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Apple today loosened its iOS App Store Review Guidelines for streaming games from services such as Microsoft xCloud, Google Stadia, and Nvidia GeForce Now. But Apple still restricts how users pay for the games and requires that it get its 30% cut on game sales. While the move helps Apple keep up with the world of game streaming, it makes buying new games through iOS inconvenient for players.
Apple is permitting services to stream games to players, meaning they can host the game in cloud-connected servers and send videos of the gameplay back so players can access games they haven’t downloaded or play games that their phone or tablet hardware wouldn’t otherwise support. You could, for instance, play Red Dead Redemption 2 on Google Stadia on an iPhone or iPad.
Apple had rejected these streaming apps as they were originally proposed, in part because the apps could have allowed players to bypass the App Store in making purchases, which would have meant Apple wouldn’t get its 30% cut. Under the new guidelines, each individual game purchased on a streaming service would have to be “downloaded” from the App Store and paid for through in-app purchases (Apple’s payment system, which takes the cut). These loosened guidelines do not apply to the Facebook Gaming app, which is still not allowed to sell “instant games” within its app.
Companies like Microsoft, Google, and Nvidia could offer a catalog app on the App Store to help users sign up for the service and find games that have been uploaded to the App Store, as long as the app follows Apple’s guidelines. Those apps must offer an option to pay for a subscription with Apple’s payment system and use Sign in with Apple.
It’s hard to say whether this development is good news, as it entails a lot of hoops to jump through and game-streaming companies will have to decide if it’s worth it. It’s also not clear what happens if you have already paid Google directly for a subscription and simply want to play a streamed game on your iPhone. It sounds like you would have to pay for that game again, this time giving Apple its cut.
Google and Nvidia declined to comment, but Microsoft came out swinging.
“This remains a bad experience for customers,” a Microsoft spokesperson said in a statement. “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.”
Epic Games is still out of luck, due to its ongoing dispute with Apple. In a challenge to Apple’s 30% commission, Epic broke the store’s rules and uploaded a version of Fortnite that enabled direct payments to Epic. Apple countered that apps are not allowed to include hidden features with such functionality unless expressly approved. According to App Store rules, app makers must disclose functionality changes when they submit apps for review.
Apple also said apps cannot require users to rate an app, review the app, watch videos, download other apps, tap on ads, enable tracking, or take other similar actions in the game or app.
Here are the relevant guidelines for game streaming:
4.92 Streaming Games
Streaming games are permitted, as long as they adhere to all guidelines — for example, each game update must be submitted for review, developers must provide appropriate metadata for search, games must use in-app purchasing to unlock features or functionality, etc. Of course, open internet and web browser apps can reach users outside of the App Store.
Each streaming game must be submitted to the App Store as an individual app so it has an App Store product page, appears in charts and search, has user ratings and reviews, can be managed with ScreenTime and other parental control apps, appears on the user’s device, etc.
Streaming game services may offer a catalog app on the App Store to help users sign up for the service and find 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. All the games included in the catalog app must link to an individual App Store product page.
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