The question of game streaming services like Microsoft’s Xbox Game Pass on Apple’s devices has been a rather heated topic of debate lately, but the good news is that it looks like Xbox fans who are iPhone users won’t be entirely left out in the cold, as Microsoft remains committed to working with Apple to find a way to bring its gaming services to the iOS platform.
A glimmer of hope first appeared earlier this year when Microsoft released a limited TestFlight beta version of Project xCloud. While it had to jump through some strange hoops to fit within Apple’s rules, it left many believing that the game streaming service would indeed be coming in some form to Apple’s devices when it finally launched this year.
Unfortunately, such hopes were short-lived; when Microsoft officially announced the new gaming service last month as Xbox Game Pass Ultimate, it stated it would be focusing on Android customers only, and ending its TestFlight beta for Apple devices entirely.
The announcement created another round of controversy over Apple’s App Store rules, as Apple insisted that its restrictions were based on the fact that its never allowed game streaming services because it insists that every app be released as a standalone game that can be individually reviewed and included on its own App Store page, with distinct ratings and rankings.
In the midst of the resurgent debate, however, Apple did suddenly change course, albeit only slightly, with some new and improved App Store Review Guidelines that would open the door to game streaming services being possible — as long as the apps provided by them continued to be submitted and published as individual apps.
Although Apple still won’t allow a single app to contain multiple cloud games, it is for the first time now allowing individual games to stream from the cloud, rather than being entirely self-contained to run locally on the device.
The changes also permit companies like Microsoft to publish “catalog” apps that could serve as a curation and launching point for a streaming service like Xbox Game Pass, as long as each of the apps in the catalog links to its App Store page.
This basically how Apple’s own Apple Arcade service works, although obviously in that case the “catalog” is found on the App Store itself, which gets a special section for Apple Arcade titles. However, the games are still individual apps that each need to be downloaded and installed separately.
Naturally, however, this is not what Microsoft has in mind for Xbox Game Pass, which it envisions far more as a “Netflix for games,” where players can open a single app and quickly jump in and out of games as easily as possible; by contrast, Apple’s solution creates needless friction, resulting in what Microsoft pointedly called “a bad experience for customers.”
It’s Not Over Yet
While Microsoft’s earlier comments suggested that it had given up hope of getting Xbox Game Pass onto iOS, it seems that it hasn’t thrown in the towel quite yet.
In an interview with CNBC earlier this week, Microsoft’s Phil Spencer, who heads up the Xbox brand as executive VP of gaming for the company, stated that Microsoft is continuing to try and work things out with Apple to figure out how to best bring Game Pass to iPhone users.
We’re committed to bringing Game Pass to all mobile phones out there, including Apple phones. We’ll continue the conversations and I’m sure we’ll be able to get to some resolution.Phil Spencer, Executive VP of Gaming at Microsoft
When pressed comment on the issue regarding Apple’s 30 percent App Store commission, which has been an even bigger as of late with the Epic Games Fortnite controversy, Spencer actually emphasized that Microsoft’s issue isn’t even really about the money — the priority is simply to see Game Pass available on all mobile devices, and paying a commission to Apple for that is likely small potatoes compared to the much bigger picture.
Our biggest issue isn’t a financial issue. Our biggest issue is that cloud game streaming apps are actually not allowed in the way that Game Pass is built for other platforms. So for us this is about gamers having great access to the content from the creators they love on the devices they own.Phil Spencer, Executive VP of Gaming at Microsoft
As much as Microsoft has gone on the record in saying it’s unhappy with Apple’s stance on cloud gaming, if its priority is truly to get Xbox Game Pass onto the iPhone, it sounds like it’s going to ultimately figure out how to play by Apple’s rules in order to make it happen.
Xbox Game Streaming
Meanwhile, however, it seems that Microsoft may be taking a smaller step toward empowering Xbox gaming on the iPhone — local game streaming.
This would involve streaming games from your actual Xbox to your iPhone via your local Wi-Fi network. While it obviously doesn’t offer the “play-anywhere” versatility of a full cloud gaming service, it’s also something that Apple actually already allows, and we’ve kind of been wondering for a while why Microsoft hasn’t already unlocked at least that capability of its Game Pass services.
Microsoft has actually had this in the works since at least a year ago, but as The Verge notes, Microsoft announced a new app earlier this week for both Android and iOS that could potentially bring the “Console Streaming” feature to both platforms.
While Microsoft hasn’t mentioned anything about the streaming feature for iPhone users, there’s an update to the Xbox app coming to iOS as well, and it would be very surprising if it didn’t also include the console streaming feature, especially after Spencer’s comments that Microsoft wants its gaming services to be ubiquitously available on mobile devices.
In fact, Microsoft is kind of behind the curve here, as Sony introduced this capability last year for PS4 gamers through a new Remote Play iOS app that sailed through Apple’s approval process and has been on the App Store for over a year now.
The key difference, of course, is that Sony’s Remote Play app and presumably Microsoft’s upcoming Xbox Game Streaming app only stream games from your a console that you already own, so they’re allowed as “Remote Desktop Clients” under Apple’s App Review Guidelines, in much the same way as apps that remotely access Mac and Windows PC desktops.
Apple’s rules also technically require that both devices be connected “on a local and LAN-based network,” and while this is exactly how Sony’s Remote Play app works, it’s actually not a requirement that’s enforced for traditional Remote Desktop Clients like Screens and VNC, which are free to establish remote connections back to users’ desktop Macs and PCs across the internet.
Whether Microsoft would be able to use such a loophole is a much trickier question, however, but in the very least it’s very likely that the new Xbox app will function in the same way as Sony’s Remote Play app, letting Xbox gamers enjoy their titles on their iPhone and iPad from anywhere in their homes. While it’s not going to be quite as exciting as the full Xbox Game Pass streaming service, it’s a start.