Apple Won’t Allow Xbox Game Pass On iOS Because They Can’t Review Every Game [Update: Microsoft Responds]

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xbox game pass ios
Xbox Game Pass is a subscription-based service for the Xbox One that offers access to a large library of games from Xbox 360 and Xbox One, but each game must be downloaded before play. Image: Microsoft

When Project xCloud finally merges with Xbox Game Pass later this year, it’ll become available in some countries on Android devices — but not iOS. And according to Apple, the reason is simple: They don’t get to review all the games.

In a new statement supplied to Business Insider, a Apple spokesperson says that Apple has to review all apps submitted to the App Store. Xbox Game Pass, similar to Steam Link, subverts that by allowing users to play games via a mechanism that Apple isn’t available to review.

So as far as Apple’s concerned, too bad. If Apple can’t manually review the games accessible in Xbox Game Pass, then Xbox Game Pass won’t be allowed on iOS.

“The App Store was created to be a safe and trusted place for customers to discover and download apps, and a great business opportunity for all developers. Before they go on our store, all apps are reviewed against the same set of guidelines that are intended to protect customers and provide a fair and level playing field to developers,” the Apple statement says.

“Our customers enjoy great apps and games from millions of developers, and gaming services can absolutely launch on the App Store as long as they follow the same set of guidelines applicable to all developers, including submitting games individually for review, and appearing in charts and search.

It’s the same approach Apple has taken to Google Stadia, which isn’t accessible on iOS. Steam ran into a similar problem two years ago with Steam Link, their app for remotely streaming your Steam library to your phone. Almost a full year after its ban, however, Apple reversed their opposition to Steam Link, and it’s remained on the App Store ever since.

So why did Steam Link get through when Stadia and Xbox Game Pass couldn’t? The simple answer is the Store functionality. Ars Technica found that the iOS version of Steam Link locks off access to the Steam Store, meaning users can only play games accessible in their library. That means users are only playing games they’ve already purchased, and Steam can’t add sideload games to the Apple ecosystem by making them available somehow through the Steam Link app.

Of course, this is a massively moot point when users can just open the iOS Steam app directly and add games to their account. So the logic doesn’t really square off, particularly when you consider some of the titles available on Steam versus the more tightly curated offering of Xbox Game Pass. Microsoft’s Netflix-esque service, at least the last time I checked, doesn’t have a huge library of tank dating simulators or waifu bait, but you can find plenty of that on Steam — and presumably play it through Steam Link once it’s added to your account. Plus, Apple’s logic has never really made sense if you think outside of the gaming ecosystem. Remote desktop applications like Screens or Chrome Remote Desktop let you make all kinds of purchases that Apple hasn’t been able to review.

Something like Screens probably isn’t considered as big a threat to Apple’s gaming ecosystem as Xbox Game Pass would be to, say, Apple Arcade. Still, in any case, at least all companies know the approach Apple is taking. And it’s not like Microsoft can’t negotiate their way through the Apple firewall in the future, the same way Amazon did to get Amazon Prime Video on iOS.

Update 10:40am: Microsoft has responded with their own statement, basically slagging Apple for treating gaming apps differently and noting that all Xbox Game Pass titles are independently reviewed by Microsoft, the ESRB in America and regional censors like the Classification Board:

“Our testing period for the Project xCloud preview app for iOS has expired. 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. 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.

“All games available in the Xbox Game Pass catalog are rated for content by independent industry ratings bodies such as the ESRB and regional equivalents. We are committed to finding a path to bring cloud gaming with Xbox Game Pass Ultimate to the iOS platform. We believe that the customer should be at the heart of the gaming experience and gamers tell us they want to play, connect and share anywhere, no matter where they are. We agree.”

Comments

  • I’m hoping that ‘Xbox Console Streaming’ (not Game Pass) manages to get on there at least so I can just stream games from my console to my iPad when the TV is busy. That would behave similarly to Steam Link?

    • In theory it should – Steam link ends up counted as like a remote desktop app, like VNC or TeamViewer, and ‘Xbox Console Streaming’ should be the same.

      As far as xCloud itself not being available on Apple devices – I hope Microsoft does not bend and the service becomes popular enough that Apple won’t be able to ignore it.

  • Its a lawsuit in the making that I can’t see apple winning. It will be interesting to see how long Apple holds out for.

    • There are already law suits in US and EU claiming the 30% cut is anti-trust and does not reflect the cost of Apple running the services they provide and is sheer profiteering anti-competituve behaviour.

      • Of course it doesn’t reflect cost, Apple are not a charity but a business. They exist to make money and that is perfectly legal. Pretty much every store front takes a cut.

  • Wait. What about the browser games? Apple doesn’t get to review those either, but they’re totally playable on my iPad. Sometimes (actually, all the time) Apple’s hypocrisy just shits me to no end.

  • It is a big gamble by Apple with this position, either they think they can create a product to compete or it wont become popular. If one of the platforms become popular enough to move Android phones, Apple wont have the opportunity to negotiate a model where they get a slice like they easily would be able to do today with all these unproven platforms.

  • Seems weird, you can watch Netflix, Stan, YouTube, Twitch, listen to Spotify, all of which contains infinite content they haven’t reviewed?

    Up to them what they do, I’d love Xcloud on my 12.9″ iPad Pro but “their store their rules” is what you get with Apple, it won’t win them any friends with consumers.

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