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Facebook launches cloud games but says Apple won’t allow it on iOS

The exclusion of Apple devices from Facebook cloud gaming is the latest shot fired in a long-running feud between the companies.
Facebook logo.Lionel Bonaventure / AFP - Getty Images

Facebook announced on Monday the launch of cloud gaming on its desktop website and Android app but said it’s unable to bring the games to iOS due to Apple’s “arbitrary” policies.

Facebook’s web and Android users can try free-to-play games in seconds without leaving the social network. Users play a game that’s streamed from Facebook’s data centers without having to first download the game onto their devices. The idea is similar to services offered by Microsoft and Google, but without the console-quality games offered by those services.

The exclusion of Apple devices from Facebook cloud gaming is the latest shot fired in a long-running feud between the companies

The war of words dates to a comment by Apple CEO Tim Cook in March 2018, criticizing the social network’s handling of user privacy after the Cambridge Analytica scandal that resulted in the data of 87 million Facebook users being improperly accessed.

Since then, the companies have continued to duke it out, with Facebook recently calling into question Apple’s App Store policies as Washington lawmakers and regulators look into probes and hold antitrust hearings involving Big Tech, including the iPhone maker. 

Apple’s guidelines, which the company uses to determine which apps it approves or rejects, doesn’t allow applications that act like third-party app stores. It prohibits apps that distribute software as the “main purpose” of the app and bars code that is offered “in a store or store-like interface.”

Last month, Apple adjusted its guidelines around gaming services, saying that apps could offer a subscription to multiple games, but each game needs to be approved by Apple and offered in its own app.

Facebook could bring cloud gaming to iOS if it enables the new product on the mobile web version of its service, but the company wants users to go to its apps instead, said Jason Rubin, Facebook’s vice president of special gaming initiatives. 

“We don’t want people going to web Facebook 20 times a day. We have a great app,” Rubin said. “We would have to use Apple’s technology and browser on iOS, and that isn’t optimized to the benefit of cloud games.”

Facebook cloud gaming on iOS would allow iPhone and iPad users to find out what games their friends are playing, see lists that show top games on Facebook or play games with Facebook-unique features, Rubin said. 

“In many ways, consumers are being hampered,” Rubin said. 

Apple allows software developers to bring cloud games to iOS by submitting each game to the App Store as an individual app, Apple told CNBC. Developers can also deliver cloud gaming via the Safari browser, Apple said. Apple has continued to engage with Facebook to provide them with helpful feedback on how to get their apps to comply with the iOS App Store’s guidelines, Apple said.

The games are not console quality or even on a par with cloud-gaming subscription services like Google StadiaAmazon Luna or Microsoft’s xCloud. They’re versions of mobile games you can already download on a phone or tablet. They include titles like “Asphalt 9: Legends,” which is a 3D racer, and “PGA TOUR Golf Shootout,” a 3D golfing game. Users will be able to play the free games using their touchscreens or mouse and keyboards.

“We think this will expand very quickly because we’re not charging up front and you don’t need to have a controller,” Rubin said. 

Facebook’s launch of cloud gaming comes less than a year after it spent a reported $78 million to acquire PlayGiga, a Spanish cloud-gaming start-up. An estimated 380 million monthly users already play simple HTML5 games on Facebook, but these cloud games will bolster the quality of the social network’s gaming catalog. 

Cloud games should provide Facebook a two-fold benefit. Better games could drive more users to spend more time on Facebook, increasing the company’s average revenue per user — a key metric in the company’s quarterly earnings results.

Additionally, developers who add their games to Facebook will be able to advertise playable demos of those games. This allows developers to promote their games to a huge audience, allows users to play full games within advertisements and creates yet another ad product for Facebook, which relies on advertising for more than 98% of its revenue. 

“With this new format, we can now support interactive demos from a game’s native code, blurring the line between games and ads,” the company said in a blog post. 

Facebook will also make some money from in-game purchases. When Facebook users make a micro-purchase through a cloud game, 30% of revenue will go to Facebook and 70% will go to the game developers. For purchases made on Android, Facebook will not take a cut and instead its 30% will go to Google. 

“We would be willing to give the 30% to Apple, that is not what’s holding us up,” Rubin said. “What’s holding us up is we’re not allowed to do the things that we’re doing on Android.”

Facebook cloud gaming will begin rolling out this week to users in California, Texas, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia and Washington D.C. — all regions located near a Facebook data center, Rubin said. The company hopes to expand availability in the coming months.