While Google Play Pass seems like a healthy competitor for the Apple Arcade, many developers are already expressing concerns over the subscription service's proposed pay structure, which could spur studios toward creating games filled with grinding and addictive gameplay loops in order to maximize profit. Google Play Pass is the surprise gaming subscription service for Android mobile users that Google has already launched just days after announcing it, and will serve as the closest thing to competition for Apple Arcade despite both services targeting different demographics of phone users.
Google Play Pass launched with a $4.99 USD per month subscription model that immediately gives users access to over 350 games and apps that are then provided free of advertisements and not requiring any in-app purchases. Google will also offer the first year of Google Play Pass at $1.99 USD per month for subscribers who choose to go all-in on the service early, creating a pretty strong incentive for Android users with even a modicum of interest in mobile gaming to at least try the service. What wasn't clear, however, is how Google Play Pass incentivizes its developers to be a part of the service, and what that might mean for the direction of games that appear on it.
Now, fans are getting a better idea of what Google Play Pass' revenue model looks like, and it's one that concerns developers. According to a report from IGN that interviewed several game developers, the Google Play Pass model will prioritize Google and consumers at the cost of small developers. Essentially, only very popular games will be able to generate a lot of royalty, as the amount developers receive for their games is directly tied to the amount of time users spent playing their game with the latter's subscription. In a quote from an interview with IGN for the report, Vlambeer co-founder Rami Ismail shared the crux of a very concerning argument that could influence mobile game direction on Android platforms:
"If engagement becomes money, then grinding, addictive loops, and infinite gameplay becomes the best way to earn money. If developers get paid for engagement, the only model that makes sense is to maximize the time people spend in the game or the number of times people have to check the game, artificially if necessary. It's upsetting."
It's a reversion back to a practice that some console games have finally been rallying against after the advent of live service games, microtransactions, and other predatory practices that look to artificially create a sense of investment in a game that's really just a method of control over how much time someone is obligated - if they want to remain active and on top of the game's systems - to spend with a specific title. Apparently, the current revenue model for Google Play Pass is concerning enough that several small developers feel it will funnel game design for the platform into one unfortunate direction.
Naturally, we're all still in the early days of what Google Play Pass will look like and how it will affect studios looking to design for it - not to mention what kind of impact ties to Google Stadia could have if they're explored. With so many experienced and savvy developers expressing concern over the platform, though, it's possible that there are some very real issues with Google Play Pass that will need to be addressed as soon as possible.