Google Play Pass Is a Great Deal, Actually (But It Needs to Be Better)

It’s no Apple Arcade, but Play Pass is still a good way to game on the cheap.

Google Play Pass Is a Great Deal, Actually (But It Needs to Be Better)

Key Takeaways

  • Google's Play Pass offers apps and games for a monthly or annual fee as low as $29.99 per year.
  • Play Pass is ideal for gamers seeking access to a variety of top-tier, mobile-first titles.
  • Play Pass is particularly good for parents since it unlocks in-app items in kids' games.

Open the Play Store and you will most likely see an offer for something called "Google Play Pass." This is a subscription plan from Google that provides access to thousands of apps and games. Play Pass has quietly been around for a few years, but is it worth your time?

What's Included With a Google Play Pass Subscription

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Google Play Pass starts at $4.99 a month, with the option to get an annual subscription for $29.99. The subscription provides access to apps and games for as long as your subscription is active. Once your subscription ends, you lose any premium apps and games that you haven't purchased outright.

Games available through Play Pass show a Play Pass icon on their Play Store page and in search results. If the app or game contains ads, those ads will disappear. You also unlock in-app items. Some freemium games offer discounts instead, as is the case with Pokémon Go, where a Play Pass Subscription currently provides a $5 discount off all in-app purchases.

Subscribing to Play Pass opens up a new tab at the bottom of the Play Store, where you can discover what's available in one place. Essentially, it's like Netflix for apps and games.

​Is Play Pass Worth It for Apps?

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Apps are the weakest part of a Play Pass subscription. This may not come as a surprise when you consider how the Play Store defaults to the games tab (unless you subscribe to Play Pass). Quite frankly, it's hard to find which apps are available at all. Play Pass will not net you access to popular launchers like Nova Launcher or Niagara Launcher. You will still need to pay for software like Adobe Lightroom, which requires its own ongoing subscription.

There are some nice finds, like iScanner, a piece of office software that normally retails for $20. There's Easy Voice Recorder and Infinite Painter. You also get Tasker, a well-known app for automating virtually any part of your phone. All in all, Play Pass will offer you some apps, but unless you get use out of every single one, you'll save more money by paying for them rather than getting Play Pass.

Consider Cross DJ Pro, which normally costs $37, a relatively high price for an Android app. Even still, if you're going to use this app for years, you're still better off buying it. You still spend $60 over the course of two years with the annual plan.

Play Pass Is a Great Deal for Gamers

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For gamers, the story is different. Browsing through the Play Pass section of the Play Store shows game after game. Many of these are top-notch mobile-first franchises, like Kingdom Rush. Others are cross-platform hits like Stardew Valley, Terraria, and Dead Cells. There's Little Nightmares, which originally appeared on the Playstation 4 and Xbox One.

Remember the Professor Layton series from the Nintendo DS era? Yes, those have been ported to mobile. If you're like me, you missed out on the entire series. Each port costs at least $9.99, so Play Pass is not a bad way to burn through most of them (the latest entry isn't available as part of the subscription). If you're new to mobile gaming, or you've never devoted much time to it, then there is already enough here to occupy you for years.

How good of a deal this is, again, comes back to how many games you regularly play. If you purchase multiple games a month, then the $5 subscription is much cheaper, and the annual plan for 50% is a no-brainer. If you only play one or two games, and you come back to them year after year, then you're much better paying for them directly. Play Pass is best for people who hop between games often and find themselves building a sizable collection. You can even treat it as an affordable way to demo a bunch of games before buying your favorites.

Play Pass Provides Peace of Mind for Parents

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Play Pass is arguably even better for parents since many of the included games are kids' games. Without a Play Pass subscription, many kids' games are money grabs filled with in-app purchases and virtual currencies. While Google has put in place some safety measures to prevent kids from spending their parents' money, that doesn't stop them from nagging to purchase endless add-ons with virtual coins. I've been cautious about downloading games for my kids as a result.

A Play Pass subscription removes ads and unlocks items, so many of the games I would previously look over are now viable. My kids can play games the way I experienced them, as self-contained, complete experiences. An Android tablet with a Play Pass subscription is far cheaper than a Nintendo Switch, and many young kids will be just as happy, if not happier, with the selection.

It's not all about gaming, either. Play Pass provides educational apps as well, like Star Walk Kids. But the most important benefit is ultimately the peace of mind. A Play Pass it's a nice thing to pair with Google Kids Space on a child's tablet.

Play Pass Needs to Be More Like Apple Arcade

Google Play Pass Is a Great Deal, Actually (But It Needs to Be Better)

Great mobile games are available for Android, and virtually all of them are also in the Apple App Store. Sadly, the same can't be said for the other way around.

There are a growing number of top-tier games that are only available for iPhone and iPad. The reason is simple: Apple pays developers to make games. They're actually funding game development, leading to the creation of games that possibly would not be made otherwise, on the condition that they become Apple exclusives. With these games being part of Apple Arcade, Apple's version of Play Pass, they've made a big effort to make their products competitive gaming devices.

Take a look at Sonic Dream Team, which looks and plays just as well as a modern console title. Resident Evil Village makes the idea that phones could replace dedicated gaming systems seem less absurd than it once did, even if it's not yet worth playing. I almost physically ache when I think about how Hironobu Sakaguchi's Fantasian, developed in the mold of a PlayStation 1-era Final Fantasy game, isn't coming to Android.

If you actively follow mobile game development, you know how much of the excitement we're missing out on by carrying an Android phone in our pocket. Google isn't doing much to change the situation. Play Pass doesn't come with any exclusives, and it isn't resulting in new software being developed for Android. Netflix is doing a better job of both of these things than Google at the moment, releasing some of the best games in the Play Store.

For now, Play Pass is another revenue stream for existing developers, and it's an affordable way for people to discover some of what's in the Play Store. But it could be so much more.

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