Apple’s Terms for Game Streaming Don’t Bode Well for xCloud and Stadia

Mockup of Stadia running on and iPhone

It looks like streaming game services Google Stadia and Microsoft xCloud aren’t coming to the iPhone or iPad any time soon. Today Apple spelled out the terms it’s made for those services, confirming some of Microsoft’s earlier criticisms. Based on the guidelines, prospects for streaming games on iOS in the near future seem fairly bleak.

Here’s an excerpt from the new section of the review guidelines, 4.9: 

4.9 Streaming games

Streaming games are permitted so long as they adhere to all guidelines — for example, each game update must be submitted for review, developers must provide appropriate metadata for search, games must use in-app purchase to unlock features or functionality, etc. Of course, there is always the open Internet and web browser apps to reach all users outside of the App Store.

  • 4.9.1 Each streaming game must be submitted to the App Store as an individual app so that it has an App Store product page, appears in charts and search, has user ratings and review, can be managed with ScreenTime and other parental control apps, appears on the user’s device, etc.
  • 4.9.2 Streaming game services may offer a catalog app on the App Store to help users sign up for the service and find the games on the App Store, provided that the app adheres to all guidelines, including offering users the option to pay for a subscription with in-app purchase and use Sign in with Apple. All the games included in the catalog app must link to an individual App Store product page.

If you don’t want to read the legalese, the gist is that while it’s technically possible for streaming services to be available on iOS, each individual game offered on those services has to A) function as its own app, with a dedicated listing in the App Store, and B) pass Apple’s rigorous review process as if it was its own app.

Additionally, any game streaming services will have to offer in-app purchases for games, DLC, and microtransactions using Sign in With Apple and the App Store’s payment processing system. That means a 30% cut of the price goes to Apple, which is the core of the company’s current conflict with Epic Games.

Promotional image from Fortnite
Apple’s insistence on processing payments with a 30% cut has started a very public fight with Fortnite maker Epic Games. Epic Games

It’s worth noting that Apple is not applying the same strict rubric to non-game streaming services. Not every video on YouTube or Netflix needs a separate iOS app with its own approval process.

While streaming game services could work within these guidelines, it seems unlikely that any of them will be willing to do so, at least in this infant stage of streaming service platforms. GeForce NOW and Xbox game streaming both offer hundreds of titles, Stadia has dozens. Publishing all of those games (or access to them) as individual apps presents a huge investment of time and money, to say nothing of the individual upkeep of each title or the expense of sharing revenue on all game purchases.

Some are seeing this as an indication that Apple is interested in its own game streaming platform. If I may spitball a bit: I don’t see that happening. Apple hasn’t shown any interest in the kind of technology backbone that would require. If you’re looking for a competitive angle here, the Apple Arcade subscription is the one to watch. It follows Apple’s own directives for individual game downloads and approvals, and of course, benefits Apple immensely for both initial and recurrent purchases.

We’re expecting to hear from Microsoft, Google, and others in response to this more explicit description of Apple’s policy towards game streaming. If any of them indicate that they’re willing to adhere to the terms, we’ll be surprised and excited to report so.

Source: Apple via CNBC

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