- The Fortnite bans on iPhone and Android were not surprising, as Epic Games knowingly violated the rules of the App Store and Google Play store. Any other app would have received the same treatment.
- Epic manufactured the entire crisis so it could take advantage of the current antitrust landscape regarding big tech, and file its lawsuits against Apple and Google.
- Epic could have sued Apple and Google without all the extra commotion, but the company is looking to gain public support in what could otherwise be tedious court battles over business practices.
When Fortnite developer Epic Games updated its app to allow it to process in-app purchases (IAP) from gamers and skirt Apple and Google, it knew what was going to follow. Neither Apple nor Google would allow any of that as this is a clear violation of the rules they have in place for the App Store and Google Play, respectively. It’s not really about the money, although the 30% cut that Apple and Google get is a factor.
Fortnite did so fully knowing that Apple would not blink and ban Fortnite, as it would with any other app that’s stepping out of bounds. The rules that govern any community aren’t optional for those willing to play along. In this case, the App Store rules are strictly enforced, and Apple would have banned any developer pulling the same stunt. Epic undoubtedly knew this, and that’s why it baited Apple in the first. The fact that it was quick to follow up with its own take at a famous Apple commercial, and to sue Apple is only proof that Epic looked to take advantage of the current context in its fight against Apple and Google. And Google, too, banned Fortnite. Epic then sued Google. All this is proof that Epic engineered the Fortnite crisis on mobile to win over public opinion and have gamers on its side in the fight with Apple. Epic could have sued Apple and Google without all the extra bells and whistles.
The point of all of this is money. Epic isn’t willing to pay up up that 30% fee. Or better said, Epic wants more money from gamers, but it can’t do it because of Apple and Google’s IAP shares. The Apple cut is really what it all boils down to, and Epic is just taking advantage of the antitrust vibe right now, as big tech companies are under increased scrutiny from regulators in the US, Europe, and elsewhere.
Of the $10 you’d pay Fortnite for V-bucks, $7 goes to Fortnite, and $3 to Apple or Google. When Fortnite offered you the option of paying $8 for the same IAP loot, it presented it as a 20% discount to the gamer. But the fact is that $8 happens to be a 14.29% increase in profit for Epic. Well, I’m not including here card processing fees, so let’s round it up to 14%. Epic could increase the prices in the App Store and Google Play if it wants more money, but Apple and Google’s cuts would also go up.
Epic is being incredibly misleading in its public messaging. Yes, that 30% cut is annoying, and many developers don’t like it. App Store users would appreciate price cuts for their favorite apps and subscription if it were for Apple to drop that percentage across the board. The same goes for Google and Play customers.
But to say that “Apple has become what it once railed against: the behemoth seeking to control markets, block competition, and stifle innovation” in that 1984 spoof add is false.
Were it not for Apple, there wouldn’t be more than one billion devices that can run Fortnite. That doesn’t just happen overnight. It’s also not something that Epic can take for granted after so many years and billions spent on iPhone and iOS research. The same goes for any developer.
Getting access to that massive market may not come cheap, and Apple is entitled to set whatever cut of the profits it wants. That’s how business works. Nobody forces anyone to buy iPhones, nobody forces Epic to bring its games to the iPhone, and nobody forces people to get IAPs.
Apple provides a store that’s safe for the regular user to use, both when it comes to user data and privacy and transaction security. The App Store is always up, all the apps and IAP downloads are always available. That’s Apple’s cloud infrastructure doing all the work. It’s not Epic’s money that invested in any of that.
Apple continues to update the software on all its products and ensures that as many iOS devices can run as many apps as possible, Fortnite included. It offers a variety of SDKs to take advantage of, early access to OS beta versions, and a way for developers to beta test their apps before they’re released. It also reviews code to ensure user safety before the apps make it to the App Store. It then takes care of the distribution, it helps with discovery, and safeguards payments. That 30% pays for the keeping up the lights, and probably delivers a profit. That’s how business works.
Google does all of that too. And most of that happens without the end-user necessarily acknowledging the tremendous effort that goes into making the App Store and Google Play work.
By appealing to gamers with this concerted and well-executed PR campaign, Epic is hoping to put pressure on Apple and Google, willfully ignoring the reason why Fortnite works on iPad, iPhone, and Mac in the first place, and why it can make billions of dollars off of Apple’s and Google’s digital stores.
It’s easy to back the “rebel” in this fight, which Epic self-proposes it to be. And I’m probably in the minority defending Apple and Google on this one. But Epic’s stunt should not be validated.
Again, yes, I’d like to see that 30% go down if that means the savings are passed in their entirety to me. But I’m absolutely not going to trust anyone but Apple and Google with managing the app stores for mobile devices.
Let’s not forget how Epic launched its Android app last year, prompting games to sideload the app as it wanted to avoid the Play Store fees, and willfully ignoring the security risks. Of course, sideloading apps shouldn’t be advised — that’s not possible on iPhone, and it’s probably something Google should close up as well. Unsurprisingly, malware versions of Fortnite targeted unsuspecting gamers in the months following the Android launch, which is what malicious individuals would do with any popular app that’s available from outside the app store. Epic, by the way, had to accept the Play store reluctantly. And let’s not forget that Epic has been sued for making it easier for hackers to steal Fortnite accounts.
This is not a company that I would want to manage any store that handles data and money exchange. And assuming that Epic does get its way and ends up somehow being allowed to sell apps through its marketplace on iPhone and Android, it’ll be interesting to see how it enforces its own store rules. In such a scenario, Epic will, too, take a cut of sales, it will also be able to ban apps for violations, and it will to have to impose Epic’s “way or the highway” to other developers. It’s just the way this works.
That said, we’re not going to learn who wins this out anytime soon. Apple and Google will have their work cut out for themselves in antitrust battles of their own, including the Epic one. And Apple will have a harder time appealing to public opinion on this one as efficiently as Epic just did.