Apple is a major roadblock for Microsoft's ambitious 'Netflix of gaming' service

Apple is a major roadblock for Microsoft's ambitious 'Netflix of gaming' service
Microsoft's Project xCloud game streaming service in action at E3 2019, an annual video game trade show in Los Angeles, California.Ben Gilbert/Business Insider
  • This September, Microsoft's Xbox-based game streaming service is scheduled to launch.
  • The service enables users to play dozens of Xbox games via the cloud, on smartphones and tablets. Any progress made on those games will be reflected on the Xbox when you pick it up there.
  • Better yet: The service is paired with a large library of games that are streamable, similar to how services like Netflix have large libraries of TV shows and movies to watch.
  • When the service arrives this September, it won't launch on Apple's iPhone and iPad — and that's due to Apple's App Store policies.

This September, Microsoft plans to launch a major coup in the video game business: The world's first game streaming service with a built-in streaming library, Netflix-style.

For $15 per month, Xbox Game Pass Ultimate promises a curated library of over 100 games that can be streamed directly to smartphones, tablets, and Xbox game consoles. Moreover, every major Xbox game published by Microsoft, from "Halo" to "Gears of War" to "Forza Motorsport," will be published to the service at launch, alongside a smattering of third-party games like "The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt" and "Grand Theft Auto 5."

It's the next evolution of an already successful service: Xbox Game Pass has over 10 million paying subscribers right now.

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But when it arrives on September 15, Xbox Game Pass Ultimate will only be available for Android smartphone and tablet users. Apple's iPhone and iPad won't support the service, just like they don't support a similar game-streaming service from Google.

The reason, an Apple spokesperson said on Thursday, is because Apple isn't able to review each game that's available through Game Pass.


"The App Store was created to be a safe and trusted place for customers to discover and download apps, and a great business opportunity for all developers," an Apple spokesperson told Business Insider. "Before they go on our store, all apps are reviewed against the same set of guidelines that are intended to protect customers and provide a fair and level playing field to developers."

Another potential reason: Apple takes a 30% cut of App Store sales, and services like Microsoft's Xbox Game Pass Ultimate and Google's Stadia circumvent Apple's ability to take that cut since they operate outside of the App Store.

That said, services like Netflix, Hulu, and Spotify can be paid for outside of Apple's network, and Apple collects no fee for their use. Apple classifies these type of apps as "Reader" or "Cross Platform" apps, and allows them to skirt Apple's fee for the benefit of users:

Apple is a major roadblock for Microsoft's ambitious 'Netflix of gaming' service
Apple's App Store policies don't make clear why services like Xbox Game Pass Ultimate and Google Stadia aren't available.Apple

The difference between game streaming apps like Xbox Game Pass Ultimate and Google Stadia, Apple said, is the interactive nature of video games.


Games are different from other media because they are interactive, according to Apple, and the App Store has a dedicated games section with baked in consumer expectations — that games will be reviewed by Apple and approved for publishing.

For its part, Microsoft isn't saying much about the situation. In a statement a rep said, "It's our ambition to scale cloud gaming through Xbox Game Pass available on all devices, but we have nothing further to share at this time regarding iOS."

Beyond that ambition, though, it's unclear what will convince Apple to clear the way for video game streaming services on Apple devices.

Got a tip? Contact Business Insider senior correspondent Ben Gilbert via email (, or Twitter DM (@realbengilbert). We can keep sources anonymous. Use a non-work device to reach out. PR pitches by email only, please.