Apple’s taking a strong anti-gamer stance this year. It forced Facebook to remove the games from its Gaming app before publication, and it won’t allow services like xCloud or Stadia on its App Store. Now, as Apple stands knee-deep in an anti-trust hearing, Microsoft and Facebook are raising hell about its backward App Store policies.
After publishing its Twitch-like streaming app to iOS, Facebook Gaming complained that Apple delayed the release of its app by months. The companies fought back and forth about Facebook Gaming’s mobile minigames, like a basketball game where you swipe to shoot hoops. Apple’s new appeal process didn’t help much, as Facebook’s appeals went ignored by Apple. In the end, Facebook had to remove the minigames from its Gaming app.
Microsoft aired a similar set of complaints in an email to The Verge. After running its xCloud game streaming beta on iOS, Apple won’t allow Microsoft to publish its completed xCloud or Xbox Game Pass software on the App Store. In its statement, Microsoft says that Apple is “the only general purpose platform to deny consumers from cloud gaming.”
But here’s the thing, Microsoft and Facebook are just the latest companies to complain about Apple’s App Store. Developers large and small feel hamstrung by Apple’s strict App Store policies, its long review process, and the 30% tax that Apple imposes on all in-app purchases. Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeny recently spoke out against Apple’s policies, calling them “crippling” and hinting that the App Store is anti-competitive. Coincidentally, these policies are the reason why Apple is caught up in an anti-trust hearing.
So what’s Apple’s excuse? In a statement to Business Insider, Apple clarified that game streaming services violate several App Store policies. Section 4.2.7 of the App Store guidelines note that remote desktop clients are not allowed, and that “thin clients for cloud-based apps are not appropriate for the App Store.” Game streaming services just happen to fit that description to a T. (By the way, Steam Link is allowed on iOS because it’s a local desktop client.)
In addition to guideline 4.2.7, Apple says that it needs to review all games on the app store in order to “protect customers and provide a fair and level playing field to developers.” Because Apple can’t review all of the games on xCloud or Facebook Games, they aren’t allowed on iOS. This rule exists to keep 3rd party app stores off of iOS, so it’s odd to see Apple use it to fight against a streaming service. After all, Apple doesn’t review every movie on Netflix or every website on Safari.
Is Apple anti-competitive, or is addressing actual problems with game streaming? Are Facebook and Microsoft raising hell during Apple’s anti-trust hearing to leverage a change? All I know is that I want to play AAA games on my iPad, and I’m sure that other Apple users feel the same way.