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Smartphone game streaming "held back by restrictions" from Apple and Google, UK authority says

CMA launches in-depth probe after industry complaints.

A 3D rendition of the iOS App Store icon.
Image credit: Apple

The UK's Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has today decided to launch an in-depth investigation into Apple and Google, looking at the restrictions set by each company that affect access to smartphone cloud gaming.

The move follows an earlier proposal to investigate the two companies' market power, and a year-long study of the iPhone and Android ecosystems. That report, published in June, determined Apple and Google held "an effective duopoly" over smartphone markets, allowing them to "exercise a stranglehold" over mobile operating systems, app stores and web browsers.

Further work by the CMA included consultations with unnamed "cloud gaming service providers", as well as web developers and browser makers, who said Apple and Google's approach was "harming their businesses, holding back innovation, and adding unnecessary costs". These concerns will be investigated further as part of a far-reaching "Phase 2" CMA investigation.

Fortnite is playable on Apple and Google devices via cloud streaming through a browser.Watch on YouTube

The CMA's investigation will be worth watching, as it may weigh in on issues already highlighted by cloud gaming companies such as Microsoft and Nvidia - which have been unable to launch their own cloud gaming services on smartphones via dedicated apps.

In the past, both companies have clashed with smartphone makers - and Apple in particular - over plans to make the Xbox Game Pass and Nvidia GeForce catalogues available on mobile devices. Apple has always said such moves circumvent its own App Store (and the cut it takes from sales made within it).

Memorably, Fortnite maker Epic Games attempted to circumvent both Google and Apple's app stores to launch a direct payment option in-game - which saw it booted off both the iPhone App Store and Google Play. The hit battle royale remains unavailable on both, though is a good example of how both Microsoft and Nvidia have resorted to streaming games via mobile browsers instead.

"We want to make sure that UK consumers get the best new mobile data services, and that UK developers can invest in innovative new apps," CMA boss Sarah Cardell said today. "Many UK businesses and web developers tell us they feel that they are being held back by restrictions set by Apple and Google.

"When the new Digital Markets regime is in place, it's likely to address these sorts of issues. In the meantime, we are using our existing powers to tackle problems where we can. We plan to investigate whether the concerns we have heard are justified and, if so, identify steps to improve competition and innovation in these sectors."

What could the CMA do? The authority can govern how a product is sold and advertised, and require companies to sell off chunks of a business it deems anti-competitive. It can also ask the UK government, or other regulators, to step in if it deems new legislation is required.

The CMA also has the power to block mergers - and has repeatedly hit the headlines of late as it continues its ongoing work to scrutinise Microsoft's attempted $68bn takeover of Call of Duty maker Activision Blizzard.

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