This September, Microsoft's Xbox-based game streaming service is scheduled to launch.
The service enables users to play dozens of Xbox games via the cloud, on smartphones and tablets. Any progress made on those games will be reflected on the Xbox when you pick it up there.
Better yet: The service is paired with a large library of games that are streamable, similar to how services like Netflix have large libraries of TV shows and movies to watch.
But when it launches, the service won't be available on Apple's iPhone and iPad — and that's due to Apple's App Store policies.
In response, Microsoft is going on the offensive: "Apple stands alone as the only general purpose platform to deny consumers from cloud gaming and game subscription services like Xbox Game Pass," the company said. "And it consistently treats gaming apps differently, applying more lenient rules to non-gaming apps even when they include interactive content."
This September, Microsoft plans to launch a major coup in the video game business: The world's first game streaming service with a built-in library, Netflix-style.
For $15 a month, you'll be able to stream over 100 games to smartphones and tablets — but it won't be available on Apple's ubiquitous iPhone and iPad.
The reason, an Apple spokesperson said on Thursday, is because Apple isn't able to review each game that's available through 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," an Apple spokesperson told Business Insider. "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 Microsoft isn't submitting each game on its streaming service to Apple's review process, the app that enables access to those games is being blocked from publishing.
In response, Microsoft openly criticized Apple's policy.
"Apple stands alone as the only general purpose platform to deny consumers from cloud gaming and game subscription services like Xbox Game Pass," a statement sent to Business Insider on Thursday night said. "It consistently treats gaming apps differently, applying more lenient rules to non-gaming apps even when they include interactive content."
Beyond Microsoft's game streaming app, Google's Stadia game streaming app has faced similar issues with publishing on Apple's App Store. And just this week, Facebook was only able to publish its Facebook Gaming app on the App Store by outright removing the ability to play games within it.
Microsoft's statement highlighted that every game in the Xbox Game Pass library is rated by one of several video game rating bodies, including the ESRB in the US, PEGI in Europe, and CERO in Japan — the video game industry equivalent of the film industry's MPAA.
But the App Store roadblock goes beyond the content of the games: Apple's statement also noted that games appearing in services like Xbox Game Pass wouldn't show up if you search for them on the App Store.
"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," Apple explained on Thursday.
Given that Apple allows services like Netflix and Spotify without reviewing every piece of content, and without everything within them being indexed, 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 and App Store charts, according to Apple.
As you might expect, Microsoft sees the situation differently.
"We are committed to finding a path to bring cloud gaming with Xbox Game Pass Ultimate to the iOS platform," Microsoft's statement said. "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."
Microsoft's popular subscription service, Xbox Game Pass, started with the ability to download games from a large library directly to your console and PC.
This September, Microsoft is combining Xbox Game Pass with its "Project xCloud" streaming service — a combination years in the making. Instead of just being able to download games from the Game Pass library to your console and PC, they will also be streamable to smartphones and tablets.
With Xbox Game Pass "Ultimate" this September, Microsoft says over 100 games can be streamed directly to your smartphone or tablet for $15 per month. You can then resume those games on an Xbox console right where you left off.
Moreover, every major Xbox game published by Microsoft, from "Halo" to "Gears of War" to "Forza Motorsport," gets published to the service at launch, alongside a smattering of third-party games like "The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt" and "Grand Theft Auto 5." It's the persistent library, paired with the ability to stream those games to whatever device you've got, that makes Game Pass so similar to something like Netflix.
It's the next evolution of an already successful service: Xbox Game Pass has over 10 million paying subscribers right now. And it's a critical next step in Microsoft's plan to end direct competition between Xbox and PlayStation for good.
But without support for Apple phones and tablets, Microsoft's ambitious plan faces a major roadblock.
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