Friday, September 11, 2020

New Apple Store Guidelines for Streaming Games

Apple (also: Federico Viticci, John Voorhees, Juli Clover):

3.1.2(a): Games offered in a streaming game service subscription must be downloaded directly from the App Store, must be designed to avoid duplicate payment by a subscriber, and should not disadvantage non-subscriber customers.

I’m not sure what that means. Are games not allowed to be subscriber-only? Are discounts forbidden for customers who purchased directly?

4.9: Streaming games Streaming games are permitted so long as they adhere to all guidelines — for example, each game update must be submitted for review, developers must provide appropriate metadata for search, games must use in-app purchase to unlock features or functionality, etc.


Of course, there is always the open Internet and web browser apps to reach all users outside of the App Store.

Ah, yes, the very sweet solution that Apple disadvantages.

4.9.1: Each streaming game must be submitted to the App Store as an individual app so that it has an App Store product page, appears in charts and search, has user ratings and review, can be managed with ScreenTime and other parental control apps, appears on the user’s device, etc.

4.9.2: Streaming game services may offer a catalog app on the App Store to help users sign up for the service and find the games on the App Store, provided that the app adheres to all guidelines, including offering users the option to pay for a subscription with in-app purchase and use Sign in with Apple. All the games included in the catalog app must link to an individual App Store product page.

Apple is trying to force a new paradigm into its old App Store model. It’s not a good sign when rules have so many special cases. Apps that offer curated catalogs of other apps are not allowed, except for streaming games. Multiple copies of the same shell app just showing different content are not allowed, except they are required for streaming games. With video and book apps, there can be innovation in managing that content within a single app, but not for streaming games.

2.3.1: Don’t include any hidden, dormant, or undocumented features in your app; your app’s functionality should be clear to end users and App Review.

Don’t be Epic.

2.3.1: All new features, functionality, and product changes must be described with specificity in the Notes for Review section of App Store Connect (generic descriptions will be rejected) and accessible for review.

Let’s see whether this is actually enforced.

Kyle Howells:

In other news: Netflix will be allowed on the AppStore, but each tv show episode or movie must be available on the AppStore as it’s own separately downloadable app.

John Voorhees:

Obviously, many game streaming services offer games that aren’t UIKit games that can be downloaded from the App Store, which will be a technical roadblock to many services.

Steve Troughton-Smith:

Of course, that will mean that any game provided by xCloud needs to follow Apple’s other rules — which means in-app purchases would need to go through Apple’s system (which, due to the nature of xCloud, basically means any game with microtransactions will not be allowed)

Jason Snell:

Real question is, did Apple create these guidelines knowing that Google and Microsoft will never agree to them? And would access to iOS be worth Google and Microsoft jumping through all these hoops? My guess is yes and no, but you never know.

Dan Moren:

From Apple’s point of view, it now has explicit rules to point to, but honestly, all this really means is that there won’t be game streaming services on the App Store. Neither Microsoft nor Epic is going to spend the time or money on what is not an insignificant amount of work and have to hand over the 30 percent cut to Apple on top of that. Just not going to happen.

To my mind, this remains a short-sighted and ill thought out decision on Apple’s part. Game streaming services aren’t going away, and if iOS is the only platform that they’re not available on, then, honestly, that just hurts iOS. Apple has clearly decided that it doesn’t care about losing those customers—that it’s an acceptable trade-off for not losing the revenue and the control over App Store contents.

Michael Gartenberg:

Unbelievable what’s going on over there. It’s Apple going to war with developers and Apple has the upper hand? Where do devs go to get on the platform of choice for so many. App store was once great for all parties. Not so much anymore.

Rich Mogull:

I just don’t get these updated App Store guidelines. If the game is streaming and not running locally the security model is the same for all games. Basically, this is like approving every movie on Netflix and having a different App Store listing for each. What am I missing?

It’s not about security.


The added friction alone is a significant handicap. Yes, your streaming library is there but you have to extract it title-by-title from the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying “Beware of the Leopard”.

Eli Hodapp:

Here’s what’s TRULY unbelievable about today’s App Store policy update to “allow” xCloud and Stadia, that you can really only appreciate if you’ve been following the wacky decisions of Apple on how to awkwardly handle everything to do with games…


Apple cited 4.3 in the App Store guidelines, specifically telling Choice of Games that their separate apps are “too similar,” even though each of them were their own truly unique narrative adventure. To Apple, books with words on a page and choices are all just the same I guess.

Apple held firm on the decision to block Choice of Games from releasing individual books, instead forcing them to rapidly develop an omnibus app that could serve as the singular container for all of their titles since individual skus were no longer allowed.

This was a complete nightmare for Choice of Games as their releases were at a complete standstill until they could develop this new container app that Apple was forcing them into. It also created a huge support headache as you can tell by the FAQ

With this in mind, it’s really amusing that Apple’s “solution” for xCloud and Stadia being “allowed” is having them spam the App Store with what could be quite literally hundreds of viewer apps for all the different games, particularly with the secondary App Store-only versions.


Update (2020-09-14): Tom Warren (via Dieter Bohn):

Microsoft isn’t impressed.

“This remains a bad experience for customers,” says a Microsoft spokesperson in a statement to The Verge. “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. We’re committed to putting gamers at the center of everything we do, and providing a great experience is core to that mission.”

Steve Troughton-Smith:

Framed another way, Apple has the opportunity to get access to all the best Xbox games on all of its platforms — games that would never otherwise come to them — and all they have to do is give Microsoft a reasonable deal. Apple should be paying Microsoft for this.

Nick Heer:

The main thing that is different is that Apple is expressly allowing a launcher-type wrapper app, something that had murky permissions before.

Update (2020-09-16): Jared Nelson:

This whole thing feels like Apple trying to give themselves some sort of out for any future antitrust litigation. It’s like putting a cupcake in the middle of a live bear trap, and then offering it to someone. “Oh, I guess you don’t WANT that cupcake then. Well, you can’t say we didn’t offer it to you!" Apple is presenting a set of guidelines that are impossible for a game streaming service to adhere to while still being able to call itself a game streaming service. It’s just asinine, and it’s hard to tell if it’s through sheer incompetence on Apple’s part, greed, vindictiveness, or a combination of all of those things.

Personally I’ve already gone out and picked up an Android device and will have a relatively cheap little xCloud portable gaming setup ready for next week’s launch, and I hope to have a little guide put together by then on my whole setup for anyone else interested in doing the same. But honestly, as a devout Apple fan for decades who has hand-waived and sometimes even come to the defense of many of their absurd decisions over the years, this latest debacle with game streaming services is just too much and has me seriously questioning if I’ll be picking up a new iPhone this year or if I’ll finally dive into one of the many excellent Android handsets out there.

Update (2020-09-28): Sean Hollister:

But if you know how cloud game services operate, and then look at Apple’s actual written rules, you’ll see that’s only technically true. If I understand correctly, the reality is one of two things:

Either 1) Apple is asking Microsoft, Google and others to turn their streaming game services into an entirely new category of standalone app which guarantees Apple a profit — a kind of app that’s rarely existed on iOS before, and one that Apple itself called “not appropriate” just last year.

Or 2) Apple’s new guidelines aren’t designed to be anything but an attempt to confuse — a way to get the world to think Apple’s not actually rejecting the future of gaming, while simultaneously erecting so many roadblocks that companies like Google and Microsoft would never dream of taking Apple up on the offer.

Update (2020-10-09): Tom Warren:

Microsoft is bringing xCloud to iOS via the web. There will be a browser-based solution coming in early 2021, alongside a PC version of xCloud next year.

12 Comments RSS · Twitter

What an absolute embarrassment. I’ve been an App Store customer since the day it opened. This whole string of episodes has me questioning if this is my last year in that ecosystem. I can’t believe the people running Apple are this daft. Hopefully once Phil Schiller’s dead weight is pushed out of the way, someone with some sense can change course.

This is nonsensical claptrap designed for Apple and its proxies to point idiots at and say, "See, we support this," while specifically making it so onerous and contrived that it's broadly impractical.

I like how even though streaming apps and games bypass most of Apple's APIs, use of which was cited as proof of Epic "owing" Apple compensation, Apple still demands its cut and control of each individual game.


It sounds like some sort of compromise to developers trying to allow streaming services, but Apple doesn’t want to open the door to sanctioned App Stores within the App Store. Even if they get the 30% they would be ceding control of allowed games/apps (like, say, if said streaming service included Fortnite). Forcing the streamed app to be in and out of the streaming service also forces the apps to abide by Apple’s rules, thus not yielding any control. The question is whether there is any developers which requested this compromise, or whether this was a solution for a solutions sake.

> 2.3.1: Don’t include any hidden, dormant, or undocumented features in your app; your app’s functionality should be clear to end users and App Review.

This is pretty funny. No more A/B testing inside apps then, right? I wish it were true, but obviously Apple is never going to enforce this, either.

They had rules like this years ago, yet everybody did it anyway. This seems like a restatement of the same thing. Facebook, Twitter, et al. are going to carry on with their "take the rug out from beneath the user" UX and Apple won't bat an eye.

I really have no idea since I'm not a gamer, but does Apple Arcade follow the same rules? Is it an app that you download and then get access to a private catalog of games, or is it games that are already individually sold in the store that are unlocked for free download if you're an Arcade subscriber?

@Anonymous They’re individual apps in a special section of the App Store that you can only access if you subscribe (no free mode). So a third-party developer could not make an equivalent service.

"3.1.2(a): Games offered in a streaming game service subscription must be downloaded directly from the App Store, must be designed to avoid duplicate payment by a subscriber, and should not disadvantage non-subscriber customers."

It's okay to sell individual games on the App Store that are actually streamed to the device instead of running natively, but it's not okay (although not officially disallowed) to have a streaming service. Resident Evil 7 on the Switch works like this: it's sold as an individual game that you buy, and it appears to run on the Switch like any other game, but it's actually streamed to you from the cloud. This allows Capcom to sell a game on the Switch that it otherwise wouldn't be able to run.

But this is clearly not a suitable option for something like xCloud.

Why am I reading all this claptrap? Everybody yelling that it stinks. Nobody proposes a better idea. Next.

>Nobody proposes a better idea

People have proposed very specific improvements. In this particular case, it's super obvious what the proposal is: allow streaming services to publish one app that allows access to their streaming service, the way this works everywhere else.

This would be good for Apple's customers, good for developers, and also good for Apple. It would just require that Apple relinquish a little bit of control over what exactly people are allowed to run on their devices.


What’s also interesting is the definitions on streaming games. Consider Roblox, one of the top free apps currently. You can design a game with the Roblox studio, and use their own in game currency for said games which deliver revenue for the game developer. One main difference is that you are limited to games enabled by Roblox Studio, but there’s a fine line between that and, say, Unreal Engine.

This is pretty funny. No more A/B testing inside apps then, right? I wish it were true, but obviously Apple is never going to enforce this, either.

Hopefully, but yes, I don’t see Apple enforcing that.

I don’t think that’s a good long-term solution anyway. Maybe Apple should’ve done something like showing different release notes based on what testing is being performed, or requiring the app to show you a UI when it switches you.

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