The only way to publish apps onto the iPhone and iPad is through Apple's App Store.
And if Apple decides an app you've submitted for publishing violates its publishing requirements, your app won't be available on the Apple App Store.
Such is the case with a trio of apps from some of tech's heaviest hitters: Microsoft, Facebook, and Google all have major gaming apps that Apple refuses to publish. Microsoft's Game Pass, Google's Stadia, and Facebook's Gaming app all face roadblocks to publishing on the App Store.
The reason? Those companies won't submit each individual game to Apple for review.
"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," an Apple spokesperson told Business Insider this week. "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."
Because each company isn't submitting each game, Apple is blocking the apps that enable access to those games.
"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," the statement from Apple said. "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."
Given that Apple allows services like Netflix and Spotify without reviewing every piece of content, why not allow a similar service for gaming?
The difference boils down to the medium, according to Apple: Games are interactive, unlike music and film, and there are consumer expectations baked into the App Store related to gaming.
Those expectations extend to game content, but also to searchability, in-app payment through Apple's built-in services, and App Store charts, according to Apple.
In order to get published on Apple's App Store, Facebook outright removed games from its Facebook Gaming app.
Google removed the core component of its app — the Google Stadia app on iOS doesn't stream video games to your phone, which is what the service exists to do.
And, for the time being, when Microsoft's Game Pass game streaming service launches on September 15, it will only be available on Android smartphones and tablets.
"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," a Microsoft spokesperson said on Thursday. "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."
Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg had similarly harsh words.
"Unfortunately, we had to remove gameplay functionality entirely in order to get Apple's approval on the standalone Facebook Gaming app — meaning iOS users have an inferior experience to those using Android," Sandberg said in a statement shared with Business Insider on Friday. "We're staying focused on building communities for the more than 380 million people who play games on Facebook every month — whether Apple allows it in a standalone app or not."
And in a thread on Twitter, the Facebook Gaming account went further.
"After months of submissions and repeated rejections by Apple, we've had to remove instant games entirely from the standalone app," a tweet thread from the account said on Friday. "We can afford to spend ~6 months grinding thru Apple reviews, but many others can't. And while we could have tried additional appeals, we didn't want to hold back from launching the version for livestreamers and fans."
Google Stadia representatives didn't respond to a request for comment.
What happens next is anyone's guess, but without support for iPhones and iPads, ambitious services like Xbox Game Pass and Google Stadia will assuredly struggle. iPhone users account for nearly half the US market share of smartphone users, according to Statista, and iPad is even more dominant in the tablet market.
One thing is certain: Given how critical Xbox Game Pass is to Microsoft's future with the Xbox brand, we've assuredly not heard the end of this.
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