Google seems to be planning an answer to the upcoming Apple Arcade service, which the iPhone maker will launch later this year. The so-called “Google Play Pass” has appeared in the Play Store for a small number of users. The service offers a selection of premium apps and games with no ads or in-app purchases for one monthly fee, but it’s unclear when or if Google will actually launch the service.
The first hint of an app subscription appeared last year on XDA when the site found mention of Play Pass in a new version of the Play Store. The company didn’t have anything to say at the time, but now Play Pass is appearing on phones. This time, Google has confirmed that it is testing an app and game subscription feature.
Apple Arcade, as the name implies, features games from developers like Konami, Lego, and Sega. Apple is leaning heavily on exclusive titles to push Arcade, but Google’s angle is to offer more than games. Play Pass will feature games like Stardew Valley and Marvel Pinball. No apps are included in the initial test, so we’re not sure exactly what Google is thinking. Although, the Play Pass subscription screen mentions premium music streaming and fitness trackers will be among the free apps. Google promises “hundreds” of apps and games as part of the service.
The test includes a 10-day free trial to the service, after which Play Pass costs $4.99 per month. Of course, Google could modify the cost before officially announcing the service. Subscribers get unlimited access to all the premium apps and games offered under Play Pass, and they won’t see any ads in the content, either. Apps and games that contain in-app purchases will have all of them unlocked. However, Play Pass probably won’t work well with many free-to-play mobile games. Unlocking all those in-app purchases would break experiences built around “pay-to-win” mechanics — you’d instantly win with unlimited crystals, gold, or whatever the premium currency might be.
Google might choose to announce Play Pass at its yearly October event, but it could just as easily launch it with a blog post. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Play Pass make some sort of appearance at the October event, possibly as a bundled feature in the new Pixel phones. Google already offers free Photos storage on Pixel phones. Why not some free apps to sweeten the deal?