscription, I lose access to my current favorites and I can’t follow the new releases so closely.
So, Apple has me hooked with fear of missing out. But — by pouring millions of dollars into exclusivity deals — it’s made sure that the games are, indeed, good. So I don’t feel that hollow feeling of being cheated out of my $5 on empty promises.
Tread lightly with subscription services
Customers are quickly growing tired, wary, and even concerned with the plethora of subscriptions they might end up needing to keep tabs on. This is why it would be wise of companies to tread lightly and only put up a paywall when they have something of value to offer. But then, we get in this weird realm where everything is exclusive. Want to watch The Boys, See, and BoJack Horseman? That'll be a subscription for Prime Video, Apple TV+, and Netflix.
On one hand, this feels anti-consumer. On the other, many of these shows wouldn't exist if the cutthroat competition didn't pressure these companies into experimenting with and pushing niche content. Apple Arcade feels the same way — these are some very high quality games, some are pretty experimental, others stick to known formulas but do them well. Getting something quirky, fun, and well-made to play with each week makes the $5 per month worth it.
Google Play Pass just feels like a lazy, “Slap $5 on it and ship it out!” response. It’s the personification of redundant subscription services. At least in its current form it is. You don’t know what apps will be added on there, you don’t know if there will be a steady stream of new content. Developers get paid by an algorithm, which may or may not be fair in its distribution. And even if it is right now — something might get flubbed up in the future, since Google will be “continuously refining it”.
Now, for the first year of subscription, Google only asks for $2 per month, which is a "Yeah, whatever" price. I'd even encourage those that are curious to give it a chance. But, stepping back and looking at the bigger picture, it doesn't look like the valuable offer Google wants us to think it is.