Apple has maintained an iron grip on the iOS software ecosystem since the platform launched, but 2020 has brought new challenges. While Apple wrangles with Epic in court, Google and Microsoft are pushing to get cloud gaming on iOS. Apple has caved on cloud gaming today — a little. The latest App Store rules allow for cloud gaming apps like xCloud and Stadia, but the proposed restrictions are ludicrous.
Apple’s alleged objection to cloud gaming services is that they don’t play on a level field with native games that have store pages and appear on charts. Apple’s 30 percent cut of each individual sale undoubtedly has something to do with it as well, but the company won’t admit to that directly.
Regardless of its reasons, Apple has prevented xCloud and Stadia from launching in the App Store. The new rules open the door for cloud gaming, but only if the business models and app designs change radically. According to Apple, games on cloud services must each have their own store page, developers have to provide appropriate metadata for search, and they must use Apple’s purchase functionality. Apple also insists that it gets the opportunity to review all games and game updates delivered via cloud gaming services. Here’s the full text of Apple’s cloud gaming rules. ADVERTISING
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.
While Apple would say this lets Google and Microsoft do what they need to support iOS, it reads more like a roadblock. Reviewing a AAA game like Red Dead Redemption 2 or Doom Eternal would serve little purpose as they’re just video streams on the user’s device — they don’t touch Apple’s APIs or system settings. However, this would give Apple a chance to object to content or in-app purchases.
Naturally, Apple’s proposed approach also ensures it gets that 30 percent cut of each game sale. It says developers can have “catalog apps” for their streaming client, but it needs to link to App Store pages for purchases.
It’s just a big mess. Apple’s existing App Store model is fundamentally incompatible with cloud gaming, and attempting to force these services into the traditional app paradigm is doomed to fail. Maybe that’s what Apple wants, though.