Late last month, Microsoft announced that xCloud, the company’s cloud-based gaming service would be rolled into Xbox Game Pass Ultimate at no additional cost on September 15th and would be leaving its preview phase. At the time, Microsoft only detailed that cloud-gaming would be accessible on Android phones and tablets, despite having a preview build through TestFlight on iOS.
Many users were kept wondering what the future of Microsoft’s cloud gaming and Xbox Game Pass would look like on Apple devices. Following that news, Microsoft ended its Project xCloud testing on iOS this week. Granted iOS version only offered users to play Halo: Master Chief Collection, whereas Android users had access to a laundry list of games offered on Xbox.
Upon confirmation that the TestFlight was no longer accessible, many jumped to the conclusion that Apple’s App Store restriction has gotten in the way of Microsoft evolving the service the way it intended. Not long after, Apple made an official statement to Business Insider:
“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.”
A breakdown of App Store guidelines relevant to cloud-based gaming services are as followed:
4.2.7 Remote Desktop Clients: If your remote desktop app acts as a mirror of specific software or services rather than a generic mirror of the host device, it must comply with the following:
(a) The app must only connect to a user-owned host device that is a personal computer or dedicated game console owned by the user, and both the host device and client must be connected on a local and LAN-based network.
(b) Any software or services appearing in the client are fully executed on the host device, rendered on the screen of the host device, and may not use APIs or platform features beyond what is required to stream the Remote Desktop.
(c) All account creation and management must be initiated from the host device.
(d) The UI appearing on the client does not resemble an iOS or App Store view, does not provide a store-like interface, or include the ability to browse, select, or purchase software not already owned or licensed by the user. For the sake of clarity, transactions taking place within mirrored software do not need to use in-app purchase, provided the transactions are processed on the host device.
(e) Thin clients for cloud-based apps are not appropriate for the App Store.
Google’s Stadia and Nvidia’s GeForce Now service is also in a similar position to Microsoft’s Xbox Game Pass Ultimate and cloud-based gaming service. For $16.99 CAD/month, users can get access to over 100 games on Xbox Game Pass Ultimate and play them through the cloud.
As Apple states, Microsoft and the aforementioned companies are offering services that don’t align with the App Store policies. The company also won’t see any revenue from enabling users to access a subscription service given by another company. Microsoft and Google aren’t likely going to compromise and give Apple the 30 percent revenue cut other content subscription services offer as a way to be on the App Store either.
It didn’t take long before Microsoft passed the buck back to Apple, stating that the company “consistently treats gaming apps differently”. In a statement to CNET, Microsoft’s full response read as followed:
“Our testing period for the Project xCloud Preview app for iOS has expired. Unfortunately, we do not have a path to bring our vision of cloud gaming with Xbox Game Pass Ultimate to gamers on iOS via the Apple App Store. Apple stands alone as the only general purpose platform to deny consumers from cloud gaming and game subscription services like Xbox Game Pass. And it consistently treats gaming apps differently, applying more lenient rules to non-gaming apps even when they include interactive content. All games available in the Xbox Game Pass catalog are rated for content by independent industry ratings bodies such as the ESRB and regional equivalents. We are committed to finding a path to bring cloud gaming with Xbox Game Pass Ultimate to the iOS platform. We believe that the customer should be at the heart of the gaming experience and gamers tell us they want to play, connect, and share anywhere, no matter where they are. We agree.”
Apple claims that it would have to review each and every game that is accessible through Xbox Game Pass and xCloud. This service is on a Netflix-style rotation with the exception of Xbox Game Studios developed titles. However, as Microsoft points out, each game has already been reviewed by the regulatory ESRB and regional equivalents.
As of now, it doesn’t seem to likely that the two companies will come to an agreement in order to get Xbox Game Pass and xCloud on iPhones and iPads. Microsoft would have to fundamentally change how its services function in order to be approved by Apple. For Apple, it would have to let up on its App Store policies. For now, Microsoft’s Xbox Game Pass and xCloud will live on Android devices.