Epic’s Latest Apple Argument Hints At Plans For World Domination

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A loading screen for Fortnite's latest Marvel crossover season, showing Marvel characters surrounding the game's battle bus. (Screenshot: Epic / Kotaku)
A loading screen for Fortnite's latest Marvel crossover season, showing Marvel characters surrounding the game's battle bus. (Screenshot: Epic / Kotaku)

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.

Comments

  • “it merely needs to show that users want choice” I want to choose where I buy my PC games but Epic seems pretty intent on trying to make sure I can’t for as long as they can.

    “Epic wants to utilise its own competing services, for its own apps and for others.” And yet it does not want to allow other services to compete with the EGS by locking in games with exclusive contracts…

    Epic has a choice here. They can just admit that their greed got the better of them and remove the change that caused this in the first place, allowing people to play the game on iOS and approach this in a less underhanded and dishonest way. Or they can continue this charade and have nothing.

    • You have plenty of choice in the PC space. just because a game is exclusive to EGS for a predefined period of time does not remove your choice. you have the choice to wait. PC gamers been putting up with this forever with games like GTA, exclusive to hardware, not software. Throw in other hardware exclusives where only 1 or 2 have made the move to PC, thats a far better arguement than that.
      I dont see a problem with Epic wanting to be a competing platform on iOS. Microsoft got fucked by the EU all those years ago by merely shipping an OS with a web browser. they didnt stop you from installing another. yet apple just glides through saying no you dont do anything unless i allow you? they allow other browsers but only if theyre using apples browser back end, its all just installing a new interface on top of theirs.
      Epic may be greedy, what company isnt? but what they are fighting for is of benefit to every consumer. Apple is the one with the greater greed that needs to step back and stop blocking competition.

      • It’s an interestion question.

        If I build a company that’s widly successful, because I built the best product in the market, shouldn’t I have the right to determine the terms of use on that product?

        The Apple Store isn’t a public comons. It’s all Apple’s tech from the ground up. The point made “Well if you don’t like it, don’t launch on IOS”, is great in theory, but also results in a massive loss in market share.

        If a company isn’t engaging in anti-trust behavior (bullying and agressively undercutting competetion), then can / should they be punished?

        It’s a weird situation. I mean, EPIC doesn’t seem to care all too much about consumer choice when they effectively snipe launch titles out of the open market and lock them behind their personal pay wall.

        I don’t really feel much sympathy on either side of this case. It’s about time companies felt what it was like to be “the consumer”.

      • I’m not saying Apple is innocent in this. I’m more pointing out Epic’s hypocrisy in that they are playing victim on one front and villain on the other. Just because “it’s the way things have been” it doesn’t mean it’s acceptable and the only thing I agree with is the goal of fairer deals for devs. But Epic’s actions at the moment are like the old picture of someone shaking a person’s hand while picking their pocket with the other.

    • I really struggle to see why, despite Epic doing 100% of the work in design and marketing and support and bandwidth of their successful game, they should nonetheless be forced to give away 30% of their entire iOS income (before tax and expenses) to a completely unrelated company whose only service is a website front end and optional credit card facility.

      And it’s somehow EPIC who need to “admit that their greed got the better of them”?!?! Sheesh, skimming 30% off the top of other people’s efforts in exchange for virtually nothing it’s *EPIC* who are the greedy ones? The Epic hate is strong with this one.

      • I’m not saying that Apple is innocent in this and the 30% cut argument is an entirely separate issue. What I’m talking about is that everything Epic is doing is purely to get all the money going to them and getting free rent on Apple’s marketplace, infrastructure, developer support and other services. This is supported by the fact that their ultimate desire is to have an Epic app store where they can sell their stuff without needing to share with anyone else.

        For the record, they are fine with Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo taking a cut of the money. (for now) For some reason they are intent on antagonising Apple (mainly) and Google and to a lesser extent Steam on the PC platform.

        • By that logic should Microsoft get a cut of all payments made using Windows? The notion that Epic is getting “free rent” on Apples marketplace ignores the fact that everyone that owns an iPhone had to pay (a lot) for it and that Apple derives value just from having Fortnite on its device. It reminds me a little of the “using our pipes” argument that scumbag ISP’s in the US have used in the past to try to gouge internet companies by throttling their customer’s connection to that service.

      • angorafish you are for once correct. probs to you, must have been difficult. as for germinalconsequence – they clearly have their head so far up their arse they cant figure out left from right.

      • Because they are not ‘giving away’ 30%, they are paying 30% for the right to access something that other people spent money creating that is valuable to them. It’s kinda like how business works.

        • How monopoly businesses larger than many small countries work, I think you mean; buying out competitors and patents and suing or locking out any other business that tries to break into the market through sheer mass of capital, anti-compete contracts and any other unethical but not outright illegal means at their disposal.

          It’s not how regular business works in a healthy, well functioning and competitive market.

          You are confusing how things work today, right now, including all the ways the system is designed both legally and informally to prioritise the interests of large corporations over everyone else, with this being some inevitability of capitalism.

  • I lost any faith I may have had in Epic Games the first time I tried to buy a battle pass for Fornite (on PC, not the Ipad). I wanted to pay via credit card, but as a guest, not ticking the “hold my card details for next time” check box. The payment process failed out multiple times, shop front not available, until I ticked the box to permit them to hold the credit card information. Went through immediately.

    It’s a pretty underhanded way to deal with your customer, in my book. Sure you can go into your account and remove the credit card details from your profile (and I’m totally sure Epic deletes them at the same time /sarcasm), but the next battle pass, exactly the same: failed, failed, failed, checked the box, works perfectly.

    I don’t by any means believe that Apple is all sweetness and light, but at least when you buy something through the App store, it’s only Apple with my card information. Not having to hand it over to every separate app maker on the planet is a plus for me.

    Besides, if the Apple ban is held up, I’m sure that Epic could spend a little time creating their own own operating system, and designing hardware to run it, just like Apple and Google did so many years ago. Surely that would work well for them, and then Epic can stop complaining and suing other companies who wont let them make up their own rules.

    • Yeah. It’s totally a scheming underhanded deliberate manipulative strategy by Epic to scam you and not at all the usual credit card shit that happens every single day. #Occam’sRazor

      I dunno. Perhaps if they wanted to force you to keep your credit card information on file with them they might have just not gone to the effort of offering you the option to pay without leaving your credit card details on file with them in the first place, saving both you and them a lot of unnecessary effort.

      • Perhaps you didn’t read what I wrote, or perhaps I wasn’t clear. They make the option to not leave them your credit card detail on file available, but the sale will only go through if you check the box saying it’s OK to keep the details. So not really an option is it?
        As a parent, and as someone who has read enough horror stories online of children racking up huge bills buying stuff in online marketplaces, I don’t really want my card details left on file.
        Cheers.

    • Epic was still allowing users to buy things via Apple’s payment system after their game update. You might decide to continue using that system to prevent the developer from seeing your card details and have central control over ongoing payments, if that is important to you.

      The question then becomes whether that service is worth 30%, rather than something closer to the market rate for credit card payments (somewhere around 3-5%). I don’t think 30% is sustainable in the face of competition, but would probably get a reasonable share of sales at 10-15%.

  • I don’t now man, it feels like the pot calling the kettle black at this point.

    EPIC is the same company that snipes PC game launches and LOCKS them behind their own paywall to force customers to buy from them if they want the came at launch. As I customer, I *hate* being bullied into purchasing through a single store, from a compnay who didn’t develop the products themselves, only sniped them from the open market.

    I’m not saying Apple is warm and cuddly. It clearly isn’t. But is it Apple’s fault that they have such a huge share of the market?

    Mind you, I’m not a fan of walled gardens. Maybe if companies weren’t all so ruthlessly competetive with each other they could have agreed on an “open standard” for digital stores.

    • It’s not Apple’s fault that they have such a huge share of the market, it’s Apple’s fault that they are using that monopoly position to extract a 30% tax off the top of the income of developer who wants to play in Apple’s walled garden in exchange for nothiong more than a website and an optional credit card facility.

      And if you’re not a fan of walled gardens, one might think that you might be supportive of Epic’s case given that if Epic are successful in reducing the Apple tax the exact same precendent will thereafter exist for any games appearing on the Epic Game Store as well.

  • Hint…
    Its pretty much written in plain English in the first filing weeks ago they want competition… and they intend to serve themselves and any third parties in that capacity.

    Seriously they don’t want to save millions, they want a slice of the billion dollar cake at 18% revenue cut.

    But my issue is despite all Epics claims in the 2 years. The games are not cheaper cause publishers and Epic are pocketing the difference and are refusing to start a price war with Steam. (Its often cheaper to buy the box – then a digital copy)

    • *THIS* is my issue. I’m only too happy for Epic to compete with Value. Please, go right ahead. But what they’re doing isn’t competition…

      I got (marginally) burnt by No Man’s Sky which I originally purchased on GOG. When the multiplayer patch came out I couldn’t play it with my friends who had all bought it on Steam, so I had to buy it again. It wasn’t particularly painful – I could afford it – it just irked me to spend money again on something I already owned.

    • And those are just labels… behind the scenes Epics “timed exclusives” are deliberately obfuscated to be anticompetitive in its structure. Timed exclusion of Steam (and Steam only) forbids competitive pricing… you can’t go anywhere else and buy it cheaper, which is Epics arguement against Apple, also after appearing on Steam… that Apple is robbing users the option to shop around for a better deal. Even with their completive margin they have never ever start a price war, they never have once delivered consumer value.

      It ma

      • That’s not true at all.

        Epic’s “timed exclusives”, such as Borderlands, have typically been available for sale from a wide variety of storefronts, such as greenmangaming, and even from the usual key reseller grey markets, at various discount levels and with other shop-specific bonuses such as free game credit and the like. Each of those storefronts has the option to offer the game for either full RRP or to offer a discount out of their own (typically 30%) margin. This is what price normally competion means.

        All that’s happening in the case of EGS’s timed exclusives is that the publishers have included only one particular form of DRM with their game (in this case, EGS) instead of offering purchasers a choice between, for example, Denuvo, SecuROM, Steam and EGS.

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