If the Apple App Store and Google Play were a giant ship, Epic Games is staging a mutiny. Will they sink or swim?
You may have heard about Epic Games' Fortnite feud with the two big tech giants, which is just now coming to the boil. Here's what we know so far.
Does giant tech companies going at it and getting their followers to join the cause via social media reek of self-interest, or do you think Epic Games is really being pro-consumer here?
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Apple removed Epic Games' Fortnite from the App Store on Thursday
Apple removed mega-hit Fortnite from the App Store on Thursday after the game's developer Epic Games implemented an in-app payment system to seemingly bypass Apple's 30 percent fee for in-app purchases.
The move seems to be especially calculated as Apple is currently in the midst of navigating antitrust concerns over its operation of the App Store via the rules it imposes on certain developers.
Epic Games' meditated response mocks Apple's '1984' ad and has #FreeFortnite trending on social media
Following the removal of Fortnite from Apple's App Store, Epic Games uploaded a protest video onto YouTube, and within Fortnite, in which it mocked this '1984' Apple ad referencing George Orwell's classic novel, suggesting Apple is turning our reality into a '1984'-like dystopia.
Orwell, the great British writer, is probably turning in his grave — it's safe to say that software companies feuding over percentages isn't what he had in mind at the time of writing.
Tellingly, however, when Steve Jobs originally unveiled the Apple '1984' ad, he positioned Apple as a company fighting IBM's stranglehold on the industry. In any case, in their mock ad, Epic Games also encouraged fans to join their fight via the hashtag #FreeFortnite on social media.
The videogame company also filed an antitrust lawsuit against Apple
Epic Games is also now suing Apple, as VentureBeat reports, for having a 'monopoly' over the computing technology market.
In their lawsuit filing, Epic Games stated that "Apple has become what it once railed against: the behemoth seeking to control markets, block competition, and stifle innovation. Apple is bigger, more powerful, more entrenched, and more pernicious than the monopolists of yesteryear."
The timing for this lawsuit looks to be particularly calculated as the EU has recently opened formal antitrust investigations aimed at assessing "whether Apple's rules for app developers on the distribution of apps via the App Store violate EU competition rules."
Apple released a statement saying it has no intention of giving Epic Games a 'special arrangement'
The Verge reached out to Apple and the company responded with a comprehensive statement saying the following:
"Today, Epic Games took the unfortunate step of violating the App Store guidelines that are applied equally to every developer and designed to keep the store safe for our users. As a result, their Fortnite app has been removed from the store. Epic enabled a feature in its app which was not reviewed or approved by Apple, and they did so with the express intent of violating the App Store guidelines regarding in-app payments that apply to every developer who sells digital goods or services.
Epic has had apps on the App Store for a decade, and have benefited from the App Store ecosystem - including its tools, testing, and distribution that Apple provides to all developers. Epic agreed to the App Store terms and guidelines freely and we’re glad they’ve built such a successful business on the App Store. The fact that their business interests now lead them to push for a special arrangement does not change the fact that these guidelines create a level playing field for all developers and make the store safe for all users. We will make every effort to work with Epic to resolve these violations so they can return Fortnite to the App Store."
Epic Games has also been banned on Google Play
Epic Games has also implemented its own payment system in the Android version of Fortnite, which, unsurprisingly, led Google to also remove the game from the Play Store. Android users can, however, still download the game using Epic Games' own app launcher, which can be downloaded via any mobile web browser.
A Google spokesperson told The Verge that it has "consistent policies that are fair to developers and keep the store safe for users." Though Epic Games broke these policies, the spokesperson said Google welcomes "the opportunity to continue our discussions with Epic and bring Fortnite back to Google Play."
Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney has long been vocal about that 30 percent cut
Back in 2018, Sweeney told The Verge that "Apple, Google, and Android manufacturers make vast, vast profits from the sale of their devices and do not in any way justify the 30 percent cut" on their app stores.
Epic Games' own store, the Steam-rivalling Epic Store was built, in part to disrupt the software store industry. Unlike most companies in the app marketplace, which take a 30 percent cut, the Epic Store, which claims to be more hands-on with curations, only charges developers a 12 percent cut.
Tinder and Spotify weighed in on the feud
Big tech companies, that have been paying Apple's 30 percent cut for years, including Spotify and Tinder, came to Epic Games' defense, with Recode Media host Peter Kafka posting statements from the companies on social media.
Tinder (and the rest of Match Group) sides with Epic Games vs Apple/Google. pic.twitter.com/1HDz8pluRR
— Peter Kafka (@pkafka) August 14, 2020
Spotify, which has had a long-running battle with Apple and filed an antitrust complaint of its own, weighs in on Epic v Apple. Spoiler: Spotify supports Epic. pic.twitter.com/FPNLmRNYBx— Peter Kafka (@pkafka) August 13, 2020
What with current tensions between the U.S. and China, and Google and Apple being two of the U.S.'s largest tech companies, it is also worth mentioning that Tencent owns a more than 40 percent stake in Epic Games.
(and yes there's a #chinaangle, as China's Tencent owns a big chunk of Epic. Doubtful you will see Trump talking about V-Bucks and iOS IAP rules tho)— Peter Kafka (@pkafka) August 13, 2020
Will we see Donald Trump mouthing off about V-Bucks — Fortnite's in-game currency — and app store drama? That would be some pretty on-brand weirdness for 2020, to be fair.
What is Epic Games' game plan?
Interestingly, Epic Games detailed how using its own in-app payment system would result in cheaper prices for consumers. For example, 1,000 V-bucks, which are roughly equivalent to $10, would cost a player $7.99 using the Epic payment system. So in other words, customers, rather than Epic Games, keep the extra savings by bypassing the Apple store and Google Play cut.
It is worth noting, however, that this is hardly a David and Goliath situation. Though Epic Games is taking on some of the world's biggest tech companies, the Fortnite company itself earned a staggering $2.4 billion in 2018 and 1.8 billion in 2019.
Fortnite has become such a mainstay in popular culture that some parents are even paying for Fortnite lessons for their kids. The game is also available on the Nintendo Switch, Xbox, PS4, and PC.
Update August 18: Fortnite has a fortnight to comply with Apple app store guidelines
Apple is now reportedly threatening to revoke Epic's access to iOS and Mac developer tools by removing it from the Apple Developer Program unless it removes the in-game payment system, which started this whole situation, by August 28.
"The problem Epic has created for itself is one that can easily be remedied if they submit an update of their app that reverts it to comply with the guidelines they agreed to and which apply to all developers," Apple said in a statement to The Verge, in which the company also emphasized that it "won’t make an exception for Epic."
Epic has filed for a preliminary injunction against Apple, asking the court block Apple from removing epic from its Developer Program. In the court filing, Epic Games claims that its removal from the Apple Developer Program would be "catastrophic for the future of the separate Unreal Engine business," and not just Fortnite.
Update August 18: Epic Games is reportedly forming a coalition of Apple critics
TheInformation.com reports that Epic Games is seeking to start a 'coalition of critics' against Apple so as to coordinate a concerted effort against the tech giant.
Scoop from @alexeheath and me: Epic Games has been talking to other tech companies about forming a coalition of companies concerned about Apple's conduct. They've already approached Spotify about it. https://t.co/8dmAmp5qHX— Nick Wingfield (@nickwingfield) August 18, 2020
Epic has approached companies such as Spotify and connected stereo equipment firm Sonos. There is no indication yet as to whether these two companies have actually agreed to join any such group.
Is Epic Games' move a greedy power grab, or are they helping smaller developers while passing the savings onto the consumer? Do they deserve retribution for not honoring their contract with Apple, or should they be let off the hook? We'll leave that to you to decide.