Spotify seemed well prepared when its EC antitrust complaint against Apple last March came with its own spin-off website detailing its issues. Now Epic Games, the maker of Fortnite, has taken that up several levels.
Yesterday it sued Apple alleging “use of a series of anti-competitive restraints and monopolistic practices”, and that lawsuit came with its own launch trailer: ‘Nineteen Eighty-Fortnite‘, a parody of Apple’s famous 1984 TV ad introducing its Macintosh computer. The trailer was published online, and also shown within Fortnite to players.
No, this wasn’t improvised on the hoof: Epic Games had been preparing for this dispute, and in fact it made a calculated move to provoke Apple into banning Fortnite from its App Store in order to fire the starting gun on the lawsuit. Not to mention Google, which Epic Games is also suing over its app store policies. And this is all very relevant to Spotify’s ongoing battle with Apple, and the formal EC investigation that last March’s complaint led to.
Here’s what happened yesterday. Epic Games announced a ‘Mega Drop’ promotion, where Fortnite players could get discounts on their purchases of the game’s V-Bucks currency – but on iOS and Android they’d only get the discounts if they used a new ‘Epic direct payment’ option, paying the company directly without using Apple or Google’s in-app purchases system.
Epic Games knew exactly what this very public challenge to the tech giants’ payment systems (30% cuts included) would mean, and they duly both removed Fortnite from their app stores. It still works on iOS and Android devices, but players won’t be able to download updates for the game. “When Fortnite Chapter 2 – Season 4 releases you will NOT be able to play the new Season,” Epic Games explained to them.
Apple and Google have both made statements – you can read Apple’s here and Google’s here. “Epic enabled a feature in its app which was not reviewed or approved by Apple, and they did so with the express intent of violating the App Store guidelines regarding in-app payments that apply to every developer who sells digital goods or services,” said Apple.
“For game developers who choose to use the Play Store, we have consistent policies that are fair to developers and keep the store safe for users. While Fortnite remains available on Android, we can no longer make it available on Play because it violates our policies,” said Google.
Unsurprisingly, Spotify has welcomed the news. “We applaud Epic Games’ decision to take a stand against Apple and shed further light on Apple’s abuse of its dominant position. Apple’s unfair practices have disadvantaged competitors and deprived consumers for far too long,” said its spokesperson in a statement sent to Music Ally. “The stakes for consumers and app developers large and small couldn’t be higher and ensuring that the iOS platform operates competitively and fairly is an urgent task with far-reaching implications.”
It’s going to take a while for the dust to settle, given how hard Epic Games has gone in on Apple in particular. Note, it’s not just about the company wanting to keep all its V-Bucks purchase revenues: it wants to compete with the App Store itself.
“But for Apple’s illegal restraints, Epic would provide a competing app store on iOS devices, which would allow iOS users to download apps in an innovative, curated store and would provide users the choice to use Epic’s or another third-party’s in-app payment processing tool,” explained its lawsuit. That’s not a challenge that Apple is going to back down from in a hurry.
If you’ve followed the recent history of the games industry, particularly the ‘Gamergate‘ culture war that kicked off in 2014, the tone of Epic Games’ rhetoric yesterday left a nasty taste in the mouth. Even though it’s a spoof of a specific Apple advert, targeting a huge audience of young gamers with messages like “join the fight” is at best tone-deaf, and at worst a cynical piece of attempted radicalisation.
Still, in OUR world, the industry where the two biggest subscription music services are already embroiled in a bitter antitrust battle, the Fortnite lawsuits are very significant. It’s a big moment in the debates about how app stores (and tech platforms more generally) should work, and what that means both for the music services run by those platforms’ owners, and their competitors.