Google's Apple Arcade rival is two years old - so why does no one talk about it?

Google Play Pass
(Image credit: Google)

While quite a few mobile gaming fans have heard of Apple Arcade, Apple's subscription service for iPhones and iPads, few people know that there's actually an equivalent for Android devices.

Google Play Pass costs a monthly or yearly fee, and gets you access to loads of otherwise-paid games on the App Store - these include Stardew Valley, Terraria, Star Wars KOTOR, Pocket City, Monument Valley 2, Limbo, Mini Metro and loads of other non-gaming apps too.

The games are free of ads and microtransactions, and you can save the sometimes-high cost of buying them as well. But despite that impressive games line-up, the words 'Play Pass' simply don't have the recognition that Apple Arcade does - just look at Google Trends to see the difference in awareness of both. 

Play Pass recently celebrated its second birthday, reminding many people that it's been around for two whole years - but perhaps Google should have been doing this 'reminding' the whole time.

Google 'eh?' Pass

Apple Arcade was announced with pomp and ceremony by everyone's favorite fruit-themed company, but Play Pass got a much more humble launch, initially being available to download in the US only, with a slow rollout over the subsequent 18 months.

As a result, people often didn't know if Play Pass was available to them or not. This wasn't exactly helped by the fact that Google didn't make it clear when Play Pass was available in other places - on one of our test phones we received a notification alerting us to its availability months after the fact, on another we didn't receive this ding.

It doesn't help that Google's communications have been all over the place - at the time of writing this article, the Play Console for app developers still says "Play Pass is initially only available in the US. We plan to add more markets over time", information which is over a year out of date.

Even when Google Play Pass is available to you, it's not exactly intuitive to find the listing in the Play Store. To find the option, you have to press the icon of your face in the top-right corner of the app, then find Play Pass halfway down this menu - you wouldn't find this if you weren't looking. 

The Play Store doesn't have a Play Pass icon on its home page, like Apple Arcade does on the App Store, and curiously if you go to the listing of a game on Play Pass, there's no mention of the subscription service at all. These are all bizarre omissions that likely contributed to not many people knowing about Play Pass.

Sure, Apple is a powerhouse when it comes to getting easy PR - Tim Cook could sneeze and specialist websites would start analyzing it for iPhone 14 clues - so a comparison between its, and Google's, gaming subscription services isn't totally fair. But it's surprising how little of a song and dance Google has made about the Play Pass.

Stardew Valley

Stardew Valley is a cutesy farming simulator that's free with the Play Pass. (Image credit: ConcernedApe)

More than publicity?

As prolific mobile gamers, the Play Pass seems like a great deal to us, as some of the games you get to try for free cost more than the monthly fee in themselves. 

But in an attempt to play devil's advocate, and discover some other perspectives, we took to Reddit to find out why some fans of gaming on phones avoid the service.

The most frequent complaint we saw was about the Play Pass' library - particularly the lack of exclusive games, and the infrequent updating of the catalog.

The former point stands true, as every title on the Play Pass is also available to buy on its own. If you'd rather play one game on repeat instead of try loads, it might be more economical to just buy that particular title.

The second point is a little more tricky, as Google does bring new apps every month. However if you don't like the look of the titles added, or find the number of games added each month lacking, you might not be happy. This could be especially true if you've already played most of the Play Pass games - then, in effect, you're paying a monthly fee for whatever new games get added that you can try out.

It's worth noting that these aren't consensus opinions on the internet, and people disagreed with them every time we saw them posted. We just tried to find the most common issues Redditors had with the Play Pass.

Google's real issue isn't that some gamers have problems with the Play Pass, though - it's that most gamers don't even know Play Pass exists. Exclusive and new games alone won't get 'Play Pass' to become a household name like 'Apple Arcade' is - publicity will.

Tom Bedford

Tom Bedford was deputy phones editor on TechRadar until late 2022, having worked his way up from staff writer. Though he specialized in phones and tablets, he also took on other tech like electric scooters, smartwatches, fitness, mobile gaming and more. He is based in London, UK and now works for the entertainment site What To Watch.

He graduated in American Literature and Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia. Prior to working on TechRadar, he freelanced in tech, gaming and entertainment, and also spent many years working as a mixologist.