How Epic Games Turned Its Apple Battle Into a Wider War

How Epic Games Turned Its Apple
Cheyne Gateley/VIP

As Fortnite’s newest update kicked off Friday without participation from iOS, it would appear Apple scored an early victory against Epic Games’ challenge to skirt App Store fees.

But Apple’s headache is only poised to grow, as Epic’s defeat has succeeded by inviting more allies in an expanding assault on Apple’s policies.

First, a coalition of news publications including the New York Times, Washington Post and Wall Street Journal addressed CEO Tim Cook in a letter asking what could be done for Apple to consider an alternative to the App Store’s policy of taking 30% of in-app sales.

Then, Microsoft filed an official declaration of support for Epic. A major player in both the PC gaming and console ecosystem taking Epic’s side was a much-needed burst of legitimacy for Epic’s grievances with Apple on the gaming end of things.

You would think Apple would rest on its laurels and let its aggression simmer down rather than provide more critical fodder for those now watching Apple like a hawk. But the skirmish with Epic has left the company riled up enough to draw lines in the sand with another company, one a tad bit larger and closer to home.

Facebook, in an ongoing bid to establish more transparency with its customers, attempted to include a front-facing disclaimer to iOS users last Thursday disclosing the aforementioned 30% cut Apple takes from developers.

But Apple struck this down, citing an App Store policy barring partners from disclosing “irrelevant” information to users. This all comes a day after Facebook complained about a looming iOS update that will restrict personalized ads per the user’s request, in Apple’s own bid to quell reservations over privacy.

Similar to Epic, Facebook is citing concern for developers who benefit financially from personalized ads. But a bigger parallel with Epic here is that Facebook knew Apple would reject its move immediately, as it’s known that popular apps like Netflix, Kindle and Spotify cannot supply users with information via their apps on how to make purchases independently from iOS.

It would appear that Facebook is attempting Sweeney’s strategy of manipulating Apple into villainizing itself as the company continues to draw negative attention, especially after antitrust concerns saw Apple in the federal hot seat alongside Facebook and other big tech competitors.

Sweeney’s initial play against Apple did result in the company not only dropping Fortnite, but also threatening dev access to Epic’s Unreal engine, a move that would have hurt large swaths of the gaming ecosystem within the App Store, due to how many mid-sized and small developers rely on Unreal to build their games.

But this move represented a bridge too far, as the court did strike down Apple’s extended expulsion of Unreal on the grounds of Unreal having its own account independent from Epic. Apple’s willingness to hurt other developers as a means of teaching Epic a lesson certainly played into the image of a monopolistic bully that Epic wants to portray Apple as embodying as it acquires allies toward the goal of holding Apple accountable for its policies.

Given Apple’s services business (which includes App Store purchases) is increasing in importance among its diversified revenue sources, Cook ought to be exercising more restraint in lieu of knee-jerk reactions to provocations that the company should be anticipating. Epic is in a good position to show up Apple in terms of business practices, as it continues to expand currencies and payment methods for its own digital storefront.

On top of that, Epic still maintains positive business relationships with Apple’s competitors in the entertainment space (Sony is now a minority stakeholder in Epic) while Apple recalibrates its SVOD approach to include bundled content; it’s only a matter of time before a Hollywood entity has its own App Store altercation.

But it appears Apple is, at the very least, setting out to provide a bare minimum of effort in restoring goodwill, as the interface for its appeals process, first revealed in June, officially went live Monday

The decision to provide a platform for developers to appeal App Store decisions and policies was originally made because of a feud with software developer Basecamp, who wanted to distribute an iOS companion app to an email service that would have worked around Apple’s cut of in-app purchasing, leading Apple to block bug fixes and updates for the app until both parties reached a compromise.

As annoying as Epic is content to be given continued jabs at Apple’s expense, now is not the time for Apple to be garnering more ill will with companies across multiple sectors, so it should throw its full weight behind addressing submissions to its appeals form. Otherwise, if Apple cannot aggressively counter this offensive from all sides, these appeals will only lengthen and attract more support.