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Microsoft’s xCloud recently exited its testing phase and is now available to Android users with Xbox Game Pass Ultimate, but the service isn’t available to iOS users at all. This followed an abruptly cut short test on iOS that only included one game as opposed to the several options Android users had. But this isn’t just Microsoft showing preference toward one ecosystem. Instead, it has to do with Apple’s policies.
Why xCloud Isn’t On iOS
Previously, Apple had extremely restrictive policies on the App Store that essentially barred game-streaming services from appearing at all, which is why Google Stadia has also not been available on iOS since its launch. However, it recently updated its policies to explicitly permit game-streaming services to operate via the App Store.
So, all is good now, right? Not quite. The issue is that these services will need to have separate apps for each individual game purchased in order to comply with Apple’s 30% profit-splitting policy. It’s a similar issue to what we’ve seen with Epic Games and Fortnite, as Epic wished to circumvent the App store for microtransactions and sell these items directly to players.
Microsoft refused this solution, calling it a “bad experience for customers” in a statement to GameSpot. It emphasized that all of these games should be available within one app for ease of use rather than clogging up a device with dozens of different streamable games.
Games would also have to be submitted individually to Apple before being approved for the service, much like games purchased from the App Store for local play. It’s a different system than what Apple requires for movie and TV streaming services like Netflix, which allow users to easily access all their content within one app.
Could xCloud Still Come To iOS?
Quite possibly. Apple’s latest policy concession wasn’t a coincidence, as it came after public pressure has been mounting against the company. Should Epic Games manage to win its lawsuit against Apple, in which it argues that Apple is essentially operating a monopoly by making the App Store the exclusive home of digital content on iOS, we could see big changes.
Should the court agree, it would seemingly open the door for other companies, Microsoft included, to operate independently of the App Store. If this happens, it could hypothetically offer game streaming on its own store with a similar experience to that on Android devices. However, that is a big “if,” and it could be months before we learn if this will be possible.