Facebook slams Apple’s App Store policies, launches Facebook Gaming on iOS without games

Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

Facebook is joining Microsoft in condemning Apple’s App Store policies today. The social media company is launching its Facebook Gaming app for iOS — primarily an app used to watch streamers play video games — but has had to remove the app’s mini games feature to pass Apple’s strict App Store approval process. Facebook isn’t happy about the compromise.

“Unfortunately, we had to remove gameplay functionality entirely in order to get Apple’s approval on the standalone Facebook Gaming app — meaning iOS users have an inferior experience to those using Android,” said Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer in a press statement given to The Verge. “We’re staying focused on building communities for the more than 380 million people who play games on Facebook every month — whether Apple allows it in a standalone app or not.”

Facebook says it has had the Facebook Gaming app rejected multiple times by Apple in recent months. The company says Apple has cited App Store guideline 4.7 to justify the rejections, claiming the primary purpose of the Facebook Gaming app is to play games. Facebook says it shared usage data from its Android Facebook Gaming app that showed 95 percent of activity is watching streams, but this didn’t change Apple’s stance.

Facebook Gaming on iOS lacks its Instant Games.
Facebook

Apple unveiled an appeal process for situations like this at WWDC back in June, but Facebook says it tried this and failed to convince Apple to overturn its decision. “We even appealed the guideline under the new app review process announced at WWDC,” says a Facebook spokesperson. “We did not receive a response.”

Facebook has now been forced to give up and remove games entirely from the standalone app launching on iOS today. The Facebook Gaming app is primarily used to watch streams of games, much like Twitch is used on both iOS and Android. But on Android, the app also includes a number of mini games from Facebook’s Instant Games platform. That’s what Apple won’t allow.

This isn’t the first time that Facebook has run into App Store issues, either. “Even on the main Facebook app and Messenger, we’ve been forced to bury Instant Games for years on iOS,” explains Facebook Gaming chief Vivek Sharma in a statement to The Verge. “This is shared pain across the games industry, which ultimately hurts players and devs and severely hamstrings innovation on mobile for other types of formats, like cloud gaming.”

Microsoft’s xCloud service.
Photo by Tom Warren / The Verge

Apple is facing growing criticism from rivals and the gaming industry to loosen its App Store restrictions. Microsoft was forced to cut its xCloud iOS testing earlier this week, after App Store policies have been preventing the company from launching the app for months. Microsoft took the unusual decision to condemn Apple yesterday, saying “Apple stands alone as the only general purpose platform to deny consumers from cloud gaming and game subscription services like Xbox Game Pass.”

Apple has defended its decision to block cloud gaming services like xCloud, Stadia, and GeForce Now from the App Store. “Our customers enjoy great apps and games from millions of developers, and gaming services can absolutely launch on the App Store as long as they follow the same set of guidelines applicable to all developers, including submitting games individually for review, and appearing in charts and search,” said an Apple spokesperson in a statement yesterday.

Apple’s argument is that the company can’t individually review games offered on streaming services, but the company doesn’t seem to have the same issues with services like Netflix or YouTube that stream millions of videos, TV shows, and movies to Apple’s iOS devices that Apple can’t possibly review.

Apple’s latest weak App Store excuse comes just months after the company was embroiled in a bitter battle over the new Hey email app. Apple eventually approved the app after the initial rejection drew widespread condemnation from lawmakers and developers. Apple is part of a number of US tech companies currently facing potential antitrust action. The EU has also opened up a formal antitrust investigation into Apple’s App Store and Apple Pay practices. With Microsoft and Facebook openly criticizing Apple, the company is bound to face even more questions over its App Store policies in the months ahead.

Comments

Cumulatively, the lack of major apps and functionality is going to harm the iOS ecosystem. It’s not to the point where hardware sales will be seriously impacted but the exponential rise of cloud gaming in the years ahead could make Android more appealing.

As someone who has Game Pass Ultimate but not enough room for an Xbox an Android phone looks really appealing right now.

As much as I like my iPhone and iPad, I was kind of excited to play Halo Infinite without buying an Xbox. I have a Surface Book 2 which may or may not be able to play it natively, no doubt Xcloud will be coming to Windows eventually. But would have much preferred it on my iPad.

I’ve been on iOS since 2007, so it’d be a bit crazy for me to jump to another platform just to stream Xbox games, so I’m hoping Apple and Microsoft can sort it out.

Same, I’ve been looking forward to streaming video games to take off, especially xCloud but also Stadia. I’ve been a happy iPhone user for a long time but if Apple is not going to play ball then I’ll jump and get a Pixel/Galaxy phone.

I would, personally, strongly recommend Pixel over Galaxy if you do decide to pursue.

Well almost any Android smartphone will be able to play most cloud gaming platforms. Apple has a history of doing this stuff, and it looks like they will never stop. Look at Valves Steam platform, there is also Stadia, PlayStation gaming, and much more. This goes right back to 2007 when Apple didn’t allow Flash on iOS. There was a ton of really great and fun games for flash back then, which Apple wanted everyone to right native apps, and games for iOS instead. There was no revenue for Apple if they allowed Flash games on their iOS platform. The same holds true for these cloud based gaming platforms. Apple today pretends to support web apps (PWA), but even that Apple purposely cripples it. It all comes down to Apples greed, and making more money.

I’m sorry, but Flash was always garbage, even on desktop/Laptops let alone mobiles. No one was ever able to demonstrate it working effectively for all scenarios on mobile due to the difference in UI operation (mouse point-click to touch) and its gross inefficiency compared to native apps murdered battery life. Best thing Apple did was hold fast and tell Adobe "show us a working example before we approve it" so now we have a multitude of native apps that are vastly more responsive and efficient as a result.

If Flash was any good, then the 85% of the world on Android should’ve enabled it to continue. Instead, even there, support was dropped 8 years ago due it being so poor on mobile and now its EOL on all platforms in December 2020.

I agree Pixel phones are nice, but if you are a Windows user, there is a much higher level of integration possible between Galaxy devices and your PC. I’m a OnePlus user now, but I may get a Galaxy because of this.

Honestly same here. I have been an iPhone user since the 3GS, but with Apple’s recent actions I am seriously doubting I will stay with Apple ( if they keep doing what they are doing). I was really hoping to be able to play halo without having to buy another gaming console ( I own the PS 4).

Can you imagine if Microsoft released xCloud on the Playstation?

That will never happen.

I’m sure you’re right, but it’s fun to imagine.

I’ve been on iOS since 2007, so it’d be a bit crazy for me to jump to another platform just to stream Xbox games

This is such an important point. When people defend Apple on this, I always hear things like "iOS doesn’t have a monopoly, they can do what they like on their own platform, just buy a different phone". But that’s not an option for a lot of people, especially if you’ve just spent $1000 on a phone you expect to last several years, or you’re heavily invested in the ecosystem.

If Apple says "your app isn’t allowed on iOS", you’ve just lost out on a significant number of users because your (possible) competitor decided that a game streaming service or a paid-for email service isn’t a valid business model. If that’s not anti-competitive I don’t know what is.

Having said that, I’m not shedding any tears for Facebook. It’s the consumer that’s losing out.

I suspect Apple’s assessment is that the number of iOS users who would use xCloud is probably a tiny fraction of the entire iOS user base, so they don’t see it as a significant threat. Also, once xCloud runs on desktop, fewer xCloud subscribers will need a mobile phone to access the service, further reducing the demand that would potentially drive Android sales over iOS.

I don’t think it’s in Apple’s interests to reject these apps tbh but what’s the likelihood that we actually have an exponential increase in this type of gaming on smartphones? I can’t imagine it would be a great experience to play a game meant for a console especially over cellular data.

Borderlands 3 on Stadia is free to try over this weekend with a Pro trial

Am I alone in being alarmed that Facebook created yet another platform to challenge a smaller company (Twitch)?

Twitch, owned by Amazon, has over double the market cap of Facebook.

The way you’ve worded your comment makes it sound like Twitch has double the market cap of Facebook.

Sorry, English is not my native language.

"smaller company" Twitch haha absolute clown you are

I don’t blame him for not knowing that it’s ran by Amazon since Amazon has all but been able to hide in the background except for Amazon Prime perks.

Absolute jerk you are, you’d be surprised how many don’t know twitch is owned by Amazon.

I didn’t.

Gaming, is just an engineered precursor to online gambling, to make it seem acceptable to more people. If you wish to "Game" why not buy equipment that will let you ? Surely no one believes that the huge corporations that put this pressure on, are doing it for the good of mankind ? Apple are quite right, if you want to put this in our ecosystem, Pay up or shut up !

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