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The line in the sand has finally been drawn for streaming services like Stadia and xCloud on iOS. Apple issued an update to its App Review Guidelines today that essentially bars both services, and any other app that streams console games to mobile devices over the cloud, from operating on iOS.
Specifically, section 3.1.2(a) and section 4.9 now note that any streaming services launched on the iOS App Store must have any games included in their catalog to also be hosted on the App Store as a separate app, apps that are then required to adhere to all apple guidelines and follow the same review process for updates.
“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,” reads section 4.9.2. “All the games included in the catalog app must link to an individual App Store product page.”
The pitch, going off of the updated guidelines, is that streaming compatible games would then participate in the larger App Store by appearing in charts and searches, have user ratings, and can be managed with iOS’s parental control apps.
“Each game update must be submitted for review, developers must provide appropriate metadata for search, games must use in-app purchase to unlock features or functionality, etc," adds Apple. "Of course, there is always the open Internet and web browser apps to reach all users outside of the App Store.”
Apple has always seemed reluctant to put game streaming services on iOS, as made obvious the Android-only presence of emerging cloud-based gaming mainstays like Microsoft’s Project xCloud or Google Stadia or even past conflicts with Valve over its Steam Link app.
These guideline updates don’t outright ban streaming services on iOS by any means, but the rules outlined here by Apple present a very different product from what those big ticket game streaming services currently look like, and in doing so make it unlikely console-level game streaming will arrive on iOS.
And, given the ongoing conflict between Apple and Epic, some language in the updated App Review Guidelines seems to deal specifically with the actions that Epic took to kick off that whole debacle including a note that apps cannot include “any hidden, dormant, or undocumented features” like Fortnite’s addition of a payment method unsanctioned by Apple.
Update: Microsoft has commented on the update, calling the move a "bad experience for customers" in a statement to IGN and arguing that its users don't want to "be forced to download over 100 apps to play individual games from the cloud."
Similarly, and though Epic Games has no horse in the game streaming race, Epic CEO Tim Sweeney took to Twitter to call out the ruling as something that aims to "[retain] their curation monopoly and implies a horrible fee structure: 30 percent to Apple, 30 percent to the streaming service, and 40 percent trickling down to actual creators."