We’ve heard a lot of stories over the past several months about how protective Apple is of its App Store guidelines and, more importantly, commission, but this one might take the cake. According to a series of emails disclosed as part of the Epic Games trial, Microsoft was willing to bring exclusive triple-A Xbox games to the iOS App Store before talks fell apart.
It’s all very tantalizingly close to what Xbox gamers have wanted for years: A powerful handheld gaming system that doesn’t need to be tied down to a console. The email correspondence between Microsoft Xbox head of business development Lori Wright and members of Apple’s App Store teams show that Microsoft was eager to get Xbox games through individual apps on the iPhone rather than the browser-based xBox Cloud Gaming Cloud service available now.
There were several sticking points along the way. For one, Microsoft wanted a “single streaming tech app” that ran the games, but Apple pushed to include the streaming tech inside each individual game so users wouldn’t have to download a separate app. Microsoft argued that a core streaming app would “be a better experience for users” due to smaller game downloads and less frequent updates, but Apple was adamant. In-app purchases were also a major sticking point, as Microsoft did not want to use Apple’s in-app purchase system as required by the App Store terms.
The emails are a remarkable look at the inner workings of the App Store and also how massive the iPhone could be as a gaming platform. Microsoft was seemingly willing to offer quite a bit in the way of exclusives that aren’t available in Game Pass to get past Apple’s walled garden. Xbox Cloud Gaming CVP Kareem Choudhry told the Verge in no uncertain terms: “In addition to Xbox Game Pass, we were also open to bringing select individual games to iOS as we do today with titles like Minecraft.”
That would have given the iPhone an incredible edge over Android when it comes to gaming, but ultimately Apple’s rigid App Store terms were too big to overcome. But hey, at least we can still play Halo Infinite through xCloud on our iPhones—with a browser, strong internet connection, and a Game Pass Ultimate subscription. So close, yet so far.
Michael Simon has been covering Apple since the iPod was the iWalk. His obsession with technology goes back to his first PC—the IBM Thinkpad with the lift-up keyboard for swapping out the drive. He's still waiting for that to come back in style tbh.