Microsoft has quietly told Apple it’s ready to turn great Xbox-exclusive games into iPhone apps

Remember when Apple claimed it would let cloud gaming services like Microsoft xCloud and Google Stadia enter the App Store, while effectively ripping up their business models? Do you know how Microsoft responded that forcing gamers to download hundreds of individual apps to play a cloud game catalog would be a bad experience?

In fact, Microsoft was ready to respond to many requests from Apple – and it even offered to bring Xbox-exclusive triple-A games to iPhone to help soften the deal. This is according to a new set of private emails that The edge discovered the day after the Epic vs. Apple test.

These games would have run on Microsoft’s Xbox Cloud Gaming (xCloud) platform, streaming from remote server farms filled with Xbox One and Xbox Series X processors instead of relying on local processing power from your computer. phone. If the deal had been done, you could theoretically have bought a copy of a game like Infinite halo in Apple’s App Store itself and launched it like any other app – instead of having to pay $ 14.99 per month for an Xbox Game Pass Ultimate membership with a set game catalog, then to need to use Microsoft’s web-based App Store workaround.

But mainly, Microsoft was negotiating to bring its catalog of xCloud games to Netflix on the App Store, at a time when Apple had obtained very picky about cloud gaming in general.

The emails, between Lori Wright, Microsoft Xbox Business Development Manager, and several key members of Apple’s App Store teams, show that Microsoft do start with a wide range of concerns about populating a full service Xbox games into individual apps from the App Store as of February 2020. Wright mentioned the “complexity and management of creating hundreds to thousands apps ”, how they should update each of those apps to fix bugs, and how all of those app icons could lead to cluttered iOS home screens, among other concerns.

“We believe the issues described here will create frustration and confusion for customers, resulting in a poor experience on Apple devices compared to the equivalent experience on all other platforms,” ​​he said. she writes.

But in March of last year, Microsoft proposed that it could, in fact, create those hundreds or thousands of individual apps to submit to the App Store – as long as it could make those apps little more than shortcuts. , instead of stuffing it all up. cloud game streaming stack in each. She argued that it looks like the way watchOS apps already work.

“If we have a single streaming technology app, it will be around 150MB, but the other apps will only be around 30MB and will not need to be updated when the streaming technology is updated. . It will be a better experience for the users, ”writes Wright:

Wright explains that Microsoft is “close to finding a solution” to bringing Xbox games to iOS as App Store apps.
Screenshot by Sean Hollister / The Verge

This is also when Wright came up with the idea to bring iOS-exclusive Xbox triple-A games, arguing that they too would need “the streaming technology package as a separate app to deliver. the good experience ”.

“It would be an incredibly exciting opportunity for iOS users to have access to these exclusive AAA titles in addition to Game Pass games,” she wrote.

Obviously, none of this happened. Microsoft rejected the new Apple App Store guidelines in September 2020 and announced the workaround web version of xCloud a month later. He arrived in April.

Where did the negotiations fail? Microsoft now says The edge that Apple was actually the one who rejected his proposals – because Apple insisted on forcing every game to include the full streaming stack and wouldn’t accept anything else.

“Our proposal to offer games through individual apps was designed to comply with the policies of the App Store. This was denied by Apple based on our request that there be a single streaming technology app to support individual gaming apps, as the initial email indicates. Forcing every game to include our streaming technology stack has proven to be unrealistic from a support and engineering perspective and would create an incredibly negative experience for customers, ”a statement from the vice president of Xbox Cloud Gaming Kareem Choudhry at The edge.

At the end of April, Apple’s head of games at the Apple App Store, Mark Grimm, suggested that it might not be the alone reason the companies didn’t come to an agreement – it could also have something to do with the money. He told his colleagues that Microsoft is now considering including the streaming code in individual Xbox games on the App Store. “[Wright] was much more positive and was trying to pressure their engineering team to find a way to put the entire streaming stack in each binary, ”he wrote.

Grimm goes on to suggest that Apple’s agreed role in the negotiations was to “take the problem from the IPA and find a solution”, but it appears that did not happen.
Screenshot by Sean Hollister / The Verge

But there was also a concern that Microsoft did not want to put in-app purchases into every game: “Their proposition for IAPs is still that they process all IAPs on their existing system and settle with us (either real-time or monthly), ”Grimm wrote, stating that Apple should let Microsoft games bypass IPA. “They are not trying to get around pay us, they’re trying to get around a lot of redundant API work, ”he said.

And Apple says The edge this money was in question. Unfortunately, Microsoft offered a version of xCloud that did not meet our App Store review guidelines, specifically the requirement to use in-app purchase to unlock additional features or functionality in a application, ”read a statement via Apple spokesman Adam Dema.

Microsoft’s Choudhry denies that the IAP made the final decision. “The reasons for the rejection were not related to purchasing capabilities in the app; we currently provide Xbox Cloud Gaming through a single Xbox Game Pass app in the Google Play Store with no IAP enabled, for example, and we would do the same through the App Store if that was allowed.

Here is Choudhry’s general statement on the whole issue:

We explored many options for bringing Cloud Gaming through Xbox Game Pass to Apple devices, again in a way that first led to what we thought was best customer experience through a single app. Apple Store policies would have required us to launch each game as an individual app. While we have never favored this approach, we have explored it as a possibility in the mind to find a solution to bring Cloud Gaming to iOS customers. However, between that March 2020 email and our statement to The Verge in September 2020, Apple rejected our proposals and we were unable to release a consistent Xbox Game Pass offer through the App Store. We have changed our engineering priorities and have now moved to a browser-based solution that makes Xbox Cloud Gaming available to iOS customers through web browsers, and will continue to seek viable resolutions that allow us to access the App. Store.

As for the possibility of bringing Xbox triple-A exclusives to iPhone and iPad as individual games, he confirms:

“In addition to Xbox Game Pass, we were also ready to bring selected individual games to iOS as we do today with titles like Minecraft. “

Lance B. Holton