Microsoft Officially Announces Xbox Game Pass Will Come to iOS Early Next Year

Xbox Game Pass Ultimate Credit: Microsoft
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It’s official: Microsoft will be bringing Xbox Game Pass to iPhone and iPad users, and it’s coming early next year.

While we already heard reliable rumours back in October that Microsoft wasn’t going to allow itself to be deterred by Apple’s intransigence when it comes to cloud gaming services, the company hadn’t actually said much publicly on the matter other than to simply offer a comment from Xbox boss Phil Spencer that the company was “committed to bringing Game Pass to all mobile phones out there, including Apple phones.”

While it was originally unclear exactly how Microsoft intended to make this happen, after its efforts to bring the Project xCloud beta to iOS largely failed, many originally took Spencer’s comments to mean that they were still going to attempt to work out a specific deal with Apple that would allow the service to arrive in its original form.

However, after Apple ever-so-slightly changed course on its policies prohibiting game streaming services, it became clear that Microsoft’s vision of a “Netflix for Games” on iOS simply wasn’t going to happen without some serious modifications to its approach.

In its new policies, Apple basically told game streaming developers like Microsoft, Google, and Nvidia that they either had to release every game individually on the App Store — something that Microsoft pointedly called out as a “bad experience for consumers” or simply resort to using the open web to distribute their games.

Amazon eagerly embraced the latter approach with its new Luna service, demonstrating in the process that Apple was fully on board with the idea, since engineers from Apple’s Safari teams clearly worked closely with Amazon’s Luna developers to make it all happen. Nvidia followed suit now long after with its GeForce Now streaming service.

Meanwhile, Microsoft stripped away the cloud portion of its iOS app plans, focusing instead on allowing users to stream their own Xbox console games — something that had already long been allowed by Apple’s App Store rules — while clearly contemplating a new course for how it would get Xbox Game Pass onto Apple’s mobile devices.

At an internal all-hands meeting back in October, Spencer told Microsoft employees that Game Pass would be coming to the iPhone and iPad as a “direct browser-based solution” sometime next year, although he had nothing to say publicly about the matter when asked for comment other than reiterating Microsoft’s commitment to getting Game Pass onto “all mobile devices.”

Coming Spring 2021

However, it looks like Microsoft is now ready to come forward with its plans. In an announcement posted this week, Xbox Chief Marketing Officer Jerrett West shares the company’s plans to expand cloud gaming to more devices in general, noting that Xbox Game Pass Ultimate will come to iOS via the mobile web browser, effectively adding over a billion devices to the Xbox ecosystem.

In Spring 2021, we will take the next step in our journey to reach more players around the world by making cloud gaming as part of Xbox Game Pass Ultimate available on Windows PCs through the Xbox app and browser, and iOS devices through mobile web browser.

Jerrett West, CVP, Microsoft Gaming

West also adds that Xbox Game Pass Ultimate will be expanding into several new markets, including Australia, Brazil, Japan, and Mexico, along with a dozen new titles that are expected to land on the service early next year.

Notably, Microsoft’s solution will exclude the Apple TV since it doesn’t have an actual web browser, although that’s probably fine from their perspective, since if you’re going to play on the big screen, they’d almost certainly rather you would buy an actual Xbox. The browser-based solution will also support Windows PCs — although that’s arguably a bit redundant since most Windows users can simply play through the Xbox app anyway — but the announcement conspicuously omits any mention of Mac support.

The initial rollout is technically expected to be a “beta” although West doesn’t really clarify what that means. We suspect that the “beta” moniker in this case doesn’t mean a limited release, but rather merely a warning that it might not be fully polished and bug-free when it first rolls out next spring.

While it remains to be seen how well the mobile Safari experience of Xbox Game Pass will be, so far Amazon and Nvidia have proven that they can make it work surprisingly well, and with Microsoft now officially offering up a timeline when it will be on board, and even Google Stadia promising future compatibility, it looks like iPhone and iPad users won’t have to worry about serious obstacles when it comes to accessing gaming subscription services.

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