Apple and Google Mobile Gaming Subscription Plans

On September 19th, Apple launched its mobile games subscription program, Apple Arcade, and a few days later, on September 23rd, Google released its mobile games subscription program, Play Pass. According to Newzoo’s annual Global Mobile Market Report released in September, the 2019 mobile games market will reach $68.5 billion with nearly three-quarters of smartphone users (3.18 billion) playing mobile games (2.36 billion).

Both Arcade and Play Pass offer a library of heavily curated games specific to their own operating systems that are free from ads and in-app purchases. However, Apple has squarely emphasized premium gaming with its development funding and selection of developers and publishers, while Google has emphasized value with its high count of games and inclusion of productivity and non-gaming apps.

Mobile games have long been dominated by free-to-play games that are supported by microtransactions and freemium games that are ad-supported. Premium or paid games have received critical acclaim for creative gameplay liberated from engagement mechanics and core loops that can feel forced in free-to-play games, but they have had a harder time succeeding financially, rarely cracking the top-grossing games charts. We have seen the rise of successful subscription gaming plans, from seasonal passes for specific games to Xbox’s Game Pass. Additionally, as smartphone sales slow with widespread penetration and longer turnover, companies are looking for ways to expand their revenues. We will be curious how subscription services will differentiate themselves, but a push from Google and Apple could lead to a natural business model expansion for premium mobile games overall. It is an open question how pricing from subscription models will affect direct sales of premium games on other platforms.

i Tassi, Paul. “’Apple Arcade Exclusive’ Does Not Mean What You Think.” Forbes Magazine, 20 Sept. 2019.
ii Takahashi, Dean. “Apple Arcade Exclusives Will Receive Funding from Apple.” VentureBeat, 26 Mar. 2019.
iii Machkovech, Sam. “Google Play Pass on Android: $5/Mo for 350 Games, Apps sans Microtransactions.” Ars Technica, 23 Sept. 2019.