Google 'Play Pass' Could Arrive As App & Game Subscription Service


Play Pass might be the name of a new subscription service offered by Google in conjunction with the Play Store. At present, the information on this is limited although there is another circumstantial evidence to suggest that the idea is definitely being considered. Much of this evidence comes from XDA-Developers and its community which seems to have uncovered two different, but seemingly related aspects. The first is an actual reference to the "Play Pass" name found within the Play Store app's code. The second comes from one of the routine Google Opinion Rewards surveys that is often sent out where a user was asked whether "Pass" is a good name for an app store subscription service.

The latter of the two, although the least useful as a confirmation, is technically the most revealing as the question specifically asks whether "Pass" would be a good name for a service that provides "hundreds of dollars worth of paid apps and games for a monthly fee." Needless to say, if Google is indeed planning on launching a feature called Play Pass then it seems fairly likely this will be a subscription service aimed at offering free at the point of use access to a selection of apps and games that users would otherwise have to pay on an individual basis to use.

Background: The Google Play Store, while the most widely used app store on the market, is one that has forever been in a constant state of flux. One of the reasons for this is Google's continued ambition to increase revenue associated with apps. As this has been one of the most problematic issues for Android developers who although have access to a significant number of users, and do see an impressive number of downloads compared to Apple's App Store, the Play Store has continuously failed in comparison when it comes to converting usage to revenue. A situation which in theory could become graver in the future with some analysts having predicted turbulent times ahead for the Play Store due to the way in which Google deals with, and the rates it charges developers to appear in its app store.


Regardless of the motives, Google has looked at a number of different ways it can increase revenue for developers and has already toyed with various ideas. For example, the option to test-run an app before downloading through Instant Apps, and the Play Points program Google launched last month. While this one is only available in Japan at the moment the idea is each time a user spends money on the Play Store they receive points. Once those points amount to varying degrees they can be converted to either Google Play Store credit (again to spend in the Play Store) or used directly for in-app purchases. In short, users spend money in the Play Store to gain virtual money they can once again spend in the Play Store. What's more the "Play Points" name tallies well with the suggestion more of a subscription side of monetization might arrive as "Play Pass."

Adding to all of this, Google, like many companies and brands has clearly been making moves to a subscription model in general and for many of its services. As Google now offers a subscription to music content through Play Music, to ad-free video content through YouTube Premium, and of course to on-demand and live TV access through YouTube TV. So the idea the company is considering a similar approach for its apps and games segment makes sense.

Impact: This seems likely to be both an interesting and complicated feature. From the end user perspective, gaining an option where they can access a much wider number of apps for a set fee could be a great move by Google. As although Google does offer a limited window where you can get a refund for Play Store purchases — which can be utilized by those who download an app or game that's not right for them — it still requires the user to go through the process of buying the app and then refunded it again. In contrast, this approach make it very easy for users to check out a new app due to the access having already been paid for. Likewise. if they find they don't like the app, they can just as easily uninstall it again and move onto the next app without any trouble or additional hurdles to recoup costs involved. So actual accessibility of paid apps to users will be greatly improved with the launch of a subscription service.


However, as is this case with any subscription service the two areas where Play Pass will likely succeed or fail is the content and the cost. If, for example, the selection of apps and games are not up to par then it stands to reason users are not going to be that encouraged to pay – let alone pay every month to access the service. And this is likely to be a real issue as popular apps are already popular by definition and therefore convincing developers of those apps that a share of a subscription fee is in their best interest might prove difficult. Then there's the cost, unless the price is right then Google runs the risk of immediately pricing itself out of contention. Considering app revenues are not that high on Android to begin with, this would suggest a number of Android users are not keen on paying for apps in general. While the subscription model would offer those users access to a variety of apps without paying more for any one app, the price will still need to be low enough to ensure it's still a better option than those mainstream users simply paying for the app they actually want once a week, month, quarter, or whenever. Striking the balance therefore between subscription cost and content, while also ensuring developers (of all levels) are happy with their share of the return, could prove to be a struggle. That's if Play Pass ever does make it to the consumer version of the Google Play Store. Which based on Google's past behaviors with features, is not guaranteed – in spite of what seems to be mountain evidence the feature is en route.

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Freelance Contributor

John has been writing about and reviewing tech products since 2014 after making the transition from writing about and reviewing airlines. With a background in Psychology, John has a particular interest in the science and future of the industry. John also covers much of the news surrounding audio and visual tech, including cord-cutting, the state of Pay-TV, and Android TV. Contact him at [email protected]

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