Starting Friday, Facebook is bringing its nascent cloud gaming service to iPhones and iPads via a web app people can add to their homescreens as a native app. The site lets you play simple web games like Solitaire and match-threes and stream more graphically intensive titles like racing games.
But thanks to Apple’s rules, it’s unclear how people will find it, as third-party developers like Facebook can’t send their app users to websites with non-Apple purchase mechanisms. It’s a huge point of friction with not just Facebook, but other gaming companies like Epic who have vehemently protested Apple’s hold on iOS payments. Facebook’s web game library, which includes HTML5-based games in addition to more advanced titles streamed directly from the cloud, uses the social network’s custom payment system called Facebook Pay to accept in-game purchases.
Facebook’s decision to bring its gaming platform to iOS over the web mimics the approach taken by Amazon and Microsoft, who have also released Progressive Web Apps, or PWAs, for their respective cloud gaming services to bypass the App Store. Last year, Facebook complained loudly when Apple blocked its attempt to put games in a standalone app for iOS and said it would look at alternatives. Soon after, Apple changed its rules to allow cloud-based games as long as they were sent individually as apps to the App Store for review — a policy that Microsoft and others said didn’t meet their desire to release their own gaming storefronts. on iOS.
“We’ve come to the same conclusion as others: web apps are currently the only option for streaming cloud games on iOS,” said Vivek Sharma, Facebook vice president of gaming. The edge in a statement. “As many have pointed out, Apple’s policy of allowing cloud games in the App Store doesn’t allow much. Apple’s requirement that every cloud game has its own page, must go through the review and appear in search results misses the point of cloud games. These roadblocks prevent players from discovering new games, playing cross-device, and instantly accessing high-quality games in native iOS apps — even for those who aren’t using the latest and most expensive devices.
Facebook is not yet a big player in gaming, as it has mainly focused on courting streamers to broadcast their gameplay for fans to watch. But last year it acquired a cloud gaming startup and released a handful of free-to-play titles like Asphalt 9. Since then, it has made its service available in more regions and added other titles such as Assassin’s Creed: Rebellion, and said 1.5 million people play the cloud games per month.
Although Facebook eventually found a solution to get its cloud games on iOS, there are still major restrictions that Apple’s Safari browser imposes on web games. Sound is turned off by default, games can’t send push notifications, and graphics aren’t as powerful as native apps. And then there is the problem of discovery.
A Facebook spokesperson declined to comment on the gaming website’s growth plans, but Apple’s rules argue that developers cannot send users of a native app to a website with payment technology other than their own. Developers of the games that have Facebook features could do their own marketing, but those efforts would pale in comparison to the traffic the main Facebook app could send.
Facebook’s cloud games are currently available in the US and parts of Canada and Mexico, while HTML games are accessible elsewhere as cloud games are slowly being brought to more regions.