Yesterday, Gamesindustry.biz reported (through a piece first appearing on The Verge) that Microsoft had unexpectedly canceled their Project xCloud test on iOS before its originally announced end date of September 11. The conditions of the test seemed unusual for the product: only one game could be used (Microsoft may have bent the rules a bit selecting Halo: The Master Chief Collection), and only 10,000 testers could be involved.
It's even more unusual given such conditions were not present when Microsoft performed a similar test for Android. When asked about the conditions, Microsoft cryptically replied they were in place "to comply with App Store policies."
Today, a statement from an Apple spokesperson to Business Insider Australia gives a somewhat more detailed explanation about why the test was canceled. However, it falls considerably short of actually "clarifying" the matter. The reason for the cancellation is because Apple cannot review all the games which would be available on Microsoft's Game Pass.
"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," the spokesperson said. "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." Since each game isn't being vetted by Apple personally, the entire app is being blocked.
This is not the first time Apple has done something like this. Valve has famously had difficulty getting their Steam Link streaming app approved for iOS. Google's Stadia is restricted to account management functions.
Apple's argument, encapsulated by that same spokesperson, is this: "Our customers enjoy great apps and games from millions of developers, and gaming services can 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."
Microsoft has released its own statement on Windows Central, denouncing Apple's position.
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.
This is unlikely to be the last time we'll hear of library services attempting to connect iOS users to the broader gaming community. Currently, there are no iOS clients for Epic Game Store or GOG Galaxy, and given Apple's policies thus far, there's little chance they would be able to have anything more involved than what Stadia ended up with.
There is some question about what influence the European Commission may be able to bring to bear, as they're currently in the middle of an antitrust investigation over Apple's pricing and policies over the App Store ecosystem. Apple's position that "digital marketplaces need rules and governance to thrive" (as outlined in a study they commissioned) may laudable on its face. Still, when it seems to be applied in a manner hostile to its competitors as well as its customers, a reconsideration is clearly in order.