Apple changes App Store rules to allow streaming game services, outside subscription apps


Game streaming will likely soon land on the App Store.

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This story is part of Apple Event, our full coverage of the latest news from Apple headquarters.

Apple’s changing its App Store rules to allow game streaming services, which allow people to play video games over the internet in similar ways they stream movies from Netflix, marking the iPhone maker’s acknowledgement of the changing ways some people are playing video games.

Apple said the new moves will allow apps that connect to game streaming services such as Sony’s PlayStation Now, Microsoft’s Xbox xCloud, Google’s Stadia and Nvidia’s GeForce Now. But there’s a catch.

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The company won’t simply let the game companies publish an app like movie and TV companies do. Instead, game streaming companies are required to submit an app for each individual game on their service, which Apple will then review just like any of the other 1.8 million programs on its service. 

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As a result, people who want to use a game streaming service would find its associated app on Apple’s app store with reviews and ratings like every other app. When they open the app, it would likely then connect to the streaming service and begin playing the game.

It also means if a subscription service offers hundreds of games, each one will need a separate app that connects to its associated streaming service, and the games would need to be reviewed by Apple just like any other app.

“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,” Apple said in its new guidelines.

Google’s Stadia service launched last year, promising to make games more social through YouTube. It’s so far garnered mixed reviews.

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The company’s moves mark its latest acknowledgement of the way people are rapidly shifting the way they interact with entertainment. Several years ago, game subscriptions were a small part of the industry, offered by few companies. But as back catalogs have grown, game makers say they’ve realized an opportunity to help people access older games in new ways, including through subscriptions, game streaming or some combination of them.

The move also emphasizes Apple’s power in the game industry. Though the iPhone and iPad aren’t typically considered traditional video game consoles, the devices are used by more than 1 billion people across 175 countries. And gaming is one of the most popular things people do on the devices. That makes Apple’s devices, as well as ones powered by Google’s Android software, an appealing opportunity for console makers like Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo.

The iPhone maker’s new rules also go into effect just before the company’s expected to release its iOS 14 and iPadOS 14 software for its iPhones and iPads. The company’s also expected to announce a new set of iPhones sometime in the coming weeks, featuring a new design and promising superfast 5G wireless speeds.

Developers and tech companies say 5G’s promised speeds make game streaming while on the go possible and a few tests, including a recent on in South Korea, have proved promising.

In the meantime, Apple’s rule changes mean that Apple is effectively reversing its earlier stance against allowing game streaming services on iPhones and iPads. 

Apple’s App Store Review Guidelines, which its employees use to decide whether programs submitted to the App Store meet the company’s criteria around safety, usability and monetization, previously didn’t allow game streaming services. In August, the company said in a statement it was concerned it couldn’t review each individual game on a given game service. The company’s changes make that possible.

Gaming on a subscription

Microsoft in August announced a partnership with Samsung to bring its Xbox Games Pass streaming to the company’s phones.

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Game streaming services first made waves in 2010, when services like OnLive and Gaikai proved they could stream a game over the internet. Both companies were eventually bought by Sony, which started its PlayStation Now service in 2014. It’s since grown to offer more than 800 titles. 

Most recently, Microsoft, Google and chipmaker Nvidia have offered their takes on the technology, powered by subscriptions or individual game purchases or some combination of the two. 

Microsoft, for example, plans to offer streaming technology through its $14.99 per month Xbox Games Pass Ultimate service, which offers people access to more than 100 games on the Xbox or PC as well as its Xbox Live gaming social network. The company already debuted early access to the service for Android devices, but in August it said Apple’s app store rules meant the Xbox streaming service couldn’t run on iPhones or iPads. 

“Apple stands alone as the only general purpose platform to deny consumers from cloud gaming and game subscription services like Xbox Game Pass,” the company said at the time. Microsoft didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on the new policy.

Google declined to comment. Sony and Nvidia didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.


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