Last month saw Microsoft's Xbox Game Pass game streaming solution (formerly referred to as Project xCloud) officially launched on Android devices as part of the Game Pass Ultimate subscription. At the moment, compatible Android phones and tablets are the only supported devices—Xbox has yet to reveal plans for Game Pass streaming on PC and is embroiled in a public spat over iOS App Store rules with Apple. According to a new report from Business Insider, Xbox is quietly working on another way to bring Game Pass to iOS.
Xbox has the option of circumventing Apple's App Store restrictions by making Game Pass compatible with web browsers, and that's reportedly the direction it's heading in. Two sources say that Head of Xbox Phil Spencer has committed to launching Game Pass as a "direct browser-based solution" for iOS devices, with a release expected sometime in 2021.
The Verge adds that Microsoft is planning a Windows 10 PC launch for Xbox Game Pass streaming in 2021 as well. A PC-compatible version of Project xCloud entered internal Microsoft testing earlier this year.
Running through Chrome is how Google makes its game streaming service Stadia available on PC, Mac, and Chromebooks, so it's not as though a browser-based version of Game Pass on iOS is out of the question. Not only that, but Apple itself has volunteered it as an option before, saying in reference to Game Pass on iOS that "developers can choose to reach all iPhone and iPad users over the web through Safari and other browsers on the App Store."
Of course, being able to launch as a native app on iPhones and iPads comes with various advantages, not the least of which is visibility in the Apple-run App Store. Apple has decided to require that every title on a streaming service like Game Pass or Stadia would need to be subject to individual review as separate iOS apps and would have to appear separately in App Store search results. The streaming services themselves could then offer "catalog apps," which would direct users toward those separate listings. Additionally (though it's far from alone in this platform requirement), Apple would take 30% on all in-app purchases including Game Pass subscription fees were Xbox to run the service natively.
Publicly, Microsoft and Xbox have swung out hard against Apple's App Store policies, releasing a statement where it calls the iPhone maker "the only general purpose platform to deny consumers from cloud gaming and game subscription services like Xbox Game Pass." Earlier this week, Microsoft released a list of "10 app store principles to promote choice, fairness, and innovation," a move seen by many as a transparent jab at Apple. Microsoft also filed a motion of support for Epic Games in its ongoing legal battle with Apple over the App Store, which mainly focuses on Apple's 30% fees and payment processing restrictions.
If Microsoft manages to bring Game Pass streaming to iOS and PC promptly, it'll grant its subscription plan another advantage in the battle between nascent game streaming services. A major plus for Game Pass is that it also allows for non-streaming play on Xbox consoles and PC, and with EA Play being added to the subscription benefits soon, the Game Pass deal is about to get better even for people with zero interest in streaming.