Microsoft’s cloud gaming service, Project xCloud, seems to be running into the same issues as its competitors have—specifically, Apple’s guidelines are reportedly making it difficult for xCloud to get into the App Store. So Microsoft has decided to end its Project xCloud preview period using the iOS TestFlight app, effective immediately. The company recently announced xCloud is moving into beta for Game Pass Ultimate subscribers on Sept., with no current plans to make the official Xbox game-streaming app available on iOS devices. Meanwhile, xCloud is available for Android users until the preview period ends on Sept. 11.
“Our Project xCloud preview iOS TestFlight period has ended and we are focused on delivering cloud gaming as part of Xbox Game Pass Ultimate to Android customers beginning Sept. 15. It’s our ambition to scale cloud gaming through Xbox Game Pass available on all devices,” a Microsoft spokesperson told Gizmodo.
The spokesperson did not say whether or not Microsoft’s decision to launch Project xCloud in beta for Android users only was due to Apple’s App Store Guidelines, but given the restrictions Apple placed on xCloud’s preview period, it seems likely. Microsoft had to limit the amount of testers to 10,000 and limit the number of games that could be tested to just Halo: The Master Chief Collection “to comply with App Store policies.” Microsoft did not elaborate on which policies those were.
Microsoft Corp. President Brad Smith raised concerns about those App Store guidelines to the House of Representatives’ antitrust subcommittee prior to the recent antitrust hearing, according to Bloomberg. At a Politico event in June, Smith said Apple imposes “requirements that increasingly say there is only one way to get on to our platform and that is to go through the gate that we ourselves have created,” suggesting that Apple purposefully makes it difficult for its competitors to offer their services through the App Store.
“Microsoft’s vision is to enable Xbox everywhere on every device and Apple not allowing it onto the store is fairly problematic,” Moor Insights & Strategy analyst Anshel Sag told Gizmodo. “I think this comes down to Apple not having a good policy in place for game-streaming services.”
Sag said a good compromise between the two companies could be for Microsoft to offer Xbox Game Pass Ultimate as a service that you can buy through Apple so the Cupertino company can get its cut, but users don’t have to subscribe to Apple. Or if Microsoft didn’t want to come to that kind of agreement, then there could be a more uniform policy for all gaming and game-streaming services.
In fact, most other high-profile cloud gaming services are missing from the iOS App Store. A quick look at a list of compatible phones for Google’s Stadia shows all iOS devices missing. Stadia is actually available on the App Store, but it only allows users to “to set up and manage Stadia across compatible devices,” according to the description. Stadia subscribers cannot play games on iOS devices. Nvidia’s GeForce Now is also not available on iOS devices, only macOS. Facebook Gaming isn’t currently allowed to be on the App Store. Steam Link was also removed from the App Store in 2018 for violating Apple’s “store within a store” guideline, yet you can purchase Stadia games through the app on iOS.
However, Shadow, another cloud gaming platform, is currently available on the App Store, which could be because it allows users to rent equipment from which to stream games. The iOS App Store has strict rules regarding remote desktop clients, one of which states: “The app must only connect to a user-owned host device that is a personal computer or dedicated game console owned by the user, and both the host device and client must be connected on a local and LAN-based network.”
Shadow users pay a monthly fee to access a remote computer, which comes equipped with Windows 10 and the ability to download and install programs other than video games, so the service appears to be compliant with Apple’s rules. Even though Shadow owns the equipment, users rent a remote computer from Shadow. Subscribers to Project xCloud, Stadia, and GeForce Now, do not own the host device that allows them to stream and play games on multiple devices, nor do they ‘rent’ any part of the equipment. It’s unclear if that’s why cloud-gaming services have been locked out of the App Store, but it could be one reason.
Shadow was previously kicked off the App Store in February for failing to “act in accordance with a specific part of the Apple App Store Guidelines,” the company said on Reddit, but reinstated not long after. A Shadow spokesperson told Gizmodo that it removed its Quick Launch feature from iOS devices, but would not elaborate further on which App Store guideline that feature violated or why the feature violated the guideline.
The cloud-gaming service lockout comes just as Apple is being scrutinized by regulators over its App Store policies, which include a revenue cut that requires third-party developers to fork over 30% of in-app revenue. Telegram CEO Pavel Durov, Basecamp CEO Jason Fried, Spotify CEO Daniel Ek, and other tech executives have all openly called out the so-called “Apple tax,” saying it’s unjustified for Apple to take over a quarter of their earnings.
Even more problematic is that Apple made a deal with Amazon to only take a 15% cut during the first year that Amazon Prime Video was on the App Store, according to emails between Eddy Cue, Apple’s senior vice president of software and services, and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, which were revealed during last week’s antitrust hearing. While tech giants like Apple and Amazon are able to make such a deal, smaller companies like Telegram and Basecamp are not. It’s possible that Google could have struck a similar deal with Apple, although there is nothing to confirm that at this time; tapping on a game to purchase from within the Stadia app takes you to a payment page from within the Stadia app, too. That seems like Apple is allowing Google to skirt its “store within a store” guideline. We’ll have to see whether Microsoft makes its own deal or if iOS users will get left out again.