the dispute between Epic Games and Apple and Google’s app stores is the result of a calculated calculation and at the right time attack by the creator of Fortnite, with the intention of changing the current balance of power in this environment, which he considers contrary to his interests.
Background to this will be familiar to many readers: Epic games, partly owned by the Chinese giant Tencent, and creators of the most successful game development platform, Unreal engine, with the very popular Fortnite, have implemented a direct payment method so that their users can make purchases in their games by skipping the Apple and Google payment gateways, which allows them to avoid the commissions that Apple and Google charge for these transactions. More, Epic has lowered the prices of its products. The problem? Basically, that this type of direct payment methods is expressly prohibited by both app stores, and therefore, Apple and Google automatically kicked Fortnite from their App Store and Play Market.
In response to this movement of Apple and Google, provoked and anticipated by Epic, the company posted a video, obviously prepared in advance, in which he parodies Apple advertising broadcast during the Super Bowl 1984, considered by some the best place in history.
More, Epic sues Apple and Google for violating antitrust laws. This carefully prepared move, involving some of the best known and most prestigious antitrust lawyers, mobilizes the 350 million Fortnite players around the world against Apple and Google Behind a countryside organized around the hashtag #FREEFORTNITE, presenting itself as the victim fighting to improve the lives of application developers (the company is not claiming economic damages or better treatment for himself).
Epic carefully timed the move: two weeks later bosses of big tech companies appeared before the US Congress, and with the Ministry of Justice is working hard on the case, using a mountain of relevant documentation. The move also comes at a time when much of the tech industry is outraged by changes Apple plans to make to iOS 14, which could seriously affect the advertising revenue of many businesses.
There are precedents here: in 2018, Epic launched a similar offensive against the Steam gaming platform, which included launching its own platform, the Epic Games Store for Windows and MacOS, with a 12% commission instead of Steam’s 30%. In 2019, Spotify sued Apple in the European Union for taking a 30% commission while competing on favorable terms with Apple Music. These could well influence the judges overseeing the lawsuit against Google and Apple in favor of Epic.
This time around, it seems unlikely that it will be settled out of court. Epic appears to be trying to take advantage of the tech giants’ unpopularity with the public and lawmakers, mirroring the deeply held beliefs of its founder, Tim sweeney, that they abuse their position.
Clearly, Apple and Google will defend their app store policies by pointing out the possible security issue for users if apps set up their own payment gateways. That said, standing up for user safety while charging a third of what developers do and being virtually the only alternative as a distribution channel will be a tough argument to make.
Epic is a leader in the video game industry, but it’s not a game, and needs to be watched carefully: it will likely end up having a far bigger impact than it initially seemed.