Apple Arcade Competitors Blocked by App Store Policy

image credit: Google

By Chand Bellur

August 8, 2020 at 8:20 p.m. PT

  • Cloud-based gaming provides a powerful desktop experience on less capable devices, such as smartphones.
  • Google’s Stadia platform offers cloud-based gaming technology for multiple devices, including smartphones and tablets.
  • Microsoft will soon launch xCloud, a cloud-based subscription gaming service.
  • Apple’s App Store rules make it difficult for Stadia or xCloud to be approved.
  • Apple Arcade, a competitor to Stadia and xCloud, doesn’t offer a cloud-based experience.

Cloud-Based Gaming Provides Desktop Experience

If you’ve ever used remote desktop software, cloud-based gaming works similarly. A thin client, such as a smartphone app, connects to a more powerful computer. The client device merely sends user input data while receiving audio and video from the server. Since the server does the heavy lifting, a relatively weak device can offer a desktop gaming experience.

Native apps run directly on a smartphone. Games developed to run natively are subject to a device’s capabilities. Even the newest iPhone can’t match desktop gaming, as the content itself would quickly consume memory and storage. High-end gaming machines offer superior graphics performance compared to any smartphone.

Cloud-based gaming isn’t perfect. If you’re not on WiFi, you can use up a lot of cellular data. Most native games, even in online, multiplayer modes, use little data, with graphics rendered on the device, instead of transmitted over a network.

Cloud-Based Gaming Violates App Store Rules

Stadia and xCloud are both currently unavailable on iOS. Other platforms offer these services; however, iOS users cannot use them. Apple claims that they’re protecting customers, as they cannot review every app inside a cloud-based gaming portal.

Both xCloud and Stadia offer many games bundled in one app. While xCloud provides a subscription-based service, similar to Netflix, Stadia sells games in its store. Apple tolerates both activities with other developers; however, cloud-based gaming directly competes with Apple Arcade.

Microsoft Claims Apple Denies Users a Cloud-Based Gaming Experience

Microsoft made a solid attempt to bring iOS users a cloud-based gaming experience. xCloud, similar to Apple Arcade, doesn’t sell games directly. Instead, users will subscribe to the service and play any game in the collection.

On its surface, this doesn’t violate App Store policies. Even Apple engages in this practice. However, since the App Store can’t review individual cloud-based games, Apple claims they’re protecting consumers by rejecting xCloud. After all, an xCloud game could have objectionable content. 

As far as security, cloud-based games are only thin clients on an iOS device. Apple can review the core xCloud app for security. As with any iOS app, it must play by the rules, and Apple’s rigid, built-in security and limited-access APIs already protect users. Cloud-based games are interactive video, not apps. The app resides on a server. The iPhone is only running a thin client.

Microsoft’s experience with the App Store proved frustrating. The Redmond based tech corporation candidly stated that Apple denies users a superior cloud-based gaming experience:

“Apple stands alone as the only general-purpose platform to deny consumers from cloud gaming and game subscription services like Xbox Game Pass. And it consistently treats gaming apps differently, applying more lenient rules to non-gaming apps even when they include interactive content.”

Google Remains Silent

The App Store similarly rejected Google’s Stadia app. Beyond a simple configuration tool, Stadia has no presence in the App Store.

Stadia went a step beyond xCloud, offering a store embedded in the app. While this goes against App Store policy, Apple is known to bend the rules for major players. Given Stadia’s superior gaming experience, however, the product would likely eclipse Apple Arcade.

Apple’s move may benefit Google. iOS provides a much better native gaming experience than Android. However, with no cloud-based experience, even an inexpensive Android device can play better games than a top of the line iPhone. Gamers constitute a significant market, and some may defect to Android for a cloud-based experience.

Apple Under Congressional Scrutiny

Apple’s business practices managed to ruffle the feathers of prominent developers and politicians. A growing legion of disgruntled developers have reached out to members of Congress to level the playing field. Apple’s moves against cloud-based gaming add to growing evidence of the company’s anticompetitive practices.

These rigid restrictions only apply to iOS and iPadOS, for now. macOS users can install apps over the web. In fact, Stadia works on a Mac, via the Chrome web browser. xCloud should also run on macOS after its upcoming debut.

Apple claims to be protecting consumers; however, they’re also, once again, limiting their options. Cloud-based gaming delivers a desktop experience to a mobile device. Consumers who really want this may ditch Apple for one of many Android devices.

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