Sometimes the world just isn’t ready for new tech. When cloud gaming first arrived in the early 2000s, internet speeds couldn’t cope. You might as well have tried to run Doom over Teletext. A couple of decades later, everything changed. Google launched Stadia (which later turned out much as everyone expected). Microsoft’s Project xCloud was in trials. Suddenly, you were able to play AAA titles everywhere. Except if you had an iPhone, because Apple’s response to game streaming for iPhone was: Apple Menu > Shut Down…
Apple’s initial argument for blocking game streaming apps on iPhone was – and I may be paraphrasing slightly – “We don’t want to and you can’t make us.” Although Apple press statements also tried to argue its stance was best for everyone – the written equivalent of a condescending pat on the head. It talked about the App Store being a “safe and trusted place” and a “level playing field”. The inference being that by Apple allowing streaming gaming, your iPhone would terrorise your gran, mess up your hair, and fly out of the window while laughing maniacally.
Microsoft politely pointed out – and, again, I might be paraphrasing – that Apple needed to get a clue, because it was all alone, sailing on a sea of stupid.
Not very appy
Apple, however, had a cunning plan. It pivoted and decided to allow game streaming on iPhone after all – with one teeny tiny caveat. Every single game within a service would have to be submitted individually. This would allow each game to have its own App Store product page, chart placing, user ratings, reviews and Screen Time support. Oh, and any catalogue app would have to link to App Store product pages, rather than, you know, launch games you wanted to play.
There was other stuff too, all apparently designed to make cloud gaming unviable. What Apple was doing was indefensible, arbitrarily treating games differently from other media. Spotify didn’t have to submit every album individually. There was no Orange is the New Black ‘app’. You just watched the show in Netflix, becoming increasingly disappointed as its creators keenly fought to win the Streaming Media Jump the Shark Award.
Cynics suggested Apple might have had ulterior motives beyond all its claims about user experiences. Apple Arcade, for one. The piles of cash it makes out of free native mobile games stuffed full of IAP, for another.
Head in the clouds
The thing is, the one thing games tend to like is… more games. And sure, had Xbox Cloud Gaming rocked up on iPhone, it’s possible some folks might have cancelled their Apple Arcade subscriptions or played native mobile games less. But it’s just as likely they’d have played… more games on their iPhones. Of all types.
Now, we’ll get to find out. Apple’s recent excitement about AAA games across its platforms and positioning the iPhone as a serious games machine had rendered its cloud gaming stance indefensible and nonsensical. Fortunately, it’s now also defunct. That’s because while everyone was yelling about the pros and cons of the EU mandating multiple app stores on iPhone, Apple quietly added that streaming gaming was all fine now actually.
Hilariously, the company added that the changes “reflect feedback from Apple’s developer community”, which is a curious way to phrase “Microsoft screamed into the void for years and we realised it then built a great web app and circumvented the App Store entirely”.
That said, whether Microsoft – and other game streaming services – will now fully support iPhone remains to be seen. Perhaps they’ll only support Android natively, out of spite. Or maybe they’ll head to the App Store because money. Microsoft may get the last laugh though, because there’s one notable free game on its service: Fortnite. Oh dear.