May 23, 2022

Is Apple Holding Back Game Streaming?

It’s been a helluva month for Apple. Aside from the *obvious* thing going on, it’s also blocked Google Stadia and Xbox’s xCloud streaming services from the App Store.

Game Streaming services are controversial among gamers, but, are Apple’s store policies holding the fledging new services back? Microsoft is looking to launch its new streaming service, xCloud, on Android on Sept 15th as part of the Gamepass Ultimate service plan. Using the service, a number of games can be streamed directly onto your smart device of choice. The catch is that this service will not be on Apple iOS devices.

Breaking Store Guidelines?

Google has a similar issue with their Stadia service which offers the same promise of cloud-based streaming on a device of your choice. Apple has confirmed this in a statement on 6th August by iterating that they have strict stringent app policies that these apps contravene. How are they breaking the rules? Well, that’s not so clear. Other streaming apps, such as Netflix, are still welcomed. It is really only speculation at this as to why they are blocked.

So why is this an issue for gamers? Well, there are an estimated 1.8 billion iOS devices in active use globally. In Europe, this is approx 26% of smartphone market share. Not dominant, sure but not insignificant. Not only that but Apple devices are typically well spec’d and can handle streaming comfortably.

Blocked From My Subscription

As an example, and much to the chagrin of my developer friends, I’m a heavy iOS user owning several Apple devices. I am also an Xbox Gamepass Ultimate subscriber as I own an Xbox and PC. Lastly, pre-pandemic, I used to travel for my day job. The idea of sitting in a hotel and happily streaming a AAA game on my phone or tablet with just a controller sounds great. Thanks to Apple, I am up shit creek without a proverbial app paddle.

As stated, game streaming has not caught on with the majority of gamers. The reception to Stadia has been…muted, to say the least. There are genuine concerns about game ownership and availability as well as latency, etc. That doesn’t mean that major tech companies aren’t going to push these services on us and it can’t be denied that removing hardware from the equation could really open up gaming to a whole new consumer sector.

Tech Wars

These tech wars aren’t anything new and it isn’t just Apple. Check out the Google/Amazon tiff over YouTube for example. Or perhaps you may be aware of a little hoo-ha going on between Apple/Google and Epic Games over Fortnite? All of this is about money and subscriptions and it is clear that Apple does not want to hand over the gaming sector to established and rival subscription services. Let’s not forget that Apple has their own Apple Arcade service not to mention a veritable billion-dollar earner in the App store. All individual transactions earn Apple money – there is absolutely zero revenue in having xCloud or Stadia on their store.

Device Agnostic?

What it means for us gamers is that access to these new gaming services is restricted based upon your device. This ultimately removes a lot of appeal of having a streaming service in the first place. Netflix is available on every smart device out there which makes it feel like universal service. If I can only play xCloud on an ecosystem I am not interested in, I can’t play anywhere.

As always, it is us, the consumer that loses out. Is Apple the ultimate bad guy? Not in the grand scheme of things – as said, they are not the only tech giant to prohibit what we can and can’t do. It just means that until these barriers are overcome, Microsoft and Google’s dream that gamers don’t need to be tied to a device seems a long way off.

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