Epic Games vs. Apple – Why you should care

Epic Games vs. Apple: The story so far

On the 13th of August 2020, Apple bans Epic from the App Store.

“On the morning of August 13, 2020, for the first time, Apple mobile device users were offered competitive choice. ” COMPLAINT FOR INJUNCTIVE RELIEF by Epic Games against Apple
“On the morning of August 13, 2020, for the first time, Apple mobile device users were offered competitive choice. ” COMPLAINT FOR INJUNCTIVE RELIEF by Epic Games against Apple

Epic games infringed upon the App Store terms of service and Fortnite was banned. This is the short story of a much bigger narrative.

Immediately after the ban, a press campaign #FreeFortnite and a lawsuit ensue (https://www.epicgames.com/fortnite/en-US/news/freefortnite). Publishing an update with the alternative payment gateway was a move destined to kick the hornet’s nest.

Soon after Google bans the app Fortnite from the Play Store (https://www.theverge.com/2020/8/13/21368079/fortnite-epic-android-banned-google-play-app-store-rule-violation).

Tim Sweeney (Epic Games CEO), has a track record of being vocal against closed ecosystems. In 2016, he openly criticised Microsoft regarding some attempts to close of Windows 10 ecosystem (https://venturebeat.com/2019/05/02/why-epic-games-called-a-truce-with-microsoft-on-open-platforms/).

Now he urges other developers to push back against Apple’s practices. 

This pushback against the 30% tax is a not new thing. Spotify had previously (March 2020), file an anti-trust complaint against Apple (https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/ip_20_1073), and is already rallying behind Epic’s case. This Forbes article does a great job laying down companies that have been vocal about Apple’s policies (https://www.forbes.com/sites/rachelsandler/2020/08/14/spotify-epic-games-facebook-major-companies-take-aim-at-apples-app-store-fee/).

Collective understanding

There are 3 types of positions game industry professionals have with regards to this Epic Games vs Apple:

  • Those who believe that Epic is at fault.
  • Those who understand why Epic started this conversation.
  • Those who can’t afford to have an opinion.

I was shocked because I hadn’t understood how deeply polarized the industry I work in is.

And I was even more shocked when it seems that most people can’t debate. There are a lot of people that won’t stick their neck out or share their views unless they conform to the most popular narrative at a certain time. These people are usually career-conscious and are afraid of burning bridges by posting something that can be held against them, or don’t have the confidence to express their views. I understand where this mindset is coming from, I’m not 100% immune to it. You can see these people sharing news about the topic with “What do you think?”, or vague uncertain positions like “Epic against the world”, stating facts. 

For those who can have an opinion, and are flexible enough to hear arguments and join in on an amazing conversation about what we want the mobile landscape to look like, here are some thoughts. I’m still gathering information on this topic, and my point of view is bound to be affected by this.

Why you should care about this Epic Games move

My experience with Epic Games

I’m grateful Epic Games is starting this conversation regarding mobile ecosystems. 

As a former independent games developer, I owe a lot to this company. For many years, I’ve used Unreal Engine 4 with the best license any starting company could wish for. Until the company reaches a certain amount of annual revenue, no need to worry about royalty fees.

Epic’s community content and the asset store were amazing. Asset store had a 12% developer fee. However, there are other third-party stores that can be used.

Overall, Epic, as a for-profit corporation, has a track record of giving back to the community.

The issue

It’s obvious that there was an attempt to rally public opinion by launching a PR campaign and a lawsuit just after kicking the hornet’s nest. This has been pointed out as a disingenuous move by Epic.

Some voices have been raised regarding the fact that Epic did not respect the terms of service which companies must oblige in order to “play”. And how they are “weaponizing fans against Apple and Google”. ( https://nordic.ign.com/feature/38863/opinion-epic-is-weaponizing-fortnite-fans-against-apple-google

#FreeFortnite campaign used to rally public opinion

On the other side of the scale is Apple. Apple has built a mobile ecosystem monopoly where they can afford to demand 30% in taxes on digital goods sold. We can argue that this is their prerogative. However, the way Apple’s products are designed to lock users in creates a monopoly that affects consumers negatively. Developers are not always the ones that take the burden of the 30% tax. More often than not, this amount is passed on to the final user. 

Some recent history

This case bears some resemblance to the 90’s browser wars. Microsoft was considered to have a monopolistic position by pre-instaling MS Internet Explorer with the Windows operating system (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Browser_wars#First_Browser_War:_1995-2001). Microsoft ended up losing against AOL, but by that time IE had already captured a big market share.

It’s not the first time that society (embodied by the European Commission in this case), had to intervene and level the playing field to promote innovation. In 2018, Google was fined almost 5BN$ over illegal practices regarding Android mobile devices to strengthen the dominance of Google’s search engine (https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/IP_18_4581).

Locking users in, hiding options, setting up advice against installing 3rd party apps are examples of infringements on users’ freedom to interact with content on their devices.

Looking forward to the future

There are a lot of positive things that might come from Epic Games taking on this fight.

  • More app stores and more options for acquiring digital content will reflect on companies fighting to keep their customers loyal by differentiation and innovation. 
  • Reduction of the stores’ 30% taxes.

While the latter measure would not change the amount consumers end up paying, it would allow for a better developer capitalization (improving quality of apps). Even so, a drop in the developer fee would still help distribute profit taxes more evenly across the globe, as it’s easier to tax multiple companies of all sizes as opposed to one single giant behemoth like Apple or Google.

To be continued…

While there’s a lot of positive consequences for challenging the status quo, the biggest negative impact seems to be the many players who currently do not have access to Fortnite.

Either way, this discussion will change the landscape of the mobile ecosystem over time. Therefore, regardless of your opinion, join in the conversation that will affect how we interact with our devices.

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