Last May, Apple caused some controversy in the gaming community when it rejected Valve’s Steam Link app from the App Store merely a day after Valve announced it. Steam Link is now back for the iPhone, iPad, and Apple TV, though, and you can download it through this link for iOS.
Steam Link is a free app lets you stream games from your PC or Mac to your iOS device or Apple TV, so long as you’re on the same network. (You also don’t need the physical Steam Link hardware to do this.) You can do this over Wi-Fi, but Valve itself says you’ll be best served if your computer is hooked up to an ethernet cable. You should also keep your iOS device close to your router for the best performance.
To use it, you'll need a iPhone or iPad running at least iOS 10 or higher, an MFi controller or a Steam Controller, and a host machine running macOS, Windows, or Linux. For the controller, we recommend the Rotor Riot as it's the only MFi controller that currently supports the "L3" and "R3" thumbstick buttons.
Android users have been able to enjoy Steam Link for their devices for all this time, as that version didn’t have to deal with any such ban. When Macworld asked Valve last year why Apple pulled the app, it told us that “Apple revoked its approval [of Steam Link] citing business conflicts with app guidelines that had allegedly not been realized by the original review team.”
Further details emerged in an email from Apple marketing chief Phil Schiller that was posted on Reddit.
“Unfortunately, the review team found that Valve’s Steam iOS app, as currently submitted, violates a number of guidelines around user-generated content, in-app purchases, content codes, etc.,” Schiller said.
The basic idea seemed to be that, since Steam Link essentially mirrored what you were seeing on your PC to your iOS device, you could buy games from Steam without letting Apple get its infamous cut. Apple reportedly wouldn’t approve the Steam Link app even after Valve disabled this possibility on the iOS version of the app. Tragic, but it definitely sounds like an Apple move.
But lately the winds have shifted. Last March, Apple released its PS4 Remote Play app for iOS, which essentially did the same thing as Steam Link, but for a PlayStation 4—right down to letting you buy games from the PlayStation Store without Apple getting its cut. Its appearance was welcome but contradictory, and it suggested that a turnaround for Steam Link could be in the works. In fact, remote game streaming in general has been getting a lot of attention lately, especially after the announcement of Google’s Stadia service at this year’s GDC.
I’ll try it out (although I suspect it won’t be too great on my subpar home connection). I see it as a smart move on Apple's part, though, particularly when it’s trying to make itself a big name in gaming with the introduction of Apple Arcade. As with PS4 Remote Play, this comes off as a gesture of goodwill.
It’s a pity that it would have been an even smarter move last May.