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Microsoft jumped on the cloud gaming bandwagon with Project xCloud shortly after Google Stadia arrived. The cloud gaming service is meant to work on any device with minimum hardware requirements, be it a PC, a Mac, an Android phone, and even an iPhone. But the road to reaching the iPhones was not easy. Private emails from Microsoft have emerged and they reveal that it tried to negotiate with Apple for the cloud gaming app on iOS. However, the talks could not materialise.

Apple has been stringent about cloud gaming apps and their availability on the iPhone and iPad. It asked all the cloud gaming services to distribute their games individually to iOS users if they wanted in the iPhone ecosystem. That was an outright demand by Apple to tear down the business model of cloud gaming in a way that would ultimately project Apple’s own Arcade gaming subscription in a good light. Microsoft publicly refused to accept Apple’s demands, but internally, there was a different story.

So, what was the story?

The Verge has obtained emails shared between Microsoft Xbox head of business development Lori Wright and key people in the App Store team at Apple, and, according to the information revealed in them, Microsoft was willing to accept many of Apple’s demands at one point in time just to make sure its cloud gaming service becomes available on iOS. Microsoft even promised Apple it would bring AAA games to the iPhone to make the deal sweeter.

So, if Apple had accepted Microsoft’s request, theoretically, games such as Halo Infinite would have been available on the iPhone’s App Store and all the processing would have happened on the company’s Xbox One and Xbox Series X processors instead of the iPhone. And Microsoft was ready to offer games individually, however, with a streaming system different from what Apple suggested.

How it all began

Microsoft began testing iOS apps back in February 2020 but it soon realised that giving each gaming app streaming capabilities would not be feasible. Wright tried to convince Apple about the “Complexity and management of creating hundreds to thousands of apps”, how each app will need updates from time to time, and how the multitude of apps will basically make the iPhone home screen look ugly.

“We believe that the issues described here will create frustration and confusion for customers, resulting in a sub-par experience on Apple devices relative to the equivalent experience on all other platforms,” Wright wrote.

So, Microsoft came up with a workaround – and this is what was different from Apple’s idea of a cloud gaming service for the iPhone. The Xbox owner said instead of stuffing the streaming stack into each app, there will be one app to handle updates, and that all the individual gaming apps will act like shortcuts. Think of them like bookmarks that, when tapped, use the prime app to run. This prime app will need to be downloaded separately, and Microsoft’s Wright gave perfect logic as to why this method was far more viable.

“If we have a single streaming tech app, it will be around 150 MB, but the other apps will only be roughly 30 MB and will not need to be updated when the streaming tech is updated. This will be a better experience for users,” Wright wrote in an email.

She even tried to woo Apple by throwing in the possibility that AAA titles would arrive on iOS, too, except they would also need this prime app that would work like the streaming tech package for them. “This would be an incredibly exciting opportunity for iOS users to get access to these exclusive AAA titles in addition to the Game Pass games,” she wrote.

But nothing happened

Microsoft discontinued its testing of iOS cloud gaming apps. It rejected Apple’s App Store guidelines in September last year and then, a month later, announced the Safari workaround, which involves web versions of games that are accessible from the browser to Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscribers. And the reason why Microsoft circumvented Apple’s adamance is Apple itself.

The negotiations stopped because Apple rejected all of Microsoft’s proposals, including the one where it agreed to create individual apps for iOS, according to Microsoft. The company told The Verge that Apple insisted that all individual gaming apps should have the streaming tech package because an otherwise solution would lead to the violation of App Store policy.

“Our proposal for bringing games through individual apps was designed to comply with App Store policies. It was denied by Apple based on our request that there be a single streaming tech app to support the individual game apps, as the initial email states. Forcing each game to include our streaming tech stack proved to be unrealistic from a support and engineering perspective and would create an incredibly negative experience for customers,” Xbox Cloud Gaming CVP Kareem Choudhry told The Verge.

But Apple suggested that might not be the only reason why both companies did not come to an understanding. Apple’s App Store games manager Mark Grimm told The Verge that Microsoft later began entertaining the idea of creating streaming packages for each gaming app, but it did not want to put Apple’s in-app purchase system into them. “Their proposal for IAPs is still that they process all IAPs on their existing system and settle up with us (either in real-time or monthly),” wrote Grimm.

Was money the real issue?

Basically, money was the problem. With an IAP for each app, Apple would have taken its 30 per cent fee cut for each purchase made in each app, and Microsoft did not want that. “They’re not trying to circumvent paying us, they’re trying to circumvent a large amount of redundant API work,” Grimm said.

But Choudhry rejected Apple’s claims and said that talks about IAP came into the final decision. “The reasons for rejection were unrelated to in-app purchase capabilities; we currently provide Xbox Cloud Gaming through a singular Xbox Game Pass app in the Google Play Store without IAP enabled, for example, and we would do the same through the App Store if allowed,” he told The Verge.

Both Microsoft and Apple can bicker all they want now, but the possibility of Halo Infinite coming to the iOS is dead and that is a loss for the gamer community. For now, players can use the Safari browser to access Xbox’s cloud gaming service – until Microsoft or Apple comes up with an alternative.

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India today

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