Facebook (Grudgingly) Launches Its Cloud Gaming Service for iPhone

Facebook is forced to enter the arena as a web-based app, and it isn’t happy about it.
Facebook Gaming Credit: Daniel Constante / Shutterstock
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Now that Apple has opened the door — albeit only slightly — to cloud gaming services, Facebook is throwing its hat in the ring with its own plucky little competitor to the Microsoft, Google, and Nvidia behemoths.

Unsurprisingly, Facebook is entering the arena in the same way that others have been forced to: as a web-based app, and the company still isn’t too happy about it.

According to The Verge, the new Facebook Gaming web app works in much the same way on iOS as Amazon’s Luna, Microsoft’s Xbox Game Pass, and the rest.

You’ll be able to launch it from Safari and add it to your iPhone or iPad Home screen so that it at least looks and launches like a native app. However, that’s not without its limitations.

For one thing, it’s not exactly easy for users to find. You won’t be able to find Facebook Gaming on the App Store, and since Apple bars third-party developers from steering users to websites that bypass Apple’s own in-app payment systems, it’s not likely to make an appearance in the main Facebook app.

We’ve come to the same conclusion as others: web apps are the only option for streaming cloud games on iOS at the moment.

Vivek Sharma, VP of Gaming, Facebook

In the case of Facebook’s new gaming service, the social media giant plans to use Facebook Pay to process payments for in-game purchases in a collection of “freemium” games — a slightly different approach from most other cloud gaming services, which generally provide all-access subscriptions to a library of premium game titles.

Apple’s Cloud Gaming Policies

While Facebook is only still a bit player in the cloud gaming market at this point, it joined the fray against Apple last year over the App Store’s closed game streaming policies.

However, unlike rivals such as Google and Nvidia, which knew better than to even try to sneak something onto the App Store, Facebook repeatedly attempted to release a Facebook Gaming app, finding it rejected each time for violating Apple’s policies on apps that run external code.

At the time, Facebook claimed that its app was primarily about allowing users to watch live streams of other gamers, which should have been permitted by the App Store, but it became clear that it was trying to use this as a sort of trojan horse to sneak its HTML5 gaming engine onto the iPhone as well.

Not long after that, however, Apple slightly relaxed its policies, shifting from a blanket prohibition on game streaming to allowing game streaming services to exist under a fairly restrictive set of terms that didn’t really make anybody happy.

As many have pointed out, Apple’s policy to ‘allow’ cloud games on the App Store doesn’t allow for much at all. Apple’s requirement for each cloud game to have its own page, go through review, and appear in search listings defeats the purpose of cloud gaming. These roadblocks mean players are prevented from discovering new games, playing cross-device, and accessing high-quality games instantly in native iOS apps — even for those who aren’t using the latest and most expensive devices.

Vivek Sharma, VP of Gaming, Facebook

Apple’s idea of how cloud gaming services should work isn’t all that different from how it runs its own Apple Arcade service, where every game title is a separate download, rather than a “Netflix for Games” style streaming service that most of its competitors envision.

The problem, of course, is that Apple Arcade is run by Apple, and therefore has a home-field advantage. Even though the apps may be packaged separately, you can find them all grouped together in a single section of the App Store that comes built into every Apple device.

To be fair, other game streaming services are welcome to build their own catalogue apps too, which could include App Store links to the individual games. That’s a messy proposition for companies that prefer to simply stream games directly over the internet, however, as opposed to releasing them as individually packaged apps that are installed directly on a user’s device.

This remains a bad experience for customers. 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.


Of course, the protests from Microsoft and Facebook have largely fallen on deaf ears at Apple, which obviously feels that it’s been magnanimous enough in opening the door to cloud gaming services at all — especially since the company has also made it clear that “there is always the open Internet and web browser apps to reach all users outside of the App Store.”

Microsoft and Facebook have both grudgingly accepted the fact that if they want to reach the hundreds of millions of gamers who use iPhones and iPads, they really have no choice but to play by Apple’s rules.

Others like Google, Nvidia, and Amazon have gone down the same road — and made much less noise about it — but it’s also safe to say that they would likely prefer to be able to take advantage of a more native approach as well.

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