EU 'aware' of Xbox Project xCloud iOS block as antitrust case looms

Apple CEO Tim Cook
Apple CEO Tim Cook (Image credit: Apple)

What you need to know

  • The European Commission has stated it's "aware" of recent antitrust concerns raised by Microsoft and Facebook over Apple's App Store policies.
  • It follows Apple's recent decision to double down on App Store restrictions, preventing Xbox's Project xCloud cloud gaming services from launching on iOS.
  • Microsoft claims that "Apple stands alone as the only general purpose platform to deny consumers from cloud gaming and game subscription services like Xbox Game Pass."

The recent dust-up between Apple and Microsoft over Project xCloud, which saw the iPhone-maker actively withholding the Xbox game-streaming platform, has drawn the attention of the European Union. It comes as Apple enforces restrictive policies on software distributed through its iOS App Store, with concerns raised by Microsoft and Facebook over gaming content.

Microsoft first kicked back at Apple's tight grip on its App Store on Thursday, claiming Cupertino continues to "deny consumers from cloud gaming and game subscription services" on its devices. That follows the company recently ending tests for its Project xCloud cloud gaming tech on iOS over hard limitations stifling its mobile rollout. The Project xCloud for Android release remains on schedule, headed to its Xbox Game Pass app on September 15 for Ultimate-tier subscribers.

The European Commission has now caught wind of both cases, as reported by Reuters. "The Commission is aware of these concerns regarding Apple's App Store rules," said Commission spokeswoman Arianna Podesta. No further details were provided.

Xbox Project xCloud Tablet

Source: Microsoft (Image credit: Source: Microsoft)

Apple has held its ground, raising concern over its inability to regulate the service, mandating that Microsoft lists all Xbox One games individually, with a manual review process for approval. That could also see Apple take up to a 30% cut on subscriptions, due to its mandatory revenue share policy for on-device payments. Facebook also voiced similar concerns over the treatment of Facebook Gaming, axing playable in-app games after multiple rejections from Apple.

Recent comments from Microsoft and Facebook may feed into current EU antitrust investigations challenging Apple and its oversight of its App Store. The European Commission pledged to take a closer look at the marketplace and internal practices in June, including its requirement to use in-house payment systems.

The Commission's comments follow a U.S. antitrust hearing last month, which saw leadership from Apple, Amazon, Facebook, and Google questioned over separate claims of anti-competitive practices.

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Matt Brown

Matt Brown was formerly a Windows Central's Senior Editor, Xbox & PC, at Future. Following over seven years of professional consumer technology and gaming coverage, he’s focused on the world of Microsoft's gaming efforts. You can follow him on Twitter @mattjbrown.

  • "deny consumers from cloud gaming and game subscription services" Actually they didn't deny it, Microsoft can do any type of subscription they want but if they want software/games to be included in an app... each piece has to go through Apple's process just like every other Apple developer. - Cloud game (or even virtualized instance) is okay
    - Subscription is okay although if someone signs up via iOS app, Apple gets a cut
    - Individual software (games) can't avoid licensing (agreement, fees, quality controls, etc)... this is what they are trying to get around and no its not okay This policy is basically how all closed platforms work, including Xbox, Game Pass and xCloud. I'm still baffled by Microsoft's problem, Phil Spencer apparently has no idea how licensing works. LOL (embarrassing) "It follows Apple's recent decision to double down on App Store restrictions, preventing Xbox's Project xCloud cloud gaming services from launching on iOS." Also, this is a false statement or taken out of context. Game streaming (or virtualized instance) is not prevented on iOS, the games just have to go through the apple developer process just the same as they would on Xbox. All Microsoft has to do is do what other developers/publishers are doing: 1.) Provide a client to remote play i.e. PS Remote Play/Valve Steam Link etc.... if they choose.
    2.) If they want to use a streaming or virtualized instance of a game, that game should be separated app (game) needs to go through the Apple development process i.e. licensing process. An example of this would be Resident Evil 7 on the Nintendo Switch, which is a game streaming version.
  • It's basically interactive streaming. Does Apple ask Netflix to submit every title separately to analysis? I don't think so. Netflix even has interactive titles too.
  • Its virtualized/streaming software (games), no they are not going to stop video but these are clearly software. Microsoft won't allow me to do the same thing on Xbox or xCloud. Why? They wouldn't have a business. If interactive video is an issue, Apple might be forced to bring an even bigger hammer on interactive video services. Everyone else figured this out years ago, which is why you have Resident Evil 7 on Nintendo Switch. Microsoft isn't going to allow non-licensed software on Xbox either, same thing. Microsoft is actually licensing twice, once through Xbox and than again for xCloud. There is nothing new about this, which is why you don't see a Stadia app or a PS Now app, and why you will never see those apps on a Xbox. You can create programs for open platforms i.e. Windows, Linux and even Android (which to me is semi-open).
  • Maybe I am not understanding some things and someone can clarify for me, but this is as far as I can see it. All the games are already reviewed by the ESRB (at least to the best of my knowledge). If Apple was concerned about the content, they could say that any xyz rating from the ESRB couldn't be streamed. There is no need for them to re-review every title. Apple likes to say that the iPad is a personal computer. A game console is not a personal computer (unless you're being pedantic), it is merely an entertainment device. If Apple wants to make a console and only let games be listed through their store, that is fine. People buy consoles to play the games associated with that ecosystem. I don't care for the restrictions, so I am a PC gamer who shops multiple stores. People buy computers and phones for the ability to work and play how they want. Apple seems to say that is fine, as long as you work and play the way they want. That seems monopolistic to me. And while I like Apple's talk of privacy and some of their efforts in that area, this is why I will never purchase one of their devices.
  • What the device is called is meaningless, its a platform. As far as rating that is a secondary item, the software (games) haven't gone through Apple's licensing process. 1. PS Remote Play or remote desktop application going to ones device, okay.
    2. PS Now not okay as the software(games) are being added and deleted, further the software has no been granted license. Matter of fact, most of the software on these services are not even developed by the company doing the app. The developers can just go through the Apple development process, whether its streaming or not is not material that I can see. This is exactly what Capcom did for RE7 on the Nintendo Switch. "That seems monopolistic to me." All licensing is monopoly, its their way or the highway. Let Microsoft tell me how I put my software on Xbox without licensing. (crickets)
  • Tell me how Microsoft is preventing you from putting your software on PCs? *crickets*
  • Windows is an open system, same for LInux, etc. We're talking close platforms, try to put your software on Xbox or xCloud without license. (good luck) Not sure what your point is. There is really nothing different between Xbox and iOS, they're closed systems which mean you conform to licensing. You could still in theory be subjecting yourself to licensing even compiling down to win32, but it can be avoided. There is no way to avoid license on Xbox, or xCloud. There is no way to avoid licensing in the MS Store, Windows Phone, UWP, etc.
  • "There is really nothing different between Xbox and iOS" The former is a video game console the latter is a general computing platform.
  • That is some silly word Microsoft came up with to try and act like they are doing something different. This isn't regulated and there is no regulated definition.... Microsoft just made up their own terms, legally meaningless. Xbox and xCloud are both closed platforms which both require licensing.
  • The basis for your argument is completely invalid. Remote desktop connection, citrix workspace, horizon view, team viewer, and many more use similar technology as xcloud to stream a desktop experience to an iOS device which doesn't go through the same BS the Apple is trying to do. What this boils down to is MS has made a great product and Apple wants to be greedy and try to take a piece of the proceeds when it's not even Microsoft's money to give a cut of. The point of xcloud is to play your games you digitally purchased or the ones available via gamepass to say you want a cut of that is unethical when all the app is doing is streaming a remote game experience similar to how the previously mentioned applications stream a desktop and app experience to a mobile device.
  • Well, I have no argument. Apple is allowing remote desktop application and even PS Remote Play, that is not what Microsoft is doing. Its the equivalent of PS Now, which is not on iOS. "What this boils down to is MS has made a great product and Apple wants to be greedy and try to take a piece of the proceeds when it's not even Microsoft's money to give a cut of. " Its licensing, which apparently you don't understand which is what Microsoft does as well, I can't get on Xbox or xCloud without licensing. Its absolutely no difference. "The point of xcloud is to play your games you digitally purchased or the ones available via gamepass" The first one is fine, all Microsoft has to do is copy PS Remote Play, the second one is not going to be allowed as the software nor the individual developer has gone through the Apple development process i.e. licensing. iOS is a platform for software, the real developer not Microsoft can submit their game (software) through the Apple developer process. None of these companies including Microsoft are going to help another produce a sudo software store.
  • naming other game streaming services which are not on iOS only adds further fuel to the fire. Stadia, Geforce Now... also not on iOS, because of Apple's restrictions. There is no justifiable reason to not allow these services on the app store, other than they simply don't want to because it competes with Apple Arcade. Even that though. Netflix, Amazon, Spotify, Deezer, they compete with apple products too. All allowed, everyone is happy. Ultimately this boils down to consumer choice. Restricting choice for nonsensical reasons is not going to do apple any favours in the long run. Apple should know this, they've been through revenue sharing with Netflix and came up with a solution - just slap apple tax on if you subscribe FROM iOS. We've seen them lock out a competitor from their stores before over petty inter-multi-billion-dollar-organisation squables too with Amazon Prime. No one won. Especially not the consumer... until they both decided to just do the right thing and stop being dicks. The ultimate goal for this particular argument is that people will look at android devices for gaming. Maybe they'll still buy an ipad, or iphone, but it will drive the gaming consciousness collectively away from Apple. "you want to stream Stadia, PS Now, XCloud, Geforce.. or heaven forbid, Facebook? then steer clear of Apple!" and that's really not what Apple want. Just they don't know it yet.
  • "- Cloud game (or even virtualized instance) is okay"
    Apparently not. This is precisely what XCloud is. Part of the issue you have here is that these games do not run on Apple, iOS, iPadOS, MacOS. Apple insists on vetting these titles for content, security, etc. That's fine, but on what will Apple do this? I suppose they could evaluate each game running in the XCloud client, but they are really evaluating the client, with different data, much like wanting to evaluating a web browser with every site it could visit.
  • "Apparently not. This is precisely what XCloud is." No, they have an app that they get money at in a different location than the games are switched out. Apple won't have a problem with a single instance (on a per game bases) that goes though the Apple licensing process. The developer should still be going through licensing. Resident Evil 7 on Nintendo Switch is an example. The developer if they choose could in theory licensing tech from Sony, Microsoft, Nvidia, Google, etc on the back end for their streaming or virtualization tech. - Resident Evil 7 (individual title using game streaming) okay... which goes though with licensing
    - PS Remote Play/Valve Steam Play/other remote software okay
    - Not okay.... PS Now, Google Stadia, Microsoft xCloud, etc.... developer avoiding Apple licensing There is nothing new about any of this. Apple hasn't said they won't allow game streaming because they already do, they haven't said they won't allow subscriptions they already do.... the problem is the developers are trying to get around licensing. I actually think the xCloud app would be in violation of Microsoft's own Store licensing. LOL
  • " The developer should still be going through licensing" What, exactly, would they even be licensing? screentime? That's a real dangerous precedent to be trying to set. Do I as a web developer, or film maker, or photographer also need to license screen time? "Resident Evil 7 on Nintendo Switch is an example." what you've done there, is assumed that Stadia, xCloud, PS remote, etc have all even bothered to ask to put their apps on to their competitors devices and have been turned down. It's an assumption. What we know, for a fact, is that Facebook and Microsoft have both ran development trials on iOS and requested final apps on the Apple store, and apple have denied it and given nonsensical reasons. "I actually think the xCloud app would be in violation of Microsoft's own Store licensing. LOL" you can refer to the policies here -
    tldr; they're not prohibited. Although 10.13.3 might be prove publishing competitor streaming platforms to xbox somewhat tricky.
  • Again same debate here.
  • I also checked MS licensing for the Microsoft Store, if xCloud was released by another party on it I can see many instances where the application would get rejected by Microsoft for being against their license agreement. 10.1.5
    Your app may promote or distribute software only through the Microsoft Store. 10.13.10
    Products that emulate a game system are not allowed on any device family. This one is kind of funny because probably the majority of the games on Xbox do this. LOL
    11.6 Alcohol, Tobacco, Weapons and Drugs
    Your product must not contain any content that facilitates or glamorizes excessive or irresponsible use of alcohol or tobacco products, drugs, or weapons. My guess is this probably wouldn't work either, but I haven't used the app.
    Products should support the devices and platforms on which they are downloaded, including compatibility with the software, hardware and screen resolution requirements specified by the product. If a product is downloaded on a device with which it is not compatible, it should detect that at launch and display a message to the customer detailing the requirements.
  • 11.6 is the only policy xcloud would violate, but I'm not sure it applies to windows store games. 10.1 and 10.15 are talking about very specific things. Xcloud is not an emulator and it doesn't use 3rd party software to install programs on your PC. It would pass certification without a problem.
  • "10.1.5 - Your app may promote or distribute software only through the Microsoft Store." xCloud is a cloud version of Game Pass. It's a subscription service like Netflix, in that neither promote or distribute content in the same a store front does. So this would not be in violation. That said, Amazon Prime is in the windows and xbox store, and allows purchase of content through the app, and those purchases appear to go through your Amazon account, not Microsoft's. So, meh, looks like Microsoft are ignoring this clause, or maybe it doesn't count for non-interative media! :) "10.13.10 Products that emulate a game system are not allowed on any device family." It is also not emulation. Look, we all know there are officially sanctioned emulators on all game console and mobile store fronts. This is essentially a get out clause for 'other' emulators that are somewhat frowned upon by console makers. Although, having said that, there are some unofficial emulators on the windows store. "11.6 Alcohol, Tobacco, Weapons and Drugs" the use of these things in games are rated by ESRB, and therefore wouldn't be considered excessive if allowed in that rating. This likely covers things far in excess of what we see in games, e.g. actual Gun store fronts. "10.4.1 Products should support the devices and platforms on which they are downloaded" This is saying if your app requires 1080p display, and the user doesn't have a 1080p display they should be told at app launch. How you've read that to mean xCloud wouldn't be allowed in Microsoft's own storefront is mind boggling. AFAIK xCloud game footage is streamed in 720p, so would need to adhere to that. That is all. overall, somewhat clutching at straws. Microsoft's terms allow the use of game streaming platforms. Why aren't there any in their store? Until we know for sure it's probably just because they've not asked.