Apple opens up the App Store to allow retro game emulators

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In context: Apple is feeling antitrust pressure from both US and European Union regulators and just made a series of decisions walking back its previous practices. In one, retro game emulators will be allowed on the App Store. In another, music streaming apps listed in Europe can now include a link to the developer’s website.

Apple has opened its App Store marketplace to retro game emulators, announcing yesterday that they can be listed on the store and offer downloadable games on a global basis.

It is a pivot from previous policy that has banned apps that run code from an external source, a category that includes game emulators, frustrating iPhone owners that have wanted this content. Now, according to the changes, “software that is not embedded in the binary” is allowed in certain cases, with “retro game console emulator apps can offer to download games” listed as one of those cases.

However as Ars Technica points out, the language around the guidelines is a bit fuzzy and it may wind up that the kind of emulators you see on Android and desktop, which support retro games from any outside source, may not be allowed.

As explained, retro game emulators run on ROM files, which is a computer file that contains a copy of the data from a read-only memory chip. There are many types of ROM files but according to Ars’ interpretation of Apple’s new guidelines the only ones that Apple will permit will be companies that own the intellectual property of their games. So no games that are in the public domain or in which the creator allows distribution, or those created by an owner that no longer exists.

If so, this will clearly limit the type of games that iPhone users will be able to download. According to the Video Game History Foundation and the Software Preservation Network, an astonishing 87 percent of classic video games released in the US are no longer commercially available.

The move comes amid the broad antitrust suit that the Department of Justice has filed against Apple, targeting the Cupertino giant over software distribution, cloud services, web browsing, third-party services, and many other issues that the DOJ claims harm developers and reduce interoperability with other platforms.

Apple was also fined by the European Union last month nearly $2 billion for favoring its own music streaming service and forbidding rivals like Spotify from directing users to cheaper subscriptions outside of iPhone apps.

As a result, Apple also announced on Friday that music streaming apps on its App Store in Europe can now include a link to the developer’s website, informing users of alternative ways of buying subscriptions. However, it noted that it will charge a commission of 27% on app sales made on a developers’ web page, after a user has clicked on an external link from the app and made a purchase within seven days. Apple’s claim is that the EU’s decision didn’t apply to its fee structure.

Masthead credit: Retro Game Corps

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