Apple’s excuse for denying Xbox cloud gaming is patently absurd

On September 15, Microsoft will make its “Project xCloud” service to stream Xbox games available to the public. Provided that public owns an Android device.

Anyone with a Game Pass Ultimate subscription will get to stream over 100 games from the cloud, using their Xbox login credentials and cloud saves. But there won’t be an app for your iPhone or iPad, because Apple doesn’t want people playing games unless they get a cut.

Apple’s flimsy excuse

Why won’t Apple allow Xbox game streaming (or Google’s Stadia, or GeForce Now)? The company gave Business Insider its official reason:

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.

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. In addition to the App Store, developers can choose to reach all iPhone and iPad users over the web through Safari and other browsers on the App Store.

This, to put it simply, is a steaming pile of bullshit.

Apple allows video streaming services like Netflix and Disney+, but doesn’t require their content to be individually listed in the app store or have its content approved. The same goes for books (Kindle).

In fact, Apple allows both Steam Link and PS4 Remote Play apps on the App Store. Those apps go through the same approval process as other apps do (security and privacy and content and so on) but they allow users to access vast libraries of games that are not reviewed by Apple. Those apps differ from Xbox cloud gaming because they’re meant to work only over your local network (clever users can link up over the public internet without much trouble, but it’s not the intended use).

It’s a distinction without a difference, though. How is the fact that my PS4 games are not “reviewed against the same set of guidelines that are intended to protect customers and provide a fair and level playing field to developers” any any less meaningful when I access them over my home network instead of the internet?

Protectionism at its finest

Many of Apple’s policies regarding its App Store make a lot of sense from the perspective of ensuring a certain baseline level of privacy, security, and quality control (they might be bad but they won’t break your phone). It makes sense for Microsoft’s Xbox game streaming app itself to be held to those same standards.