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Game streaming now OK for iPhone, with big caveats (Update: Microsoft statement)

Update: Microsoft has issued a statement related to Apple's new game streaming policies. Spoiler: it's not a fan.

Published onSeptember 11, 2020

Google Stadia controller on table

Update: September 11, 2020 (04:52 PM ET): Microsoft has now issued a statement related to the news below. As one might have expected, Microsoft doesn’t think Apple’s new policy towards game streaming on iOS is all that great.

Here is the statement Microsoft gave to The Verge earlier today:

This remains a bad experience for customers. Gamers want to jump directly into a game from their curated catalog within one app just like they do with movies or songs, and not be forced to download over 100 apps to play individual games from the cloud. We’re committed to putting gamers at the center of everything we do, and providing a great experience is core to that mission.

Of course, that statement doesn’t say that Microsoft won’t bring its xCloud game streaming service to iOS. However, it does make a pretty good point about Apple’s apparent double-standard for games when compared to movies, songs, books, and other forms of media available through apps on the App Store.

Original article, September 11, 2020 (02:48 PM ET): Apple has loosened the App Store policies that have barred game streaming services like Google Stadia and Microsoft xCloud (in Xbox Game Pass Ultimate), although you might not want to expect them on your iPhone or iPad just yet.

TechCrunch reports that Apple has updated its app rules to explicitly permit game streaming, but only under strict conditions. Most notably, every game has to be listed in the App Store and use Apple’s in-app purchasing system to “unlock features or functionality.” There can be a catalog app that helps users sign up and links to many games, but there have to be options to use Apple’s subscription system and Sign in With Apple.

Apple positions its game streaming rules as helpful to users. You can find individual games, read reviews, and manage them using parental controls. The company suggests that providers who don’t want to go through the App Store can use a web browser instead.

Read more: Sorry, Stadia, I’m backing xCloud

As you might guess, this makes it difficult for services like Google Stadia and Microsoft xCloud to operate on iPhones and iPads. They’re technically feasible, but every game would need an App Store listing and Apple payment hooks for any paid content. Xbox Game Pass Ultimate offers over 100 games — Microsoft might need to create shell apps for every one of those titles. That’s not including Apple’s 30% cut of subscriptions (15% after the first year) and in-app purchases, which could lead to higher prices for those who sign up in-app.

This could also complicate matters for users. The catalog app would have to point you to individual App Store listings. If you’re searching for a game, you might find multiple entries if competing services include the same titles. You’d also have to manage the icons for every game on your device, which could be a pain if you play more than a handful of games.

This makes game streaming considerably more complicated on Apple products than it is on Android and other platforms

It’s not clear if Google or Microsoft will bring Stadia and xCloud to iPhones and iPads under the new rules. Google declined to comment to CNBC.

The move isn’t completely surprising. Apple has different stances on games versus passive media like music and movies, and it has long seen the App Store as a way to shape the ideal experience for users (and, of course, generate revenue).  However, this makes game streaming on Apple products considerably more complicated than it is on Android and other platforms —you can’t just use one app to access your entire catalog.

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