One of the emerging videogame industries is game streaming. While OnLive may have been ahead of its time, Sony has PlayStation Now, Google has Stadia, and Microsoft has Project xCloud, which will soon be released publicly as Game Pass Game Streaming. While Microsoft has been running a limited test of xCloud on iOS through TestFlight, it turns out it is a feature that will never be because of Apple.
Apple's App Store policies apparently prohibit apps from providing access to content that Apple does not have 100% control over. Apple wants individual approval over each game available on its devices and wants to be able to individually list each one. That is not how game streaming services work, as the game catalog is managed remotely and are only listed through the streaming service itself. It seems like Apple is looking at these services as external app stores that bypass Apple's walled garden.
As a result, companies that are affected by this decision have begun to speak out on the topic. Microsoft said of the conflict with Apple,
Apple stands alone as the only general-purpose platform to deny consumers from cloud gaming and game subscription services like Xbox Game Pass. 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.
While this a big disappointment to owners of iPhones, it is far from the first service to be affected by the decision. Google Stadia, which released in late 2019, is available across multiple platforms, including Android and Chrome browsers. However, the platform is only marginally available on iOS. You can browse and buy but cannot play on the device.
Facebook just launched its Facebook Gaming Marketplace, but, like Google Stadia and Xbox Game Pass, it has been neutered by Apple. The marketplace on Android allows you to play games within the app, but on iOS, that feature is missing. Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, said,
Unfortunately, we had to remove gameplay functionality entirely to get Apple's approval on the standalone Facebook Gaming app. We're staying focused on building communities for the more than 380 million people who play games on Facebook every month -- whether Apple allows it in a standalone app or not.
The heat against Apple and their famous walled garden has been heating up in recent months. Epic Games famously skipped Apple for releasing Fortnite on mobile. ProtonMail has taken swings at Apple, saying,
Apple has become a monopoly, crushing potential competitors with exploitative fees and conducting censorship on behalf of dictators. We know this because we have quietly tolerated this exploitation for years.
Most importantly, there are several antitrust suits in the EU, including one filed by Spotify in March 2019. The EU has taken these complaints seriously, with an active ongoing investigation into Apple's business practices. Eventually, either the EU's research or the growing rift in customer experience between iPhone and other platforms is going to catch up with the company and a change will need to be made.