Recently, Apple has run into headwinds where some of its App store guidelines conflicted with the ability of its users to utilize game streaming services such as Google Stadia and Microsoft’s xCloud service. In fact, Microsoft terminated testing last month on xCloud for iOS and signed onto a partnership with Samsung that directly resulted from the App store’s guidelines.
On Friday, Apple announced that it was revising its App Store Guidelines, in advance of the release of iOS 14, the upcoming update to the iPhone’s operating system. (iOS 14 is due out sometime in September.)
CNBC first reported Friday on the changes. The guidelines that Apple maintains are the policies by which Apple approves or denies applications from being loaded to and available through the Apple App Store. Where previously, rules in the guidelines of the approval process has very specifically been sighted by Facebook, Microsoft, and others as preventing them from developing their game streaming services to make them available (any iPhone Facebook user will attest to the fact that games is not one feature available to them through the Facebook app on iOS), the updated guidelines seems to clear the way for development of game streaming.
The new guidelines read:
What hasn’t changed is Apple’s policy of requiring purchases that occur in the app for game loot, game currency and the like (collectively known as microtransactions) to occur using only in-app purchase that are ultimately handled by Apple. This allows Apple to take a cut of the payment, and has recently sparked a legal battle between Apple and game developer Epic Games, when a recent update to its Fortnite title implemented the ability for Apple users to make these purchases directly from Epic, circumventing Apple’s collection system.
The update to the guidelines will now allow streaming services like Google Stadia and the aforementioned xCloud the ability to offer its game streaming services through the App store. However, there is a catch or two. For one, those games that are part of the subscription service must be downloaded from the App store, not directly from the subscription services’ own app. Additionally, while these services will be allowed to display a catalog in their own app of the games, those must link back to the individual app to be downloaded from the app store, and will need to be stand-alone and retain some at least minimal functionality when downloaded. This, in essence, defeats some of the purpose behind streaming a game title.
It means that, in reality, the streaming service becomes less streaming, and more of a portal to link its subscribers to the app store to download approved games, as individual titles will still need to meet Apple’s rigorous approval process. It also means that for any game in the streaming services catalog, the developer of those individual products will also have to have a developer relationship directly with Apple.
Apple seems to be trying to ease some of the tension that has built up around this subject recently, with game streaming services rapidly gaining in popularity. Apple has its own game subscription service (Apple Arcade), but this is not a streaming game service so much as a bundle that Apple users can subscribe to, to get access to a catalog of downloadable games.
What this means for Google Stadia, Facebook, and others is yet unclear. It does likely mean sharing in their profits with Apple, as in-app purchases will still need to be processed through Apple. Whether it means that Microsoft will reverse course on its decision to pull xCloud out of development for Apple is an unknown as well.
Full details of the updated Apple Store Review Guidelines are available online.