New App Store Guidelines Clarify Rules Around Streaming Gaming Services, Add Complexity to In-App Purchasing

Kif Leswing, CNBC:

Apple revised its App Store guidelines on Friday ahead of the release of iOS 14, the latest version of the iPhone operating system, which is expected later this month.


Apple now says that game streaming services, such as Google Stadia and Microsoft xCloud, are explicitly permitted. But there are conditions: Games offered in the service need to be downloaded directly from the App Store, not from an all-in-one app. App makers are permitted to release a so-called “catalog app” that links to other games in the service, but each game will need to be an individual app.

Apple’s rules mean that if a streaming game service has 100 games, then each of those games will need an individual App Store listing as well as a developer relationship with Apple. The individual games also have to have some basic functionality when they’re downloaded. All the games and the stores need to offer in-app purchase using Apple’s payment processing system, under which Apple usually takes 30% of revenue.

Many publications — the Verge, Input, and Ars Technica, to name a few well-known examples — are covering this as though Apple had previously disallowed game streaming services and now it is not. But, unless I am very mistaken, this only seems to formalize and clarify existing rules that were already in place when Microsoft attempted to launch its xCloud service on iOS last month. Microsoft’s app was allowed, provided it also submitted every game to the store individually, and that is still the case. Unsurprisingly, Microsoft still says that Apple’s rules will prohibit it from launching xCloud on iOS.

The main thing that is different is that Apple is expressly allowing a launcher-type wrapper app, something that had murky permissions before.

Apple also updated rules around in-app purchases. John Voorhees, MacStories:

Section 3.1.3(d) of the guidelines clarify that the use of In-App-Purchases is not necessary for one-to-one experiences like tutoring or fitness classes but must be used for one-to-few or one-to-many services.

Marco Arment:

If you’re selling “experiences” between people, you don’t need to use IAP.

Unless those “experiences” include three or more people, or aren’t consumed live, in which case, you are required to use only IAP.

If your purchase is for services, features, or game items, you are required to use only IAP.

Unless you operate on multiple platforms, in which case, you can also offer purchasing outside the app. But you can’t tell anyone about it.

Unless you get their contact info somewhere else, in which case, you can tell them about it, but not in the app.

Arment covers many of the confusing and conflicting rules surrounding in-app purchases and doesn’t even touch on the special deals offered only to giant companies with leverage. As a user, I get why in-app purchases are preferred: they’re trustworthy, consistent, and easy for Apple to monitor. But I do not understand how any developer is supposed to navigate these byzantine guidelines.