Epic and Apple’s legal tiff over Fortnite on the App Store rages on. In Apple’s latest filing, the behemoth echoes many of our own commenters by calling out Epic’s actions as a stunt to bolster Fortnite’s waning popularity.
Apple’s opposition filing is a response to Epic’s initial call for a temporary restraining order that would have put Fortnite back on the App Store for the time being. The companies are embroiled in an anti-trust suit that is moving through the courts. Apple continues to insist Epic doesn’t need court intervention for a problem it caused itself—adding a payment feature to the iOS version of the game that violates Apple’s rules—a stance the judge at least in part agreed with. Epic and its CEO Tim Sweeney have been painting themselves as heroes with the guts to take on a tech monopoly, but Apple’s latest filing suggests an ulterior motive, with lawyers delivering quite the burn:
For reasons having nothing to do with Epic’s claims against Apple, Fortnite’s popularity is on the wane. By July 2020, interest in Fortnite had decreased by nearly 70% as compared to October 2019. This lawsuit (and the front-page headlines it has generated) appears to be part of a marketing campaign designed to reinvigorate interest in Fortnite.
(Apple’s cited numbers come from Google Trends. In May, PCGamesN noted that registered Fortnite users are up by 100 million from 2019. Update, 9/19/20, 11:11am—In a filing on September 18, Epic CEO Tim Sweeney wrote, “Over the period of time that Apple cherry-picked for its Google search volume comparison (between October 2019 and July 2020), the number of daily active users on Fortnite actually increased by more than 39%.”)
Epic has been marketing the hell out of its fight with Apple, launching an anti-Apple ad and hashtag, #FreeFortnite, within hours of Fortnite being pulled from the App Store. Epic has argued that Apple is harming its reputation, driving angry players its way and impacting its future metaverse ambitions. But Apple’s lawyers ask why, if Epic is so harmed, it keeps promoting the situation that’s harming it:
Epic has engaged in a full-scale, pre-planned media blitz surrounding its decision to breach its agreement with Apple, creating ad campaigns around the effort that continue to this day. If Epic were truly concerned that it would suffer reputational injury from this dispute, it would not be engaging in these elaborate efforts to publicize it. From all appearances (including the #freefortnite campaign), Epic thinks its conduct here will engender goodwill, boost its reputation, and drive users to Fortnite, not the opposite. That is not harm.
Apple even claims Epic’s #FreeFortnite social media campaign is proof Apple doesn’t have a monopoly. As part of that campaign, Epic hosted an in-game Free Fortnite Cup in which players could win various non-iPhone devices to play Fortnite on. The Cup framed Epic as the good guys providing access to Fortnite despite mean old Apple, but in its filing, Apple quotes the Cup’s marketing, writing
Epic’s own conduct in developing and distributing Fortnite establishes that the iPhone is “reasonably interchangeable” with other mobile devices running non-iOS operating systems, with PCs and laptops, and with gaming consoles. Indeed, after Fortnite was removed from the App Store, Epic urged users to switch platforms, explaining that the “party continues on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PC, Mac, GeForce Now, and through both the Epic Games app at epicgames.com and the Samsung Galaxy Store.”
In another dig, Apple points out that, by Epic’s own admission, iPhone makes up a small amount of its business—“Epic has disclosed that only 10% of Fortnite consumers play regularly on the iPhone” and that “Epic has repeatedly told [Apple] that … Apple is the ‘smallest piece of the pie’ when it comes to revenue.” Apple even takes shots at the importance of Epic’s Unreal Engine gaming tech, writing that for all Unreal’s supposed importance, “Unity is used by the overwhelming majority of Apple developers that use a graphics engine.”
Apple makes a show in its filing of the support it’s given Fortnite over the years, even pointing out that it hired an employee in Australia so Epic could have around-the-clock coverage. But it also undermines its good guy self-image a bit in a line that echoes its recent new rules about game streaming services. Apple writes in its filing that if Epic doesn’t like Apple’s payment rules, the developer could do business differently—“Although sales of in-app products in Fortnite (which is free to download and play) must be made through IAP [Apple’s payment system], Epic could have easily chosen a different business model to monetize Fortnite without in-app products.” This sounds similar to Apple’s recent new rules about game streaming, in which it basically told services like Microsoft’s xCloud and Google’s Stadia that they could be on the App Store if they changed everything about themselves. The new rules about streaming services were baffling; here, Apple again decides it’s the children who are wrong, claiming that if Epic doesn’t like things, it can just get rid of the purchasable skins and emotes that are key to Fortnite’s financial and popular success. It’s not a good look for a company that claims in its filing that “in the interest of stoking more creativity, and to bring more apps to its users, Apple supports developers in a variety of ways...to make it as easy as possible for developers to bring their ideas to life on the iPhone.”
However weary people may be about watching two big companies duke it out over money while framing things as a matter of moral righteousness, I doubt this case is motivated solely by Epic wanting to get Fortnite back in the news. The suit comes at a time when Apple has been facing increased scrutiny over anti-trust claims, making the timing right for Epic to make a move that’s clearly in line with CEO Tim Sweeney’s opinions about how business should be done. Personally, I’m finding it a nice distraction from the powers that be arguing over whether people should have jobs or air to breathe. At the very least, the briefs make for some spicy reading.