Apple and Valve, which run two of the world’s biggest stores for buying video games, are feuding with each other — and iPhone users could end up losing out

  • Valve says that Apple has rejected one of its apps, Steam Link, because of “business conflicts.”
  • Steam Link would let gamers play advanced computer games on their phones if they were on the same network as a PC.
  • Apple has the main chokepoint to its App Store: If it doesn’t approve the app, nobody can download it.

Earlier this week, Valve announced that Steam, one of the biggest platforms in the world for buying and playing PC games, would gain some new features that allowed for advanced PC games to be played on iPhones, iPads, Apple TV, and Android devices.

The feature, called Steam Link, basically uses your phone or tablet as a screen, with a PC somewhere on the network actually doing the game processing. Basically, it promised that you could play graphically advanced games on your phone or tablet.

It’s the latest manifestation of a big trend in the gaming industry: allowing people to play graphically advanced games on mobile devices by having the processing taking place elsewhere, connected by superfast WiFi or internet networks.

But on Thursday, it became apparent that Apple doesn’t want Steam Link on iPhones and iPads, according to Valve. In a statement sent to news outlets, Valve, which owns and operates Steam, said that Apple had initially approved the app, and later revoked its approval citing “business conflicts.”

For now, it looks like Steam Link won’t be available on iOS devices or Apple TV unless Apple “reconsiders,” according to Valve.

Apple hasn’t commented on the controversy nor did it respond to Business Insider’s request for more information.

Platform wars

The episode underscores the tricky balancing act that Apple must walk with its App Store, which is increasingly becoming a big moneymaker for the company as it puts more emphasis on selling online services in addition to premium devices.

For example, in 2017, Apple said it paid its developers $26.5 billion, suggesting that Apple itself made about $11 billion off of its 15%-30% cut of sales. Wall Street analysts love that Apple is making more money from services, of which the App Store is the biggest contributor.

But that path is going to increasingly put it at odds with other companies that also have big platforms, but want their content or services on Apple devices. Eventually, users are going to suffer.

Steam, a store for buying video games, is one of the few platforms that can even compete with Apple’s army of over 1 billion users. Valve is a private company, so its revenue and sales are not public, but 67 million people log on every month, many of whom end up buying lots of PC games.

There aren’t many bigger game stores – but Apple’s App Store is one of them. There are business reasons for Apple to reject Steam Link. It’s directly in competition with a product that Apple owns.

Apple has an iron grip on the App Store. Its guidelines for submitting an app and getting it approved are almost 10,000 words long. It has a team of people that check apps to make sure they are in compliance with its rules before anything is approved and available for download.

Mostly, this helps ensure there aren’t sketchy apps that are stealing your data or breaking your phone on Apple’s App Store – although there are exceptions. It’s good for users.

What’s not good for users is when there’s a widely demanded, very cool new app that is not available for iPhone and iPad because of “business reasons.”

Apple holds the only chokepoint for mass-market iPhone software – if it doesn’t say yes, iPhone users can’t download it. Steam Link conceivably means that users could technically run unapproved Steam Apps on their iPhone.

Eventually, lacking software like Steam Link might mean that iPhone users could take a closer look at Android devices. (Steam Link is currently available on Google’s app store.) And Valve is a big and powerful enough company to make a stink and fight Apple over this rejection.

But developers of smaller apps have told me that it can be frustrating dealing with Apple. Sometimes the company can be distant and hard to reach. Sometimes Apple doesn’t completely explain why an app has been rejected, like Metadata, an app that tracks drone strikes.

For now, Apple’s App Store has remained one of the biggest and safest software stores in the world. If Apple continues to put an emphasis on making money from it, instead of putting users first, iPhone users would end up losing out.