Microsoft creates Xbox mobile game store to challenge Apple’s iPhone control
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Microsoft plans to take on both Apple and Google by building a mobile game store — but unless various governments mandate it, it won’t appear in the App Store anytime soon.
In early 2022, Microsoft announced its intention to acquire Activision Blizzard, a major deal valued at $68.7 billion. It brings major game titles under the company’s ownership, such as “Warcraft”, “Diablo”, “Overwatch”, “Call of Duty” and “Candy Crush”.
Microsoft said it would use the game catalog to boost its Xbox Game Pass service, which includes cloud gaming. Apple gamers can use the platform through Safari, as the company does not allow native single-app game streaming platforms on its platforms.
Microsoft under investigation
Recently, the company revealed details of its plans in filings with the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), according to The Verge. The agency is investigating the Activision Blizzard acquisition and asked Microsoft for additional information.
The company wants to increase its mobile game activity, including creating an Xbox mobile game store. Microsoft believes it can challenge Apple and Google and was clear about that in its filings.
“However, moving consumers away from the Google Play Store and App Store on mobile devices will require a major shift in consumer behavior. Microsoft hopes that by offering familiar and popular content, gamers will be more inclined to try something new.”
To get ahead of regulators, Microsoft is adopting a series of promises that will make the mobile store more open than the App Store. The commitments include allowing all developers to access the store and offer their payment systems to users.
Microsoft also promises to keep its platform fair and transparent, and will “hold our own apps to the same standards we hold competing apps to,” taking a shot at Apple.
One such developer could be Epic Games, which may have a friendlier relationship with Microsoft as the tech giant joined the battle against Apple.
Microsoft and Epic Games
Epic Games sued Apple in 2020 after Apple removed Epic’s popular “Fortnite” game from the App Store. It did so because Epic was trying to circumvent Apple’s 30% App Store commission fee it imposes on all developers.
It also argued that Apple’s policy of requiring developers to go through the App Store is also anti-competitive, saying that Epic would release its competing app store if it weren’t for Apple’s rules.
In its brief, Microsoft said it had a “unique and balanced perspective” on the matter and that it “has an interest” in supporting antitrust law.
It further argued that if the original ruling is upheld, the result could be that it would “insulate Apple from meritorious antitrust scrutiny and encourage further harmful conduct.” Microsoft concluded that this would mean “innovation will suffer.”
Ultimately, the judge used Microsoft’s Xbox console as an example of hardware that benefits from a walled garden in her ruling.
Apple cracks open the door
In 2020, Apple made a series of updates to the App Store rules that would allow services like Microsoft Xcloud to exist on the iPad and iPhone, with some requirements. While the new guidelines include several clarifications to advertising and financial apps, the most important changes relate to games.
“Streaming games are allowed as long as they adhere to all guidelines,” Apple’s document says, “for example, each game update must be submitted for review, developers must provide appropriate metadata for search, games must use in-app purchases to unlock features or functionality etc. Of course, there are always open Internet and browser apps to reach all users outside of the App Store.”
As the law stands in October 2022, Apple will not – and does not need to – allow a third-party store to sell games and apps on the App Store. Developers can add a directory app to help users sign up for the service and find the games — as long as there are separate apps in the App Store for each game.
Apple cites security and privacy as reasons for not allowing alternative app stores in its operating systems. In June 2021, Tim Cook spoke at Europe’s Viva Tech conference on various topics, including customer security.
“I mean, you look at malware as an example, and Android has 47 times more malware than iOS. Why is that? It’s because we designed iOS in such a way that there’s one App Store and all the apps are reviewed before going to the store,” Cook said.
Microsoft hasn’t done what Apple wants yet, but its cloud service through Xbox Game Pass has seen success. The company also wants to bring titles from Activision Blizzard onto the platform.
For now, Apple gamers must use the game service through Safari, as Apple mentioned. And regulators must decide whether to approve Microsoft’s acquisition, although the CMA has reportedly not had many discussions yet about the company’s plans for mobile gaming.