Written by Daniel Maloney (News Writer)
Recently, Epic Games and Apple have gone to court over a battle of if Apple should be able to allow purchases in apps outside of their App Store. As for the background, Epic Games is a video game producer, extremely well known for making Fortnite. The game is free to play and available on many platforms, Apple’s iOS operating system made for iPhones being one of them. To be able to make money on a game model like this, revenue is fueled by in-app purchases, in this case, cosmetic items such as costumes, weapon skins, among other items. The outcome of this trial could very easily shape the tech industry for years to come. If Epic wins, Apple could be forced to change policies on their App Store significantly, which has already been facing pressure from the European Union and the United States, which may even bring changes to consoles.
To further explain the case, Epic is accusing Apple of running an illegal monopoly on its App Store as it only allows in-app purchases on iOS devices to be processed by Apple’s payment system, typically taking a 30% commission on something that is imposed by the company with no other alternatives. When Epic tried to create an alternative, by allowing iOS players to not use Apple’s system for a discount, the massively popular app was kicked off the store. This leads to players on iOS devices being unable to play at all, leading to a massive outcry from Fortnite players and the #FreeFortnite trending on Twitter and Fortnite’s official Twitter account posting a parody of Apple’s iconic “1984” ad. Epic Games then filed a lawsuit soon after. This trial comes as Lawmakers in Washington held a hearing last month on tech giants’ app stores along with Justice Department investigators reportedly probing the App Store. To make matters worse for Apple, the EU brought charges against the company for possibly breaking its antitrust laws regarding abusing its power of having the dominant music streaming app.
As said before, Epic Games coming out on top, in this case, would lead to a massive effect on the video game industry, and the way app stores work in general. The only thing is, this would only happen if Epic wins. The judge of the case, Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers of the District Court for the Northern District of California, has hinted she is skeptical about Epic’s argument, specifically being that Apple is violating the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890 by acting as a monopoly. But even if they can prove this, Epic would have to prove that Apple can distort the entire market in their favor, something that’s very hard to do. But it’s not like Epic has no chance of winning in the slightest. Apple’s attorney even sent a warning to the rest of the video game industry saying “If Epic prevails, other ecosystems will fall too.” Interestingly, not as many changes may happen to PC gamers.
Epic winning may not change PC gamer’s experience as much as it would to phone or console gamers. This is in part because the trial hearing has also begun to talk about if consoles also could fall under what is happening to Apple, given that their app stores are also the only ones available on their platforms. Microsoft’s Xbox business development head Lori Wright during a witness hearing said that there are “special-purpose” and “general-purpose” devices, and iPhones fall under the latter. Further added on by Epic employee Andrew Grant calling consoles “a single-purpose device for entertainment.” According to Windows and Epic, the Microsoft Store on Xbox would not be considered a monopoly because one buys an Xbox for gaming and next to nothing else. While on the other hand, modern phones can do more and more things. But even if this may make sense, the ruling may lean against consoles, possibly leading to custom app stores on consoles, a very interesting prospect. Unlike consoles, PCs are, like phones, “general-purpose” devices, but unlike phones, they have many, many app stores for games, such as Microsoft’s own Microsoft Store, the widely popular Steam, and Epic Game’s Epic Games Launcher.