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Apple says cloud gaming apps like Google Stadia violate iOS app store rules

Tech giants Microsoft and Google have been conducting trials on a new way to play games with their Project xCloud and Stadia cloud services. However, these services remained oddly absent from iPhones and iPads and, at long last, Apple has broken its silence on why iOS users have been left out.

In a statement to Business Insider, Apple has confirmed that it doesn’t allow cloud gaming platforms like Google Stadia and Microsoft Project xCloud since they violate iOS app store guidelines.

The reason is simple and has been technically mentioned in the app store’s policies for years. It’s because Apple can’t review each game these apps offer and can’t individually rank them on the app store.

“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,” Apple added in the statement.

A Google spokesperson told Digital Trends the company has no further comment on this at the moment.

Apple inconsistencies?

Microsoft, in a statement to Digital Trends, said it does not currently know any alternative methods for offering Project xCloud on iPhones and iPads but it is committed to “finding a path to bring cloud gaming with Xbox Game Pass Ultimate to the iOS platform.” The software giant also claimed Apple “consistently treats gaming apps differently” and applies “more lenient rules to non-gaming apps even when they include interactive content.”

“Apple stands alone as the only general purpose platform to deny consumers from cloud gaming and game subscription services like Xbox Game Pass,” the spokesperson added. “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 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.”

Cloud gaming services including Google Stadia, Microsoft Project xCloud, and Nvidia GeForce Now offer a catalog of games you can stream — similar to how Netflix works. You can pick a game inside these apps and begin playing them from the cloud without having to sit through the installation process.

The only app Apple is able to scrutinize is the host itself which in this case is Stadia or Project xCloud, but the company argues it needs to review every interactive experience (game) users play to “protect customers and provide a fair and level playing field to developers.”

What’s more, as The Verge points out, Apple explicitly mentions in its iOS policies, under section 4.2.7, that “thin clients for cloud-based apps are not appropriate for the App Store” — which is exactly what Google Stadia and Microsoft Project xCloud apps are.

The mixed future of xCloud

As of now, the future of cloud gaming apps on iOS hangs in the balance. More importantly, it remains to be seen how big of a dent the absence of revenue from iOS users will have on the future of cloud gaming itself. With Microsoft recently ending its Project xCloud testing with iOS devices, Apple’s restrictions, or violations thereof, will likely prove harmful to the service in the long run.

Project xCloud’s failure to launch on iOS devices could be “a challenge for xCloud adoption,” market research group Parks Associates’ Senior Analyst Kristen Hanich told Digital Trends. Parks Associates’ consumer survey data for Q1 of 2020 “finds that 47% of heads of U.S. broadband households that use the Xbox One own and use an iPhone as their primary smartphone,” cutting out nearly half the potential market for Project xCloud.

On the other hand, Eric Abbruzzese, Director of ABI Research Group, stated to Digital Trends that this may not be a “new consideration” for Microsoft, still losing out on a whole demographic. “Microsoft wants xCloud to be a global success story, and so globally the iOS market share miss becomes a little less significant.”

He said Android devices outperform iOS devices when it comes to “average revenue per user for phone purchases,” and even though Microsoft isn’t bringing its service to Apple users for now, xCloud’s testing phase signals it “can launch on iOS with little effort if and when Apple and Microsoft come to terms.”

Updated August 7, 2020: Added “The future of xCloud”

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