We’ve been so excited for Microsoft’s xCloud service ever since it was originally announced two years ago. The idea is that you’d subscribe to xCloud and be able to stream a huge library of games to a number of different devices, including mobile devices complete with custom virtual controls and controller support. So if you’re guts-deep in Gears of War 5 on your Xbox or PC, you could seamlessly transition to playing on your mobile device when you were out and about and all your progress would carry over. With Microsoft’s recent announcement that xCloud would be bundled up with their excellent Game Pass Ultimate subscription service, this was shaping up to be a huge breakthrough in the types of gaming experiences that would be offered to mobile device owners. Sadly, this sort of thing flies against Apple’s App Store guidelines, and so just yesterday Microsoft officially ended the xCloud iOS beta test prematurely and announced that they’d be focusing solely on supporting Android for the service’s launch on September 15th.
That decision has certainly soured a number of iOS device owners, including yours truly. Well today Apple has spoken out about the matter and states that the main point of contention for allowing the Game Pass app into the App Store is that Apple requires that each individual game be reviewed by them prior to being available in the store. Here is an official statement that Apple provided to BusinessInsider:
“The App Store was created to be a safe and trusted place for customers to discover and download apps, and a great business opportunity for all developers. Before they go on our store, all apps are reviewed against the same set of guidelines that are intended to protect customers and provide a fair and level playing field to developers."
“Our customers enjoy great apps and games from millions of developers, and gaming services can absolutely launch on the App Store as long as they follow the same set of guidelines applicable to all developers, including submitting games individually for review, and appearing in charts and search. In addition to the App Store, developers can choose to reach all iPhone and iPad users over the web through Safari and other browsers on the App Store."
It’s kind of hard to not laugh out loud at the above statement, given the sort of things that have snuck through Apple’s approval process over the years, and given how profoundly unevenly those guidelines are applied to different developers. I do understand their point of view, but to not be willing to find some sort of solution for something like xCloud or Google’s Stadia, which is also not allowed on iOS, just seems incredibly shortsighted.
Development costs in the console and PC space are ballooning out of control, and users don’t seem very receptive to paying more per game to make up for those increased costs. Some titles on next gen consoles will be selling for $70 instead of the normal $60 (and $50 the gen before that), but in reality they probably should be selling for $100 or more due to how expensive they are to make nowadays, and oftentimes a game’s base cost + DLC + Season Pass type stuff does end up in the over $100 range. But when you can pay $15 a month for access to more than 100 games on xCloud, which you can also seamlessly play across a variety of different platforms, it seems like a no brainer compared to the old way of buying games individually. I really think this will be the future of gaming, and Apple is going to be left behind if they don’t find some sort of solution for things like xCloud.
Oh, and if you’re wondering why Apple requires that they approve every game for xCloud but they don’t subject every show or movie to an approval process for a service like Netflix, BusinessInsider thought of that too and asked Apple about it. Their answer is that it’s the choice of medium, and that movies and shows are passive entertainment while video games are fully interactive entertainment. And that… makes a difference, I guess?
I do find it interesting that Apple mentions using a web browser as a way to reach iOS users without going through the App Store. Web browsers have come an incredibly long way and are capable of much more than just browsing the web, so I could see it being possible to stream xCloud games through a browser on your iOS device. The problem is that I know for a fact that the experience wouldn’t be as good as a dedicated app, otherwise we’d all just access everything on our devices through the web browser. But at least it would be something.
For their part, Microsoft still desires to have xCloud available on iOS someday, and states: “It’s our ambition to scale cloud gaming through Xbox Game Pass available on all devices, but we have nothing further to share at this time regarding iOS." Hopefully this does get resolved somehow in the future, but in the meantime, xCloud and Game Pass are going to be major parts of my gaming future and without support for iOS I’m now in the market for an Android device.