Microsoft had discussions with Apple about Game Pass solution and triple-A titles on iPhone

Xbox Game Pass Ios With Xbox Controller Cropped
Xbox Game Pass Ios With Xbox Controller Cropped (Image credit: Rebecca Spear / iMore)

What you need to know

  • Microsoft and Apple may have been much closer to a deal over Xbox Cloud Gaming on iOS.
  • A new report says Microsoft proposed releasing hundreds of individual apps on the App Store.
  • Microsoft proposed bringing AAA titles to iOS in addition to Game Pass, but ultimately nothing came of the deal.

A new report into emails sent between Microsoft and Apple claims the companies were close to a deal that would have group Xbox Games Pass games to iOS through Xbox Cloud Gaming and additional AAA titles on iOS.

From The Verge:

Remember when Apple pretended like it would let cloud gaming services like Microsoft xCloud and Google Stadia into the App Store, while effectively tearing their business models to shreds? Know how Microsoft replied that forcing gamers to download hundreds of individual apps to play a catalog of cloud games would be a bad experience?In reality, Microsoft was willing to play along with many of Apple's demands — and it even offered to bring triple-A, Xbox-exclusive games to iPhone to help sweeten the deal. That's according to a new set of private emails that The Verge unearthed in the aftermath of the Epic v. Apple trial.

The deal would have reportedly brought not only Game Pass games to Apple's best iPhones and iPads through Xbox Cloud Gaming, but also individual triple-A titles that would have been available for download and purchase on the App Store without a Game Pass subscription.

The report says that Lori Wright emailed Apple with a long list of complaints about Apple's policy, which states that streaming services like Xbox Cloud Gaming must submit apps (games) into the App Store individually so they can be put through App Store review. This is the same model Apple operates for Apple Arcade.

Microsoft was worried about managing thousands of different apps, including bug fixes, and clutter on users' home screens, stating this would "create frustration and confusion for customers, resulting in a sub-par experience on Apple devices relative to the equivalent experience on all other platforms."

According to the emails Microsoft had changed its tune by March 2020, offering to create individual apps for the App Store that worked like Shortcuts so they could be smaller:

"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:

At this point Wright also floated the idea of AAA titles on iOS, however, the deal broke down.

According to Microsoft, this is because Apple wouldn't allow the idea of "lite" apps that didn't have the full streaming stack:

"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," reads a statement from Xbox Cloud Gaming CVP Kareem Choudhry to The Verge.

Apparently, Lori Wright even tried to get her engineering team to buy into Apple's solution, but couldn't solve the problem of in-app purchases, apparently another sticking point:

And Apple tells The Verge that money was indeed involved. "Unfortunately, Microsoft proposed a version of xCloud that was not compliant with our App Store Review Guidelines, specifically the requirement to use in-app purchase to unlock additional features or functionality within an app," reads a statement via Apple spokesperson Adam Dema.

Choudhry issued a further general statement:

We explored many options to bring Cloud Gaming via Xbox Game Pass to Apple devices, always in ways that led with the customer experience first, which we believed was best through a singular app. Apple's Store policies would have forced us to launch each game as an individual app—while we never favored that approach, we explored it as a possibility in the spirit of finding any solution to bring Cloud Gaming to iOS customers. However between that email in March 2020 and our statement to The Verge in September 2020, Apple rejected our proposals and we were left without the ability to release a cohesive Xbox Game Pass offering through the App Store. We shifted our engineering priorities and have now moved to a browser-based solution making Xbox Cloud Gaming available to iOS customers through web browsers, and will continue to look for viable resolutions that allow us into the App Store.

You can read the full report here.

Stephen Warwick
News Editor

Stephen Warwick has written about Apple for five years at iMore and previously elsewhere. He covers all of iMore's latest breaking news regarding all of Apple's products and services, both hardware and software. Stephen has interviewed industry experts in a range of fields including finance, litigation, security, and more. He also specializes in curating and reviewing audio hardware and has experience beyond journalism in sound engineering, production, and design. Before becoming a writer Stephen studied Ancient History at University and also worked at Apple for more than two years. Stephen is also a host on the iMore show, a weekly podcast recorded live that discusses the latest in breaking Apple news, as well as featuring fun trivia about all things Apple. Follow him on Twitter @stephenwarwick9