And I’m not talking about a service from Apple
A month ago, it looked like Apple had thrown down a gauntlet when it came to game streaming services. They had already been unreceptive to Google’s Stadia and NVIDIA’s GeForce. Steam was forced to create an app that works more like a remote desktop than a streaming service to get around the App Store rules. Then we had Microsoft and Facebook making pointed comments as the former abandoned development of xCloud and Xbox Game Pass on iOS and the later released a gaming app with no actual gaming.
Then Apple responded by clarifying the iOS rules around game streaming a few weeks ago. Unfortunately, what was supposed to look like an open door, and it may be for a few services, felt more like a bar set intentionally too high. The response from Microsoft on Apple’s demand to review every game released for a streaming service reflected that. I can’t deny that it looked like an empty gesture.
However, it seems like there are some things brewing below the surface. Based on a few things that have been said and done over the last two weeks, I feel like the parties involved are at least still talking and negotiating. The first was a comment from Xbox head Phil Spencer to CNBC:
“There are over three billion people who play video games today. Many of them play on phones, and we’re committed to bringing Game Pass out there to all mobile phones, including Apple phones. We’ll continue the conversations and I’m sure we’ll be able to get to some resolution.”
That statement raised a lot of eyebrows a few days ago. The confidence at the end of that quote is new. This is a shift from the more pointed complaints aimed at Apple over the last month. I don’t believe for a minute that Microsoft is going to conform Game Pass to Apple’s App Store rules, so this makes me think that there are discussions going on between the two parties. Whether Apple might be willing to change rules that they just clarified again or are helping Microsoft rework their Game Pass to run on Safari, it feels to me like something is happening behind scenes.
This wasn’t the only movement in gaming streaming on iOS and its variants this week, either. Amazon announced Luna, its surprise foray into this new and fast-growing space, this week. I didn’t think much of it at the time and figured it would face the same roadblocks that Microsoft, NVIDIA and Facebook are up against. However, that isn’t the case.
Luna is going the web-based route for iOS. When Apple released their clarified rules on game streaming, progressive web apps were specifically mentioned as an option to bypass the rules and subscription revenue split of the App Store. Rather than banging their heads against the brick wall, Amazon has taken the easier road. They also had a little help along the way. As detailed in an exclusive interview with Engadget, Luna head of engineering and technology George Tsipolitis had this to say about Amazon working directly with Apple to deliver this new service on iOS:
“We worked with the Safari team to ensure that some of the things that weren’t there are there, and that allowed us to kind of get to where we are today.”
It’s one things for Amazon to take the open road to reach iOS users on day one. However, it’s another that Apple gave them direct support in working around issues and making sure things worked day one. Considering that most of the tech press saw Apple’s mention of the open web as a possibility for game streaming as an empty gesture, this is a very smart move on their part.
Another comment later in the Engadget article is even more interesting:
“We’ll continue working with Apple,” Whitten said. “We’d love to do a native experience. They’re evaluating what their policies are there, they keep talking about them. And when we can come up with a good experience there, we’ll ship that one, too.”
Again, it certainly sounds like things are being talked about in the background.
There was another small move this week that at also shows that Microsoft hasn’t backed away from the table when it comes to gaming on Apple platforms. On Monday, they announced that Remote Play of a user’s game library would be freely available on Android. There were obviously a lot of negative comments made about Apple on Twitter after this, but my response was to question why Microsoft would release this on one platform and not the other. That’s because game streaming from a local Xbox is 100% within Apple’s current App Store rules.
As we all know now, Microsoft followed through and announced that Remote Play for Xbox IS coming to the iOS version of the Xbox app, as well. This is good news because it shows that Microsoft isn’t going the foolishly personal route that Time Sweeney and Epic are pursuing against Apple. It’s clear that the road is still open for bigger changes to come in the future and that’s a good thing for all users of Apple products, especially those who also own an Xbox.
Combined with the earlier comment from Phil Spencer of Microsoft and Amazon’s Luna news, it feels like Apple’s position on game streaming is still a moving target. Evidently they have even added controller support for Google Stadia to Safari on macOS, as well. Even though it looked like game streaming was a complete no-go for Apple a month ago, small things are happening all around their ecosystem at the moment. I think there’s still room for optimism that a bigger shift is still on the horizon.
As an Apple fan and user, I want to see the company continue to loosen the reigns and allow game streaming to not just work, but flourish across their ecosystem. I’m not a hardcore gamer, so this frankly isn’t that big of a deal to me personally. However, I know that it is for a large number of other Apple users, and that makes it important for their platforms as a whole. Apple should be in the business of doing what’s best for its users, so relaxing the restrictions on game streaming should be a no-brainer.
Come on, Tim Cook. Figure it out and get it done.