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Apple’s new App Store rules create loopholes for xCloud, Stadia and more

Apple has released new rules for the App Store in an attempt to address many of the issues that have arisen over Apple’s management of its digital storefront for iPhone devices, with updates for game streaming services, new rules for online classes and fewer restrictions on purchases in app on free email apps, which was the focus of Apple’s previous controversy with Hey.

Leading the changes is an explicit decision by game streaming services like Google Stadia or Microsoft’s xCloud, as Apple tells CNBC is recently allowed – but the new rules show that each game must also be downloaded “directly from the App Store”

;, and each game update must be sent to Apple separately before a company can stream it to users. This means that Microsoft or Google cannot build a single, superior xCloud or Stadia app that includes access to all the games.

But they can offer individual games in the App Store as separate software using streaming technology, Apple confirms The Verge. They do not need to create a complete download game running locally on the iPhone – thin clients and hybrid streaming apps are OK now. If they want a unified place for players to find these games, cloud game providers like Google and Microsoft can build directory-style apps that collect and link to the individual apps as well.

Of course, all of these game streaming apps will still be subject to Apple’s usual App Store rules, including the company’s controversial 30 percent cut, which is currently the subject of Apple’s ongoing battle with Epic Games.

Microsoft and Google had to radically change their proposed business models and jump through many hurdles to get their cloud services on the iPhone this way. There are enough hangers, it almost feels like Apple designed the rules so that it can seem benevolent while still keeping xCloud and Stadia out. (For its part, Apple tells us that it’s really looking forward to game developers putting cloud games in store.)

While Google declined to comment on these changes, Microsoft directly rejects Apple’s proposal. Here is the company’s statement:

This is still a bad experience for customers. Players will jump directly into a game from their curated catalog in one app, just as they do with movies or songs, and will not be forced to download over 100 apps to play individual games from the cloud. We are committed to putting players at the center of everything we do, and providing a great experience is the core of this mission.

Nvidia, which so far has not been able to bring the GeForce Now service to iOS either, also declined to comment.

Here are Apple’s full guidelines for “streaming games”, although some reviews also appear elsewhere in Apple’s revised rules:

4.9 Streaming games

Streaming games are allowed as long as they comply with all guidelines – for example, every game update must be submitted for review, developers must provide appropriate search metadata, games must be purchased in the app to unlock features or functionality, etc. Of course, it is always open Internet and browser apps to reach all users outside the App Store.

4.9.1 Each streaming game must be submitted to the App Store as an individual app, so that it has an App Store product page, appears in charts and searches, has user ratings and reviews, can be managed with ScreenTime and other parental controls, is displayed on the user’s device, and so on.

4.9.2 Streaming game services may offer a catalog app in the App Store to help users sign up for the service and find the games on the App Store, provided that the app complies with all policies, including offering users the option to pay for a subscription with in-app purchases and use Sign in with Apple. All games included in the catalog app must link to a single App Store product page.

Also clarified in the updated rules: whether digital training or tutorials must be invoiced through the App Store (with Apple’s cuts). Under the new guidelines, “one-to-one experiences” do not need to be billed via the App Store, but “one-to-few or one-to-many services” require the regular in-app purchases.

Finally, Rule 3.1.3 (f) also adds a formal exception for “free apps that act as a stand-alone companion to a paid online tool”, a category that Apple says includes VOIP, cloud storage, email services and web hosting applications, which is now exempt from having to use Apple’s in-app purchases for subscriptions. Like the other rules, there are warnings: developers can not offer in-app purchases or include a call to action to buy elsewhere – even if Apple clarified to The Verge that it is about calls for action built-in app. Developers should theoretically still be free to advertise their app purchases on their own website.

The new rule here comes after Apple’s messy battle with the Basecamp-developed email app Hey, which initially saw the updates rejected – and then released back in the App Store – due to battles over whether it was necessary to use Apple’s in-app purchasing system ( and its fee of 30 percent). It was another battle with WordPress where the completely free app was apparently forced to add in-app purchases until Apple was pulled down and apologized for “any confusion we’ve caused.” Under the new rule, it appears that the original implementation of the Hey email app was allowed without the changes that the company had to add to the free version of the app to get Apple to approve it.

Here’s Apple’s full change history for the App Store.

Update, 1:50 PM ET: Added Google no comments.

Correction, 14:00 ET: Basecamp is the developer of Hey, not Bandcamp. We regret this mistake.

Update, 14:53 ET: Added no comments to Nvidia.

Update, 16:20 ET: Added Apple confirmations and clarifications, and Microsoft’s statement.

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