Apple changes App Store rules to allow streaming game services, Xbox says not enough


Game streaming will likely soon land in the App Store.

Patrick Holland/CNET

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

Apple is changing its App Store rules to allow game streaming services, which let people play video games over the internet in a way that’s similar to how they stream movies on Netflix. The move marks the iPhone maker’s acknowledgement of the changing ways some people are playing video games.

Apple said the new rules 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.

Apple won’t simply let the game companies publish an app like movie and TV companies do. Instead, game streaming firms 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 in the App Store. 

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

This also means that if a subscription service offers hundreds of games, each one will need a separate app that connects to that service.

“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 step is Apple’s 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.

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 is expected to release its iOS 14 and iPadOS 14 software for its iPhones and iPads. Apple is 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 one in South Korea, have proved promising.

In the meantime, Apple’s changed rules mean that the company 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 that it was concerned it couldn’t review each individual game on a given game service. The company’s changes make that possible.

Microsoft, which previously criticized Apple’s rules limiting its Xbox game streaming service, said in a statement that it disagrees with Apple’s approach. 

“This remains a bad experience for customers,” a Microsoft spokesman said in a statement. “Gamers want to jump directly into a game from their curated catalog within one app just like they do with movies or songs, and not be forced to download over 100 apps to play individual games from the cloud. We’re committed to putting gamers at the center of everything we do, and providing a great experience is core to that mission.”

Gaming on a subscription


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

Lori Grunin/CNET

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 gives 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 cloud gaming and game subscription services like Xbox Game Pass,” the company said at the time. It’s unclear whether Microsoft will ultimately concede to Apple’s policy.

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

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