Another day, another update that does not sound terribly good for Epic in its ongoing fight against Apple, as the Fortnite developer tries to get some regulation in place to ensure that the 30% cut Apple takes in its iOS app store is altered or the platform opens up more to competition.
A court has just ruled that for now, Apple cannot be forced to put Fortnite back on the app store, after it was taken off due to breaking the rules there by sidestepping the 30% cut with an update that allowed direct payment to Epic. But they also said Apple cannot take further, more destructive action against Epic by going after the entire Unreal engine, which would cause a ton of collateral damage to games and apps not owned by Epic at all.
The court documents reveal some pretty stunning statistics about just what Epic has given up to pursue this possibly quixotic fight with Apple:
- 116 million mobile users on iOS.
- Of those, 73 million only played Fortnite on iOS and no other platforms.
- 2.5 million DAUs on iOS, which represents 10% of Fortnite 25 million DAU total.
There’s no word on how many millions of users Epic has given up with its similar ban on the Google Play store. Still millions, no doubt, though less than this, and Fortnite can still technically run on Android devices outside of the Play store.
Both Apple and Epic are touting victories from this last ruling, Apple saying they’re grateful the court recognizes that Epic deliberately broke its rules, Epic saying they’re grateful the court is stopping action against Unreal. And yet the longer this goes on, the more of an uphill battle this seems like it’s going to be for Epic who has to convince the courts about the merits of their situation on a number of fronts.
First, they seem to be getting dinged for their “ploy” of getting Apple to ban them from the store by deliberately breaking the rules to circumvent the 30% cut. That’s been brought up a few times.
Then, they have to convince the court that the 30% cut is oppressive and unjustified when it’s industry standard across Apple, Google, Steam, Xbox, PlayStation and a ton of other similar storefronts.
They also have to convince the court that Apple is acting “monopolistically” and even though these numbers are big, losing 10% of your active players because of an app store ban does not exactly show that there aren’t alternative platforms for your game to succeed on if you want to distribute elsewhere.
As ever, I remain convinced that Epic is technically “right” here, that Apple does have an oppressive monopoly on mobile, and the entire mobile ecosystem needs to be opened up to be more like PC with competing stores. Over on PC, Epic’s tactic of making their own store with a more generous revenue cut for developers than Steam allowed them to practice what they preach. But they literally cannot offer that on Apple devices because of the closed ecosystem.
But legally, I think we’re seeing how perilous this argument is, and just how much Epic has to prove in order to get the courts to side with them over Apple. And from the sound of everything we’ve heard regarding this case so far, it seems like those making these rulings seem pretty skeptical of their arguments.
Apple has repeatedly said that Fortnite could come back to the app store tomorrow if they simply abided by their existing policies, but that would require Tim Sweeney and Epic to “bend the knee” so to speak, and it’s hard to see that happening.
But it’s also hard to see Epic’s dream ending for this, some sort of regulation that does…what exactly? Reduces Apple’s cut to a lower level? Forces them to allow the Epic Games Store on iOS? All of that seems extremely unlikely in the face of a wider market where the 30% cut is standard. Even if Epic may be “right,” they have a long, long way to go for that to manifest in any substantive action against Apple. This could take years, and in the meantime, I think that being off iOS drastically hurts Fortnite’s long term ambitions of becoming the foundation of the Metaverse, as how can you do that and effectively not exist on mobile?
We’ll have to keep tracking the progress of this case, but for now, early indications do not seem all that favorable for Epic, no matter what you may think of Apple’s monolithic market position.
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