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by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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Apple, Microsoft spar over cloud gaming against antitrust backdrop

Pursuant to the announcement earlier this week that Microsoft would not be bringing its xCloud game streaming service to iOS, the two companies have exchanged fire over where the blame lies. First, Apple lashed out, providing a statement to several outlets, including The Verge, confirming that xCloud violates the App Store guidelines:

The App Store was created to be a safe and trusted place for customers to discover and download apps, and a great business opportunity for all developers. Before they go on our store, all apps are reviewed against the same set of guidelines that are intended to protect customers and provide a fair and level playing field to developers.

Our customers enjoy great apps and games from millions of developers, and gaming services can absolutely launch on the App Store as long as they follow the same set of guidelines applicable to all developers, including submitting games individually for review, and appearing in charts and search. In addition to the App Store, developers can choose to reach all iPhone and iPad users over the web through Safari and other browsers on the App Store.

There’s a lot to unpack there, but let’s just start by noting that the requirement to vet all individual games is, let me be frank, a load of hooey. Apple doesn’t review all the titles available on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, or any of the myriad of streaming services that have apps on the App Store. Nor does it check every book title available on the Kindle, Nook, or Kobo apps. But we’ll get back to that in a moment.

Microsoft didn’t take long to shoot back, issuing its own statement to several publications, including Gizmodo:

“Our testing period for the Project xCloud preview app for iOS has expired. Unfortunately, we do not have a path to bring our vision of cloud gaming with Xbox Game Pass Ultimate to gamers on iOS via the Apple App Store. Apple stands alone as the only general purpose platform to deny consumers from cloud gaming and game subscription services like Xbox Game Pass. And it consistently treats gaming apps differently, applying more lenient rules to non-gaming apps even when they include interactive content. All games available in the Xbox Game Pass catalog are rated for content by independent industry ratings bodies such as the ESRB and regional equivalents. We are committed to finding a path to bring cloud gaming with Xbox Game Pass Ultimate to the iOS platform. We believe that the customer should be at the heart of the gaming experience and gamers tell us they want to play, connect and share anywhere, no matter where they are. We agree.”

So, Microsoft has a number of good points here. First, that all of its games are already reviewed and issued content ratings by the ESRB, an industry organization that’s essentially the MPAA for games. Second, that Apple does seem to treat gaming apps differently from other streaming apps, as I noted above.

This isn’t the first time recently that Microsoft—and I get it, it’s rich, Microsoft—has attacked Apple because of anticompetitive behavior. Ahead of the antitrust hearings in Washington last week, Microsoft had already expressed concern about Apple’s position with the App Store. It’s entirely possible Microsoft knew this particular fight was brewing, but it also seems as though Redmond had already run afoul of App Store restrictions with other products, like Office.

All of this boils down to things not looking great for Apple and the App Store. Cupertino has doubled down on its defenses, with Tim Cook insisting that it treats everybody the same, but the best you can say for that is that it’s an Obi-Wan Kenobi-style equivocation about it being true from a certain point of view.

As Apple has become the most valuable company in the world, it’s increasingly clear that its biggest threat is itself. Throw out whatever cliché axiom you prefer—power corrupts, or the road to hell being paved with good intentions—but Apple certainly seems to increasingly have become one of those entities that will go to any lengths to protect its people, even if that means verging into the authoritarian.

Update: I no sooner hit publish on this piece than I saw this story about Apple forcing the Facebook Gaming app to launch with no games in it, due to App Store rules. Certainly provides more ammunition for Microsoft’s argument that Apple treats games differently. Moreover, this seems to look even more transparently bad from a competitive standpoint, as Apple Arcade clearly benefits from these moves.


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