What you need to know
- Play Pass will offer access to 350+ apps and games for $5/month for the whole family.
- Removes all upfront prices, ads, and in-app purchases for the duration of your subscription.
- Promo price $2/month for the first year if you sign up in the first two weeks.
- Launching in the U.S. only at first, with other countries to come soon.
After months with little more than a mention that it exists, Google is launching its Play Pass app subscription service just days after Apple's similar Arcade subscription launched on iOS. While these sorts of subscription models have existed before, nothing can ever match it being handled by Google itself — and that makes a huge difference in the value proposition of Play Pass.
Play Pass is just $5 per month, and that subscription applies to everyone in your Family Library — so as long as you keep your subscription active, your whole family gets to share the benefits of that single monthly payment. Google has a catalogue of over 350 games and apps at launch that work with Play Pass, and with your subscription you get access to each and every one without any monetization scheme — no matter if the app previously had ads, in-app purchases, paywalls or was an upfront purchase, it's all free.
As you browse through the Play Store or come to an app or game listing in any way, it'll be clear whether it's part of Play Pass or not. A small ticket icon will denote it's part of Play Pass, and if there was an upfront purchase price it'll be crossed out. Google will also have a dedicated Play Pass area of the store that only shows Play Pass compatible apps, if you want to stay just in that ecosystem. Google is highlighting big names with games like Stardew Valley and Risk, and utilities like Facetune and AccuWeather — but the value of Play Pass will stand out if Google can keep its promise of adding new content over time.
The huge benefit of having an app subscription on the Play Store level is that developers don't have to do a whole lot to participate, and you don't have to do anything different than just download and use apps. Effectively what's happening is each time you reach the point of having to pay for something — whether upfront or in-app — the Play Store simply authenticates that you have Play Pass and unlocks the feature. That means you get every in-app purchase, every expansion pack, and every paid feature of the apps and games you're using — and you'll never see an ad, either.
Importantly, there are no exclusive titles — which should make it easier for developers to decide to join the program, because their app will still be available exactly as it was for non-Play Pass subscribers. Google also claims it has an advanced system for distributing subscription money to developers based on engagement and app use, not just raw time spent in each app.
And critically, unlike Apple Arcade you're also getting access to apps of all kinds in addition to games. At $5 per month, even if you don't play many games, you could easily see value in Play Pass once you download a few premium utilities and tools. Google's launch catalogue seem weighted toward games, but that's to be expected considering the massive number of games that are bogged down by these monetization strategies.
The only restriction, really, is that Play Pass is only launching in the U.S. to start. Other countries are "coming soon," but we don't know which ones or when.
Obviously Google's hope is that you'll just keep paying for Play Pass as long as you have your phone, but if you do cancel (or your payment information accidentally lapses) the process is pretty seamless. You'll get a short grace period where everything will continue to work, but you'll be reminded of the subscription status, and then you'll eventually be given the option to either re-up your subscription or pay for the content you're trying to access. That means you'll be able to pay to keep the apps installed and data in tact, if you ever feel you're better off paying once rather than monthly.
Coming on the heels of Apple Arcade being announced, Google has an incredibly compelling offering here. Google has big wins in that it isn't limiting Play Pass to just games, it has over 350 apps and games available at launch, and it doesn't have any exclusivities to Play Pass which makes it more appealing for developers. All of this while matching Apple's $5 per month pricing for the whole family. It seems like a great offering that a lot of Android users will be hopping on to at least try for the 10-day free trial period.
You can sign up for Play Pass this week right in the Play Store app. To entice early sign-ups, Google's also offering a one-year discount to $2 per month if you start your subscription prior to October 10.
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Andrew was an Executive Editor, U.S. at Android Central between 2012 and 2020.