Epic’s latest legal response in its case against Apple rehashes many of the points previously brought up, attempting to show Apple as a monopoly and get Fortnite, with its own payment option, back on the App Store. But it also includes some intriguing insight into the developer’s future plans for Fortnite as a metaverse, as well as a competitor to services like Facebook.
Filed late last night, Epic’s latest motion is part of a series of legal responses between Epic and Apple following its partial loss in last month’s hearing over a temporary restraining order that protected developers’ Unreal Engine access but failed to get Fortnite back on the App Store. Epic lost that case for Fortnite in part because it failed to demonstrate “irreparable harm” to Fortnite, with Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers writing, “Epic Games admits that the technology exists to ‘fix’ the problem easily by deactivating the ‘hotfix.’ That Epic Games would prefer not to litigate in that context does not mean that ‘irreparable harm’ exists.” Unreal Engine, meanwhile, made the cut partially because it was difficult to calculate the future harm that would come to Unreal projects if access was removed.
Epic’s latest filing leans in part on how much more than just a game Fortnite is, using this to elevate the stakes and suggest far-reaching future damage to Epic’s plans. “People prefer Fortnite over other games in part because Fortnite facilitates a community,” Epic writes, hyping up Fortnite’s functioning as a social space. It calls the game “one of the world’s largest event venues” and highlights recent in-game events like Travis Scott’s performance, movie screenings, and its showing of a series of We The People roundtable videos about racial justice. Epic writes, “Particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic, such events are critical to connecting friends and families worldwide. Apple has driven a stake in the Fortnite community.”
Epic also details how Fortnite’s removal from the App Store will harm its future plans to barely be a game at all. Epic writes, “The removal of Fortnite from iOS also substantially impedes a major Epic initiative — evolving Fortnite into a full-fledged ‘metaverse,’ a multi-purpose, persistent, interactive virtual space. Harm like this to Epic’s flagship app cannot be calculated in damages.” Epic notes that “the success of Fortnite’s evolution into a metaverse depends on having a large userbase, which will make interacting on the metaverse a better experience for potential new users.”
In an attached declaration, Epic CEO Tim Sweeney writes,
One of the factors that makes Fortnite so special is its groundbreaking ability to provide a forum for a wide variety of virtual social experiences such as concerts, movie nights, and social and political discussions all in a single, freely accessible world. In the future, Epic plans to offer many more events and new features in Fortnite, with the ultimate goal of creating the Fortnite Metaverse, a robust real-time, three-dimensional social medium complete with its own economy, where people will be able to create and engage in any number of shared experiences… The vitality of Fortnite as a social space will increasingly depend on access for mobile users.
Not just content to one day be its own contained universe, Epic’s filing also shows some of the other things it would like Fortnite to be. For one, Epic calls out itself as a competitor to the App Store, along the same lines as the shots the Epic Games Store fired at Steam: “But Epic does not want or need Apple to provide it with distribution or payment processing services, for free or otherwise. Epic wants to utilise its own competing services, for its own apps and for others.” Sweeney’s declaration even highlights how Epic has dealt with the supposed competition Apple seems so afraid of, writing that Magic: The Gathering Arena is free on the Epic Games Store and doesn’t use Epic’s payment system but, rather than suffer financial or reputational harm as a result of this, as Apple seems to fear, Sweeney writes that “Epic still benefits from including the game as part of its curated set of offerings through EGS by bringing more players to the store. Epic also benefits from creating relationships with new developers who use Epic’s distribution avenues.”
Epic also writes that “The communal experience of the Fortnite platform, the free flow of thoughts and ideas within the game’s many virtual spaces, and the game’s utility as an outlet for social connection, have led Fortnite to be considered a challenger and substitute for Facebook, Snapchat, and others.” While I’ve yet to catch up with my Facebook friends in Fortnite instead of the hellscape that is Mark Zuckerberg’s site, it’s an intriguing proposition, one that raises interesting questions about the similarities between video games and social media that are certainly part of Fortnite’s popularity.
While there’s no denying the Fortnite phenomenon extends far beyond the game itself, I’m fascinated by Epic’s ambitions to make Fortnite so much more than it is. The latest season’s focus on Marvel seems to me to be its strongest metaverse ambition yet, attempting to weave its own canon into a separate, strongly-established universe. Marvel has nothing to do with Fortnite, essentially, but it easily feels like Fortnite when you drop it inside the game. This certainly demonstrates Fortnite’s crossover potential to other interested franchises. For players, Fortnite can be whatever you want it to be — a hangout space where you mess around with your friends, a hyper-competitive esports environment, or a springboard to a streaming career. Through its crossovers and in-game events, Epic shows Fortnite itself to have that same flexibility: you can put everything in it, from superheroes to famous musicians, and come out with something that feels like Fortnite without really being Fortnite at all. Why not be Second Life? Why not go fully Ready Player One? (Except please don’t, though.)
Fortnite hasn’t quite met these ambitions yet. In terms of the challenge Epic’s payment system provided, Epic writes in its document that during the time its own, cheaper payment option existed on iOS, 53.4% of users chose it over Apple’s. It’s a significant amount, but not a runaway majority; I’m curious if the numbers would have been different if Epic’s payment system survived into the new season and its new battle pass. But Epic doesn’t need to be wildly successful out of the gate; it merely needs to show that users want choice. It seems that choice isn’t just between payment options or what store you download the game from, but between social media platforms and even reality itself.
Apple’s response to Epic is due September 18, with another hearing set for September 28. We’ll see how the two companies keep duking it out.