Facebook Gaming app debuts amid fight with Apple over instant games

Facebook launched its standalone Facebook app on iOS today, but it complained loudly that would not let it launch instant games that are part of the app on Android.

This Facebook app helps players find games and connect with friends. But it doesn’t let people play with each other instantly, as it does on Android, because Apple doesn’t permit this on its platform. The dispute has been a long-running one between Apple and Facebook.

“Gaming brings people together. And that’s even more important today amidst the pandemic,” said Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg in a statement and in a series of tweets. “Unfortunately, we had to remove gameplay functionality entirely in order to get Apple’s approval on the standalone Facebook Gaming app – meaning iOS users have an inferior experience to those using Android. We’re staying focused on building communities for the more than 380 million people who play games on Facebook every month – whether Apple allows it in a standalone app or not.”

We’ve asked Apple for comment and haven’t heard back yet.

The dispute is similar to the situation between Microsoft and Apple over the cloud gaming Project xCloud, which players use to stream PC and console games to their mobile devices. Apple said that it didn’t meet its guidelines, but Microsoft said that Apple stood in the way of its subscription service Xbox Game Pass. Google Stadia and Nvidia GeForce now had similar challenges with Apple.

Facebook launched the Facebook Gaming app on Google Play in April, and it was planning to launch on iOS at the same time. But Apple rejected the standalone Facebook Gaming app back then, and about half a dozen times since, citing app store guideline 4.7.

This guideline states HTML5 games are permitted as long as “code distribution isn’t the primary purpose of the app.” The issue Facebook has is that playing games is objectively not the primary purpose of the FB Gaming app. On the Android version, about 95% of app activity is from watching game livestreams, with the rest made up of playing games.

Facebook argued this case many times, shared this stat with Apple, and made a formal appeal via the system it launched at WWDC. But Facebook said it never received a response. Since the app is important for Facebook Gaming creators, the company said it is launching it without games and being transparent about what’s going on.

The Apple policy may earn it some more heat on antitrust issues. Rivals like Facebook allege Apple has too much control over its platform and that it prevents others from making money. But Apple’s own view has been that it protects users and their private information and while others use obtrusive advertising models to harm privacy.

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