- Epic Games has been caught in a legal battle with Apple over the tech giant’s decision to remove “Fortnite” from the App Store after Epic violated its policies.
- It’s not the first time “Fortnite” has been at the centre of a controversial policy imposed by large tech firm.
- In 2018, “Fortnite” played an instrumental role in getting Sony to enable cross-play compatibility, which allowed “Fortnite” users on PlayStation 4 to play with friends on other systems.
- In both instances, “Fortnite” has been used in an attempt to change policies that have been widely contested across the industry.
- In the case between Apple and Epic, its Apple’s App Store rules that are at the centre of the debacle, policies that have been under increased antitrust scrutiny as of late.
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Epic Games has been caught in an ongoing legal battle with Apple over the iPhone maker’s decision to remove ‘”Fortnite” from the App Store after the gaming giant intentionally violated Apple’s policies.
The move challenges Apple’s longstanding controversial App Store rule which requires that developers use the company’s in-app payment system rather than their own, giving Apple a 30% cut of the transaction.
It’s not the first time “Fortnite” has been used to challenge the contentious rules of an industry stalwart. And last time, it worked.
Back in 2018, Sony was caught in hot water when it initially refused to enable cross-play in “Fortnite,” meaning PlayStation 4 owners couldn’t play “Fortnite” with friends that had an Xbox, Nintendo Switch, smartphone, or PC.
At the time, if “Fortnite” players linked their account to the PlayStation network, they wouldn’t be able to access their “Fortnite” account – including items purchased in the game – on any other platform. It resulted in such backlash that the hashtag #BlameSony began to circulate.
That differed from the approaches taken by Nintendo and Microsoft at the time. The two companies not only supported cross-play for Fortnite, but Minecraft as well, further highlighting Sony’s dissenting perspective.
Sony’s reason: The PlayStation 4 provided the best experience for gamers in 2018.
“On cross-platform, our way of thinking is always that PlayStation is the best place to play,” CEO Kenichiro Yoshida said to Press Association according to The Independent. “‘Fortnite,’ I believe, partnered with PlayStation 4 is the best experience for users, that’s our belief.”
Sony eventually gave in and launched cross-play compatibility for “Fortnite” in late September 2018, a choice that John Kodera, Sony Interactive Entertainment’s deputy president, called “a major policy change.” That opened the door for Sony to eventually enable cross-play more broadly for other games like “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare” and “Rocket League.”
Apple’s fight with Epic Games and the conflict over Sony’s previous decision not to support cross-play are inherently different. The former is the result of a deliberate action by Epic Games to violate Apple’s rules – as contested as they may be. The latter centered on backlash to Sony’s initial refusal to change with the industry and play more nicely with competitors. (Although Epic did “accidentally” turn on cross-play briefly for Xbox One and PlayStation 4 in 2017).
But that doesn’t mean there aren’t any similarities between the two episodes. Both challenge controversial rules from major tech companies that seemingly hold major business benefits for the firms involved. At the same time, critics have argued that such rules have had detrimental effects on their respective industries: In Apple’s case, app developers, and in Sony’s, the video game industry.
Sony’s refusal to embrace cross-play was criticised as an example of Sony attempting to maintain a competitive advantage in the industry while creating confusion and inconveniences for consumers. Before Sony deployed its cross-play offerings more widely, some developers argued that Sony was playing favourites by only enabling the feature for “Fortnite” and “Rocket League” at first.
Pete Hines, an executive for Bethesda Game Studios, also weighed in on the issue of cross-play compatibility when speaking with Game Informer in 2018.
“We cannot have a game that only works one way across everywhere else except for this one thing,” Hines said in reference to the launch of the console version of “The Elder Scrolls Legends.”
While Sony’s decision not to enable cross-play certainly made waves in the gaming community, it hasn’t drawn widespread antitrust scrutiny in the way that Apple’s App Store rules have.
The “Fortnite” debacle has become something of a powder-keg moment for Apple’s policies, which developers have rallied against for years, arguing that it makes it difficult to price their apps competitively enough to compete with Apple’s own services. Epic earlier this month filed a lawsuit against Apple after the company removed “Fortnite” from the App Store, while the tech company accused the game maker of seeking special treatment.
A California judge ruled partially in favour of Apple in the dispute’s latest development, a decision that keeps “Fortnite” out of the App Store but prevents Apple from cutting off Epic’s access to its developer tools.
Before Epic Games intentionally violated Apple’s policies, CEO Tim Sweeney even wrote to the company saying it would no longer adhere to its payment processing restrictions.
“We choose to follow this path in the firm belief that history and law are on our side,” Sweeney wrote.
Apple’s services business, which includes App Store transactions, is its second-largest generator of quarterly revenue following iPhone sales. It’s played a crucial role in supporting the company’s business during periods when iPhone sales have slowed in recent years.
This all comes as Apple’s 30% commission on App Store transactions and its mandate that developers only use its payment system were at the centre of a blockbuster tech industry antitrust hearing at the end of July.
The specifics may be different, but Apple’s battle with Epic is another testament to “Fortnite’s” industry-wide impact when it comes to challenging policies held by major platform holders like Apple and Sony. What remains to be seen is whether leveraging its popularity will work this time.