Google Looks to Gain Ground on Apple With New Play Pass

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First came the TV streaming wars, closely followed by the game streaming wars. Now, it seems a new battle is on the horizon: the gaming app subscription wars.

A Google spokesperson confirmed with Thursday the company is currently testing Play Pass, a subscription-based all-access pass. According to leaked screenshots published by Android Police, the service will include“hundreds of premium apps and games, with no ads or in-app purchases.”

Already, Google Play Pass has a clear competitor and point of comparison. Back in March, Apple introduced Apple Arcade and called it “the world’s first game subscription service for mobile, desktop and the living room.” For a recurring fee, iOS users will be able to play curated and original games with all of the features unlocked. Since Google Play Pass is already in testing and Apple Arcade has yet to even announce a price, it might be a race to the finish line to see who is truly “the first.”

Exclusive: Google now testing 'Play Pass' app and game subscription service

— Android Police (@AndroidPolice) August 1, 2019

Details about Apple and Google’s competing services remain slim. Full release timelines have not been provided, though Apple Arcade is expected to launch this fall. The cost of Apple Arcade is completely unknown, while Google will apparently cost $5 per month. That may seem like pocket change, but it provides a huge opportunity for Google to increase app store profits.

According to data from Sensor Tower, the Google Play store’s gross app revenue in the first half of 2019 was $14.2 billion and total app downloads reached 41.9 billion, working out to average revenue of $.34 per app. Apple’s revenue per download for the same period was $1.70. Revenue is “inclusive of in-app purchases (IAP) such as subscriptions to dating apps or currency (gems, etc.) for use in mobile games,” according to Randy Nelson, head of mobile Insights at Sensory Tower.

The data also shows that over the same year-long period, Apple actually saw a decline in downloads and brought in a third of the amount of downloads as Google in the first half of 2019. Despite this, Apple’s app store is bringing in more revenue than Google – 80% more, to be exact. Offering Google Play pass could be a way for Google to close the revenue gap with Apple and monetize it’s apps in a more profitable way.

Appealing to gamers also makes sense for Google since mobile game revenue accounted for 84% of its revenue in the first half of 2019. But according to Alex Malafeev, co-founder of Sensor Tower, Google might be missing the mark: “Google’s Play Pass offering looks to be focused on premium games, which in recent years have contributed an increasingly smaller portion of overall Google Play revenue, accounting for only a few percent last year. The Play Pass will most likely appeal primarily to a small subset of mobile gamers – the hard core.”

The Google Play Pass also seems to want to appeal to a broader user base than Apple Arcade by offering a variety of apps instead of just games. According to Android Police’s screenshots, users can expect “premium music apps” and “fitness trackers.”

So the value of a Google Play Pass will depend on which apps are ultimately included, and which apps you actually like to use. A subscription to a music or fitness tracking app could easily set you back more than $5 a month on its own. Sensor Tower’s data suggests gaming apps tend to draw more revenue compared to apps in general for both Apple and Google, probably because they encourage in-app purchasing. If you’re a gamer who is already purchasing in-app features or paying for ad-free experiences, the Google Play Pass could be a convenient (and maybe even cheaper) way to play.