Monday, April 8, 2024

Allowing iOS Game Emulators and Mini Apps

Apple (Hacker News):

4.7: Added games from retro game console emulator apps to the list of permitted software, and clarifies that mini apps and mini games must be HTML5.

Sweet! The new guideline reads:

4.7 Mini apps, mini games, streaming games, chatbots, plug-ins, and game emulators

Apps may offer certain software that is not embedded in the binary, specifically HTML5 mini apps and mini games, streaming games, chatbots, and plug-ins. Additionally, retro game console emulator apps can offer to download games. You are responsible for all such software offered in your app, including ensuring that such software complies with these Guidelines and all applicable laws. Software that does not comply with one or more guidelines will lead to the rejection of your app. You must also ensure that the software adheres to the additional rules that follow in 4.7.1 and 4.7.5. These additional rules are important to preserve the experience that App Store customers expect, and to help ensure user safety.


Your app may not extend or expose native platform APIs to the software without prior permission from Apple.

Juli Clover:

Game emulators have managed to sneak onto the App Store several times over the years by using hidden functionality, but Apple has not explicitly permitted them until now. The rule change that allows for game emulators is worldwide, as is support for apps that offer mini apps and mini games.

Ben Sandofsky:

From day one, Apple banned emulation from the App Store for no legal reason, just vibes, even though users want it.

After @altstore announces their own third-party App Store, which will be a haven for emulators, Apple changes their rules to allow it.

Riley Testut:

10 years too late Apple 🙃

Emma Roth (via Tom Warren):

Apple says those games must comply with “all applicable laws,” though — an indication it will ban apps that provide pirated titles.


The change seems to come in response to the antitrust lawsuit filed by the United States, which accuses Apple of attempting to stomp out both cloud game streaming apps and super apps. Apple recently started letting cloud streaming services, like Xbox Cloud Gaming and GeForce Now, onto the App Store.

Samuel Axon (Hacker News):

It’s a little fuzzy how this will play out, but it may not allow the kind of emulators you see on Android and desktop, which let you play retro games from any outside source.


The emulator change is a minor rule change about bundling and is not what many of the reactions to the change think.

What people seem to think this means: Open-ended retro game emulators like Snes9x and Dolphin are now allowed. (I don’t think this is correct.)

What the change is actually doing: If you are the licensed publisher of a retro game collection, you can now offer them in one app (including perhaps downloading additional games added to the collection later) instead of splitting them into individual apps. Each game must be individually vouched for.

What is not changing: “Emulators” have long been allowed if the emulated code is bundled with the app and it is officially licensed.

Mike Rockwell:

I suppose it’s still possible that emulators like RetroArch and PPSSPP would be allowed, but it seems like the rule could imply that this is just for retro game collections that allow for downloading of more games within the app. More like Sega releasing a Sonic the Hedgehog collection that utilizes emulation or a game developer that wants their homebrew NES game available on iOS.

I suspect someone will test the rule and see exactly where the line is drawn, but I get the feeling we’ll still need sideloading to have what we think of as “emulation” on iOS.

Colin Cornaby:

Actually - this reading makes it sound like my DOS emulator dream is still dead. You could actually ship emulators to the store before - but they had to include the ROMs in the bundle. This just makes it sound like games are allowed to download ROMs from an external server that is still under developer control.


Basically if Sega wanted to launch an “Every Genesis game ever” service it would have been difficult before because they would have been forced to include every game in the app bundle.

This just makes it so they can download those ROMs on the fly.


Notably, Apple still does not allow non web browsing apps to use JIT recompilers. This precludes emulators for 6th generation and newer consoles (GameCube, etc) from running on the platform even with this guideline change.

I submitted a DMA interoperability request for JIT recompilers, but Apple denied it on the grounds that it doesn’t fall under Article 6(7) for “multiple reasons”, including that JIT is only used by web browsers on iOS.

Steve Troughton-Smith:

An App Store with game streaming services and support for emulators is a better App Store.

Apple is using this opportunity to find out why people might ever want to sideload or jailbreak, and head them off at the pass.

Now do virtualization and JIT, since those are easy, low hanging fruit

Nick Lockwood:

also, with retro games the developers don’t keep remotely tweaking a game that you liked after you bought it and removing content you already paid for until it’s no longer a game you like

Craig Grannell:

“You can load your own ROMs? That’s piracy!” now appears to be the default take on emulators and the App Store.

And, yes, it may well be. But places do also sell ROMs for old systems, or provide them as a digital backup/alternative when you purchase a cartridge or disk. It’s not 100% yo-ho-ho.

Also, the other growing consensus – Apple will only allow emulators where you can add games via IAP – makes no sense to me because that’s existed for YEARS in the App Store anyway.

Another example of raising App Store fees without raising the percentage.


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Jeff Tyrrill

With the release of multiple open-ended emulators in the past few days (including Delta which is likely here to stay), it looks like my Hacker News hot take was wrong. They really are allowing them.

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