Microsoft and Facebook blast Apple for restrictive rules on gaming apps

A customer plays on an Xbox xCloud device at the Microsoft store opening on July 11, 2019 in London, England.

Peter Summers | Getty Images

Microsoft and Facebook have hit out at Apple for restrictive App Store policies, which they say have prevented them from launching gaming services on iPhones and other Apple devices.

Earlier this week, Microsoft said it would be launching its xCloud gaming service as part of a subscription service called Xbox Game Pass Ultimate on Sept. 15. But the app, which lets users jump into an Xbox game on their smartphone or tablet, will only be available on devices powered by Google’s Android mobile operating system, not Apple’s iOS.

Microsoft also said it would no longer be offering a limited testing version of the app on iOS. The platform Microsoft had designed for Apple devices only supported one game, which Microsoft said was because of Apple’s App Store policies. Microsoft now says it would be unable to launch its game streaming service commercially on iOS due to these restrictions.

“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,” a Microsoft spokesperson said in a statement Friday. “Apple stands alone as the only general purpose platform to deny consumers from cloud gaming and game subscription services like Xbox Game Pass. And it consistently treats gaming apps differently, applying more lenient rules to non-gaming apps even when they include interactive content.”

They added that Microsoft was “committed” to bringing cloud gaming to the iOS platform.

Meanwhile, Facebook said Friday that it had finally managed to launch an iOS version of its gaming app. But the social network claims it was forced to make a trade to bring it to the App Store: namely, it had to remove the ability to play games instantly. The Facebook Gaming app, launched in Google Play back in April, allows people to create and stream live gaming content and is seen as a competitor to Amazon’s Twitch livestreaming platform.

“Unfortunately, we had to remove gameplay functionality entirely in order to get Apple’s approval on the standalone Facebook Gaming app – meaning iOS users have an inferior experience to those using Android,” Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg said in a statement Friday. “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.”

For its part, Apple said that it has many apps in the App Store that distribute games including the main Facebook app. On the situation with Microsoft, the company said its guidelines mean that app developers must submit every game individually for review. Microsoft’s cloud gaming service has a library of more than 100 titles.

The iPhone maker has come under increased scrutiny over its App Store rules, which regulators are worried enable anti-competitive practices. It is the subject of an antitrust investigation from the European Union, and was also questioned by U.S. lawmakers in a congressional antitrust hearing with CEO Tim Cook and the bosses of Google, Facebook and Amazon.

Microsoft is not the first to face roadblocks in launching cloud gaming services on Apple devices. Google’s Stadia and Nvidia’s GeForce have also been unable to launch iOS versions of their apps due to the App Store’s guidelines.

“There is quite a lot of pressure building from different entities, and they are attempting to build consumer awareness of the issues involved as a way to convince Apple to change its policies,” Piers Harding-Rolls, research director of games at Ampere Analysis, told CNBC. “Is it inevitable that Apple will cave in? Not necessarily. Apple is ploughing its own path with privacy and how it wants to manage its ecosystem.”

Apple has its own gaming service that competes with game subscription offerings from the likes of Microsoft, Google and Nvidia, called Apple Arcade+. The service includes a catalog of games from Konami, Ubisoft and Lego. Meanwhile, Microsoft once had its own Twitch-like game streaming service called Mixer but recently decided to close it down, encouraging users to switch over to Facebook Gaming instead.

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