Google takes on Apple Arcade with Play Pass subscription service

Google has announced Play Pass, a subscription service for Android devices that gives users unlimited access to a library of more than 350 games and apps for a monthly fee, with the selection on offer changing over time.

The announcement comes a few days after Apple Arcade was officially launched for iPhones. But where Arcade focuses primarily on new and exclusive games, Play Pass appears to prioritise more established titles. As part of the announcement Google highlighted games including Monument Valley 2, Limbo, Mini Metro, Stardew Valley, Terraria and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. Play Pass will include non-game apps as well, such as AccuWeather.

The service is launching in the US this week, according to a Google blog post, but Australian availability was not announced beyond saying Play Pass would come to "additional countries" soon.

Like Apple Arcade, Google Play Pass will cost $US4.99 per month in the US (Apple Arcade goes for $7.99 per month in Australia), and provides access for a family group of six individual users. Yet while Play Pass only offers a 10-day free trial, Google is offering early adopters 12 months of the service at $US1.99 per month for a limited time.

Also like Apple Arcade, Google is promising that none of the included apps or games have ads or offer additional purchases, although some game developers have expressed concerns about what avenues that leaves them to make money.

A Google Play Pass FAQ implies developers will be paid according to how many accumulated hours subscribers spend using each app or game, which would seem to put smaller-scale or more narrative-focused games at a disadvantage versus those aiming to "hook" players in endless loops.

By contrast Microsoft's Xbox Game Pass service reportedly pays developers an upfront signing fee in addition to royalties. It's unclear how Apple plans to pay Arcade developers moving forward, but given the launch games are all new and largely exclusive it's likely developers received funds up front as well.

Google's FAQ says the company is "continuously refining the model to make sure it fairly rewards titles that bring the highest user value".

The company is also preparing to launch Google Stadia in the US later this year, which uses cloud streaming to allow users to play high-end games on practically any device, provided they have a stable internet connection. Users will need to pay for Stadia games on a per-title basis, but Google will offer a paid membership service that adds games to players' libraries at no extra cost each month. Australian availability has not yet been announced.

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