xCloud and Stadia can come to iOS — but there's a big catch

Apple has revised its developer guidelines to make way for our game-streaming future.

Perhaps bowing to overwhelming public pressure (and antitrust investigations), Apple has finally relented and will allow game streaming services like Microsoft’s xCloud and Google’s Stadia into its App Store. But, in typical Apple fashion, there’s a catch.

“Games offered in a streaming game service subscription must be downloaded directly from the App Store, must be designed to avoid duplicate payment by a subscriber, and should not disadvantage non-subscriber customers,” Apple’s developer guidelines now state. The update comes ahead of the imminent release of iOS 14.

“Streaming game services may offer a catalog app on the App Store to help users sign up for the service and find the games on the App Store, provided that the app adheres to all guidelines, including offering users the option to pay for a subscription with in-app purchase and use Sign in with Apple,” the company added. “All the games included in the catalog app must link to an individual App Store product page.”

The stream dream.이명규

Nano — TL;DR Apple will let you stream games on your Apple devices but each and every title will have to be individually “downloaded” from the App Store as a separate app. This exercise in nannying adult consumers promises to be a nightmare for developers, streaming services, and end users. This means that if a game streaming service offers 100 games like, say, Microsoft’s xCloud does with Game Pass, then each game will need to be submitted for review individually, downloaded as an individual app, and updated individually for the foreseeable future. Nightmare.

Apple tax — It's also of note that all the games and the services — among them Microsoft xCloud, Google Stadia, Facebook Gaming, NVIDIA GeForce Now, Shadow, and PlayStation Now — will need to fork over 30 percent of the revenue made through their App Store apps to Apple. This exorbitant cut has been a divisive issue among smaller developers who don't get special treatment by the company to bypass this policy like Amazon and Netflix do. This cost is usually passed on to consumers who opt to pay through Apple's App Store instead of through a given service's third-party website.

Gatekeeper — Apple has recently been the subject of intense public scrutiny from the federal government and app developers — particularly game studios like Epic, who has gone to war with Apple over its App Store policies. Public sentiment has begun to shift towards breaking up the monopoly Apple holds on software sales to its iPhone, iPad, Apple TV, and Apple Watch users.

Stadia limps forward.Google

Cross-platform — Microsoft and Facebook have both been uncharacteristically forward in their statements against Apple’s anti-competitive and controlling policies, which many see as hypocritical. Companies like Netflix and Spotify offer interactive content but have thus far not had to provide individual titles for review by Apple. Google has denied comment on this latest development to multiple outlets and it remains unclear if they will find that these revised "guidelines" meet their needs for Stadia.

For Microsoft's part, a representative for the company told The Verge: "This remains a bad experience for customers. Gamers want to jump directly into a game from their curated catalog within one app just like they do with movies or songs, and not be forced to download over 100 apps to play individual games from the cloud. We're committed to putting gamers at the center of everything we do, and providing a great experience is core to that mission." Fair enough!

Review — Apple existing as the sole governing body deciding which software can be installed on the majority of mobile devices in the United States is an unsustainable state of affairs. Many have proposed solutions in which all players can stand to win — but that would require Apple to ease its notorious obsession with end-to-end control of its business.