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Apple vs Epic: The Current Breakdown Of 2021’s Biggest Court Battle So Far
The trial isn’t over yet, so we’ll be periodically updating this piece.
This year, we get to witness one of the biggest legal battles between two tech giants: Apple and Epic Games.
In one corner is Apple, creators of the iMac, iPhone, and the App Store among many, MANY other innovations in techdom. In the other corner is Epic Games, a longtime video game developer who happens to create and own one of the most important video game engines in the industry: The Unreal Engine. Also, they made the smash-hit game Fortnite.
How did this legal battle start? And how will it end? Well, we’re here to break it down for you in this handy dandy guide.
Last year, Epic Games intentionally broke Apple’s rules by putting its own payment processing system in the iPhone version of Fortnite, bypassing Apple’s 30% fee and giving players a V-Bucks discount. Apple responded by kicking Fortnite off the iOS App Store, while Epic launched a lawsuit and PR campaign declaring the iPhone maker “anti-competitive”. Both companies have built their cases for close to a year now, leading up to the eventual courtroom battle.
Software developers who want to release iPhone apps must do so through the iOS App Store, where Apple takes a cut of each sale. iOS apps also have to use Apple’s payment processing for in-app purchases of digital items (like Fortnite V-Bucks), and Apple takes a cut of that, too.
Epic says that iOS is an unavoidable operating system for mobile devsâ€”most people either have an iPhone or an Android phoneâ€”and so it’s not fair that Apple forces everyone to play by its “oppressive” rules. At least according to Epic the plaintiff, Apple’s rules for third-party iOS apps are both unfair, anti-competitive, and illegal.
If we’re being frank, one of the chief reasons why Epic wants this is for more money. Epic wants to sell V-Bucks in Fortnite without paying for Apple’s 30% fee. But also, it sees itself as more than a game and engine developer, wanting to build a “metaverse” where players and creators can buy and sell content and play games across platforms. Making companies like Apple getting rid of rules and fees on smartphones would be a great kickstart to that plan.
The trial started on 3rd May and will take “maybe 17 days” according to US District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers. Do not expect a speedy resolution to this battle. Unlike other civil court business cases, this one will be held in person in Oakland. You can gather more details on the Northern California US District Court website.
Epic first has to prove that there’s a market for Apple to have monopoly power over beyond just issues about Apple’s terms of service and software feature.
Epic argues that there’s a “foremarket” for smartphone operating systems, iOS and Android, and an “aftermarket” for apps that run on smartphone operating systems. By selling iPhones, Apple creates “iOS app distribution” and “iOS in-app payment processing” aftermarkets.
Epic will then have to demonstrate that Apple’s behavior is anti-competitive and that Epic’s proposed remedy is legal, assuming that the court accepts Epic’s definition of the markets.
Apple says that it doesn’t control a market because it’s competing in one.
Apple sees the App Store as a “game transaction platform” which competes against other game transaction platforms, such as the Google Play store, Steam, and the PlayStation and Xbox stores. In that market, Apple doesn’t have anything close to monopoly power: It estimates it has 23.3% to 37.5% of the market share.
Some argue that the App Store 30% revenue cut is too high, but the market has settled on it. To keep up with other digital storefronts, it recently lowered its cut for developers who make under $1 million in revenue per year. This is hardly a monopoly move if you have to tweak revenue cut conditions to stay competitive.
Other counter-arguments from Apple include (but not limited to):
There’s a lot of documents and revelations revealed during the court case.
Epic recently announced US$1 billion in funding for that vision and expressed that Apple’s App Store policies could not make that vision happen.
He faced a somewhat difficult question on day two: Couldn’t the iPhone Fortnite app send users to the Safari browser to buy V-Bucks? Apple doesn’t disallow purchases made through a web browser. Sweeney had to say, but it’s inconvenient for users. Judge Rogers didn’t seem too convinced that the inconvenience is a big deal given that Fortnite players tend to be young.
The company spent a lot to get 110 exclusively for Epic Games for at least a year. The company is doing this to gain 50 percent of the PC market, but that’s a generous prediction and that’s only if “Steam doesn’t react”. In the worst-case scenario, Epic would have its share peaking at 20 percent and then falling to about 8 percent or so.
Thanks to certain documents being made public via the Apple vs. Epic lawsuit thatâ€™s all the talk this week, we now know how much Epic paidÂ Borderlands 3Â developer Gearbox Software: a hefty sum of US$115 million.
Epic had to shell out a bit to give away some of its partners’ games for free on the Epic Game Store. Some standouts include Batman ArkhamÂ ($1,500,000),Â SubnauticaÂ ($1,400,000), andÂ Mutant Year ZeroÂ ($1,000,000).
The grand total is US$11,658,000. To Epic’s credit, the user acquisition cost numbers are low and Epic picked up nearly five million new users for dollars orÂ centsÂ per person.
Here’s the email in full:
Iâ€™m writing to apologize for the shortcomings in our Epic Games store implementation and our Uplay integration.
In the past 48 hours, the rate of fraudulent transactions on Division 2 surpassed 70% and was approaching 90%. Sophisticated hackers were creating Epic accounts, buying Ubisoft games with stolen credit cards, and then selling the linked Uplay accounts faster than we were disabling linked Uplay purchases for fraud.
Fraud rates for other Epic games store titles are under 2% and Fortnite is under 1%. So 70% fraud was an extraordinary situation.
To stop the fraud, we disabled purchasing of Ubisoft games. We will make our best efforts to restore service as quickly as we can. This depends on a real-time system for disabling refunded and fraudulent purchases on Uplay, and anti-fraud improvements in Epicâ€™s service. This work will likely take at least 2 weeks to complete.
The fault in this situation is entirely Epicâ€™s, and all of the minimum revenue guarantees remain in place to ensure our performance.
Iâ€™m sorry for the trouble,
Epic Games’ battle royale shooter Fortnite made US$9,165,000,000 in two years. That huge number comes from a financial board presentation report that Epic created in January 2020. In this document, Epic stated Fortnite made just over $5.4 billion dollars in 2018. The following year, the popular battle royale game pulled in $3.7 billion. Internally, Epic has made far less with its other businesses: Epic game engine Unreal brought in US$221 million in revenue while EGS brought in US$235 million in revenue.
For comparison, Microsoft spent US$7.5 billion to buy all of Bethesda while Disney paid US$4 billion for the Star Wars license and Lucasfilm. And that’s the chief reason Epic Games seems fine going to war with Apple on this: it can afford to. In fact, even if the EGS isn’t profitable, its current money-making game is keeping the entire company and its ventures afloat.
This would be huge news. This would help change the mobile app business and establish a limit to the “walled grade” hardware and OS model, which then favours free software distribution. Oh, and Apple will need to put Fortnite back on its App Store.
It seems that Apple may have a favourable case given its counter-arguments. If they win, Apple’s status quo will remain. However, this will not be the last the company will hear from Epic, given that the latter can start multiple fires with its Fortnite riches. Companies will definitely cut down their revenue cut with developers by a considerable amount; Microsoft did so a while back with its 12% cut for developers.