The Battle Over App Store Purchases Intensifies.
Yesterday was a significant skirmish in Fortnite developer Epic’s battle against the tech giant Apple, with a California Federal Judge hearing arguments on a case that could shape the future of the relationship between developers, app stores, and gamers.
Last month Epic Games filed a lawsuit against Apple and Google after Fortnite was removed from the App Store and Google Play. The wildly popular battle royale game was pulled after Epic breached their contract by providing an update allowing users to circumvent Apple’s micro-transaction system and deal with Epic directly. Epic alleges they did this not just because of Apple’s 30% commission, but in protest of Apple using its monopoly to unfairly stifle competition and innovation in the online space.
If you’ve logged into Fortnite recently, you will have seen Epic’s parody of the iconic Apple Super Bowl commercial directed by Ridley Scott. In this case showing a Fortnite avatar using a hammer to smash a screen featuring a big brother-esque rotten apple. This is Epic casting itself as David against Goliath, the small company fighting for its rights against an oppressive empire. The truth of course is much more complicated, as U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers commented “You did something, you lied about it by omission, by not being forthcoming”, referring to Epic’s breach of contract.
Epic’s play, which resulted in Fortnite being effectively held hostage by Apple on the App Store, was surely done in the knowledge that Apple would make a counter-move. Epic’s attorney Katherine Forrest stated “When you are taking on the biggest company in the world, and you’re taking it on where you know it’s going to retaliate, you don’t lie down in the street and die…You plan very carefully on how you’re going to respond.” Epic seem determined to win both in the courtroom and in the court of public opinion, forming “The Coalition for App Fairness”, whose membership includes music streaming giant Spotify, to push its narrative that they are fighting for the rights of developers and consumers.
Judge Gonzalez Rogers is well aware of the importance of this case, and has suggested it ought to go to trial – perhaps in July 2021. Epic are currently seeking a temporary injunction to get Fortnite back on the App Store and Google Play, a move which surely legions of fans are hoping for. Gonzalez Rogers has not yet ruled either way, however she does not appear convinced that Apple’s move has devastated Fortnite’s distribution – likening the App Store to a “walled garden” similar to Playstation, Nintendo, and Xbox.
There is certainly no shortage of platforms on which to play Fortnite, the game has become a multi-media sensation that is almost synonymous with gaming – coming a long way from its humble origins as we described in our original review 3 years ago.
As online purchase becomes increasingly the norm for modern gaming, this case could be pivotal in drawing the line in the sand between store owners and developers. When the dust settles, either Apple will have solidified their control on how their platform operates, or there will be a restructuring as other developers fight for their own slice of the pie.