Epic games, the creators of Fortnite, is suing both Apple and Google for violating antitrust laws, and is urging everybody to “join the fight” against their alleged monopoly over the app payment processing market, with #freefortnite.
On Thursday last week, Apple removed the immensely popular online game, Fortnite, from its app store for breaching their in-app payment guidelines. Shortly after, Google followed suit and removed the game from the Google Play Store.
In an effort to fight against the alleged abuse of a dominant market position, Epic promptly filed lawsuits against both companies’ “anti-competitive restrictions on mobile device marketplaces”, and launched a #freefortnite campaign on social media to harness the anger of Fortnite’s loyal fanbase.
Fortnite, released in 2017, has three similar but separate game versions, with the Battle Royale version being free-to-play on iOS and Android devices. Gamers who want to access other versions, in-game cosmetic upgrades and exclusive game updates must make purchases for these. This unique business model made the Fortnite creators $1.8 billion in revenue in 2019.
Fortnite’s removal from the app stores came after the creators bypassed the tech monoliths’ in-app payment systems and offered players to pay them directly to receive a 20% discount on its in-game currency, thereby cutting out Apple and Google, who take a 30% cut of app sales.
Epic’s epic 60 page lawsuit and video spoof
Clearly, Epic anticipated the removal of Fornite from Apple and Google’s app stores following their discount offering, and responded to the removal by filing two 60 page lawsuits against Apple and Google, and called on Fortnite’s supporters to “join the fight” on social media against Apple with #freefortnite. The Fornite Team also fanned the flames of their war on anti-competitiveness by launching a video spoof of Apple’s “1984” commercial.
Epic insinuates in its video and in its legal filings that Apple has become the very kind of monopoly it once opposed – a “behemoth seeking to control markets, block competition and stifle innovation”.
In other statements from Epic, the company alleges “Apple’s removal of Fortnite is yet another example of Apple flexing its enormous power in order to impose unreasonable restraints and unlawfully maintain its 100% monopoly over the iOS in-app payment processing market.”
Don’t be evil
Epic also hit out at Google’s “Don’t Be Evil” slogan, asserting that the company has “relegated its motto to nearly an afterthought.”
The motto was first suggested sometime at the beginning of the millennium, and possibly by a former Employee, Paul Buchheit, the creator of Gmail.
Ironically, it appears that Google has come under the spotlight for exploiting its users and app creators who use their app store to sell apps.
Buchheit said he wanted the slogan “to be a bit of a jab at a lot of the other companies, especially our competitors, who at the time, in our opinion, were kind of exploiting the users to some extent”.
The removal has meant that on iOS devices, Fortnite players can no longer update the game. Android users can still download the game and its updates from other app stores.
Cases against giant tech firms pile up
Apple’s domineering decision to remove Fortnite has come not long after the US House of Representatives’ antitrust subcommittee. At the end of last month, four of America’s most powerful tech CEOs–Apple’s Tim Cook, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, and Alphabet’s Sundar Pichai were bombarded with questions on their alleged anti-competitive business practices; including the purchasing of competing businesses and digital content theft. Not to much surprise, the big tech CEOs rejected the idea of their firms being portrayed as merciless, monopolistic corporations abusing their power to maintain their dominant market positions.
Fortnite is not the first “smaller” tech firm to have run-ins with The Big Tech Four. Earlier this year in June, Donald R. Cameron, who created the baby name app, Lil’ Baby Names, and Pure Sweat Basketball, filed a lawsuit against Apple’s 30% platform fee and $99 annual development fee.
Epic has been trying to form a coalition of tech companies who are uniformly constrained by Apple and Google’s App Store requirements.
A Spotify spokesperson said “We applaud Epic Games’ decision to take a stand against Apple and shed further light on Apple’s abuse of its dominant position.”
Now with several lawsuits, congress hearings, jibes and social media campaigns harnessing gamer fanbase loyalty and anger, is it possible for change to come to the alleged abusive monopolistic power of firms such as Apple and Google?
At the end of the Congress meeting last June, US representative David Cicilline said “This hearing has made one fact clear to me. These companies as they exist today have monopoly power. Some need to be broken up. All need to be properly regulated and held accountable.”
What do Epic really want?
Epic games do not seek a monetary settlement, but are asking the US government to apply already existing antitrust laws to Google and Apple’s alleged monopoly which seemingly stops other tech competitors from selling their apps elsewhere.
Epic games is using its mass following of Fortnite gamers to bring this case and the perceived monopolistic powers to the forefront of the public eye.
Tim Sweeny, Epic’s CEO, tweeted “Apple said Epic is seeking a special deal, but that’s not true. We’re fighting for open platforms and policy changes equally benefiting all developers. And it’ll be a hell of a fight!”
Sweeny also said “All iOS developers are free to process payments directly, all users are free to install software from any source. In this endeavor, Epic won’t seek nor accept a special deal just for ourselves.”
Not Epic’s first lawsuit against a tech giant
This isn’t the first time that Epic Games has taken on large tech companies, who in 2018 managed to force Sony and Nintendo to enable cross-play of Fortnite. However, the case against Apple and Google hits at the heart of the nature of their anti-competitive business practices, and you can be sure that Apple and Google won’t willingly give up their market leader positions. The laws in place to stop monopolistic tech powers will be put to the test, and Epic will need to prove that Apple and Google have monopolies over their app stores, which in theory they should be able to do, at least in the case against Apple, where no other app stores on a device running iOS are permitted.
Android users can download the game directly from Epic Games, and access its updates, but for someone running iOS it’s not possible, and current users of iOS devices who have Fortnite won’t be able to get the next update, Fortnite Chapter 2 – season 4.
Can Epic Games win?
The awareness of the power of firms like Apple and Google is starting to build momentum, and people are waking up the fact that these companies perhaps don’t have their users’ best interests at heart; especially Google, who have been accused of listening to private conversations.
The legal process for antitrust laws is very slow. If Epic wins, it will change the whole industry, and end some of the reliance app developers have on tech giants. Even if they lose, it will strengthen the case against the power of these companies and will help towards creating a more level playing field.