CMA launches investigation into cloud gaming, mobile browsers

Gaming, News

The UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has launched a market investigation into cloud gaming and mobile browsers after receiving widespread support for its proposals first published in June 2022.

The CMA consulted on launching a market investigation alongside its Mobile Ecosystem Market Study report, which found that Apple and Google have an effective duopoly on mobile ecosystems that allows them to exercise a stranglehold over operating systems, app stores and web browsers on mobile devices.

Browsers are one of the most important and widely used apps on mobile devices. Most people use their browser at least daily to access online content such as information, news, videos and shopping. 97% of all mobile web browsing in the UK in 2021 happens on browsers powered by either Apple’s or Google’s browser engine, so any restrictions on these engines can have a major impact on users’ experiences.

Computer games are a multi-billion pound industry in the UK, played by millions of people. There are already more than 800,000 users of cloud gaming services in the UK but restrictions on their distribution on mobile devices could hamper growth in this sector, meaning UK gamers miss out.

Responses to the consultation, which have been published today, reveal substantial support for a fuller investigation into the way that Apple and Google dominate the mobile browser market and how Apple restricts cloud gaming through its App Store. Many of those came from browser vendors, web developers, and cloud gaming service providers who say that the status quo is harming their businesses, holding back innovation, and adding unnecessary costs.

Web developers have complained that Apple’s restrictions, combined with suggested underinvestment in its browser technology, lead to added costs and frustration as they have to deal with bugs and glitches when building web pages, and have no choice but to create bespoke mobile apps when a website might be sufficient.

Ultimately, these restrictions can limit choice and may make it more difficult to bring innovative new apps to the hands of UK consumers. However, Apple and Google have argued that restrictions are needed to protect users. The CMA’s market investigation will consider these concerns and consider whether new rules are needed to drive better outcomes.

Market investigations can result in changes to companies’ behaviour and restrictions, which improve competition and lead to greater choice for consumers and better-quality products.

Says Sarah Cardell, interim Chief Executive of the CMA:

“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.

“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.”

Adds Rocio Concha, Which? Director of Policy and Advocacy: 

“Nine in 10 consumers use a mobile browser on a smartphone to go online, but Apple and Google have a vice-like grip on the browser market and a lack of competition harms investment and innovation.

“Ultimately this means a worse user experience and less choice for UK consumers, so it’s right that the CMA is taking forward this market investigation.

“This investigation is the latest in a long line of instances where the dominance of a handful of tech giants has been found to limit competition and could be causing harm to consumers. The government’s commitment to bringing forward the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumer Bill, giving the Digital Markets Unit tougher powers to promote competition and tackle these issues timely, is a crucial step in the right direction.”

For more information, visit the mobile browsers and cloud gaming market investigation page.

Chris Price
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