We are just a handful of days away from Microsoft officially launching their xCloud game streaming service, and as a long-time Apple fan and devout iOS and Mac user, it has been a bitter pill to swallow. You see I’m also a big Xbox fan and absolutely love the idea of xCloud. Being able to stream more than 100 full-blown console games to a variety of devices including smartphones and tablets feels like the future. But because of Apple’s arbitrary guidelines and how they relate to different types of media, iOS users won’t be allowed to partake in that future. That’s because Apple has thus far not allowed game streaming services like xCloud or Google’s Stadia onto the App Store, and one of the main reasons they’ve cited is because they require the ability to review and approve every game that’s included in those types of services.
To be fair, Apple has a point with these requirements. If a game doesn’t have an individual approval process or its own page in the App Store things like the app chart rankings, ratings, search metadata, and other aspects of how the App Store are run wouldn’t work right. I somewhat get where they’re coming from. But it’s also true that things like Netflix and Kindle exist. Apple does not require Netflix to individually submit for review each and every movie or TV show offered with their subscription service, nor do they individually review every book on the Kindle store. Apple has addressed this by stating that movies/TV/books are passive media that don’t need individual approval, but because games are interactive, they do need to be individually approved. Uh, ok? That’s a stupid as hell reason but you do you Apple.
Well anyway, today Apple has provided updated App Store guidelines that go from a blanket ban of all game streaming services to one that allows the services on the App Store… if you’re willing to jump through ridiculous hoops first. Here are the main relevant sections of the guidelines that deal with game streaming services.
So basically this is saying what Apple had already alluded to before, that in order for a game streaming service to be approved for the App Store, each individual game on that service has to be submitted for review separately and have their own individual App Store pages. Again, their reasons for wanting it this way make sense, i.e. appearing in charts and search, user ratings, functionality with other iOS services like Screen Time or Parental Controls. As I said before, I get it. But this is entirely discounting what a game streaming service even is, and by that count it’s providing an impossible set of requirements to allow those services to operate on the App Store the way they are intended to.
What this section is much more relevant to is a gaming subscription service (without the streaming part). Something like GameClub adheres to all these requirements, and it makes total sense. It would also make sense if all Microsoft was trying to do was have their Game Pass service available on iOS. But they aren’t doing that. They want xCloud, the streaming service portion of Game Pass, available on iOS just as it will be on Android when it launches next week. Just like Netflix, the content itself is being hosted elsewhere and is simply being streamed to your own individual device. To prove that Apple just straight up doesn’t understand what a game streaming service even is, consider this other change from today regarding Section 3 of the guidelines.
It is required that users DOWNLOAD the games from the App Store that they want to play from the STREAMING service. That is like requiring the water that a restaurant serves to its guests to be dry. I feel like commandeering some sort of gigantic government laser and burning the Jackie Chan WTF!? meme onto the face of the moon. I just can’t comprehend what Apple’s thinking is here, but whatever it may be this requirement effectively destroys the idea of a game streaming service right from the get-go.
It’s also not clear what the rest of that section means. I mean the duplicate payments thing I get, but what exactly does “Games…should not disadvantage non-subscriber customers" mean? I’ve heard some interperet that as meaning any games on a streaming service must be downloadable and playable in some form for everybody, even if they’re not a subscriber. This could simply mean offering a limited demo for these games. Which… I guess is fine? That still defeats the purpose of streaming the games, but ok.
But even if that is the case, why is this only a requirement of game streaming services? Why does Apple not have a similar requirement for their own Apple Arcade service? Sure, they offer a 30-day free trial, but if you’ve already used that trial previously but want to check out a game on Apple Arcade that just came out recently, you can’t do it without subscribing to the service. Why can’t that also be the same for a game streaming service? Apple continues to tout their “level playing field for all developers" but also plays by their own set of rules when it suits them.
This whole thing feels like Apple trying to give themselves some sort of out for any future antitrust litigation. It’s like putting a cupcake in the middle of a live bear trap, and then offering it to someone. “Oh, I guess you don’t WANT that cupcake then. Well, you can’t say we didn’t offer it to you!" Apple is presenting a set of guidelines that are impossible for a game streaming service to adhere to while still being able to call itself a game streaming service. It’s just asinine, and it’s hard to tell if it’s through sheer incompetence on Apple’s part, greed, vindictiveness, or a combination of all of those things.
Personally I’ve already gone out and picked up an Android device and will have a relatively cheap little xCloud portable gaming setup ready for next week’s launch, and I hope to have a little guide put together by then on my whole setup for anyone else interested in doing the same. But honestly, as a devout Apple fan for decades who has hand-waived and sometimes even come to the defense of many of their absurd decisions over the years, this latest debacle with game streaming services is just too much and has me seriously questioning if I’ll be picking up a new iPhone this year or if I’ll finally dive into one of the many excellent Android handsets out there.