Millions of angry gamers may soon join the chorus of voices calling for an antitrust crackdown on Apple, amid a standoff-turned-legal battle between the iPhone maker and Epic Games, creator of Fortnite, Axios' Kyle Daly, Ashley Gold and Sara Fischer report.
Why it matters: Apple is one of several Big Tech firms accused of violating the spirit, if not the letter, of antitrust law. A high-profile lawsuit could become a roadmap for either building a case against tech titans under existing antitrust laws or writing new ones better suited to the digital economy.
What's new: Epic launched an effort on Thursday to put Apple on its back foot in the courts of both law and public opinion over the up-to-30% commission it takes on in-app purchases and subscriptions and policies that block most developers from skirting that tax.
- Epic added an option for Fortnite players to either pay it directly to buy in-app currency or pay a premium to go through Apple. The move seemed to be a ploy to get Apple to do exactly what it did next: pull Fortnite from the App Store for breaking in-app payment rules.
- Almost immediately after, Epic revealed it's suing Apple, asking a federal judge to force Apple to relax the restrictions it places on payments and let developers offer their own payment options. Epic argues Apple is unfairly monopolizing the markets for both iOS app distribution and in-app payments.
- Epic also debuted a marketing campaign centered around a video parodying Apple's famous "1984" ad — this time, with Apple itself as the Big Brother figure and a Fortnite character as the iconoclast trying to tear down the system.
The big picture: Apple is now facing antitrust scrutiny at home and abroad, and Epic is just one of several developers clashing with Apple. Others include Spotify, Tinder parent Match Group and the makers of email app Hey.
- They all argue Apple is shaking down entire industries, in some cases putting direct competitors at a disadvantage. (Apple Music, for instance, is a rival service to Spotify.)
Meanwhile: The gaming industry is already upset with Apple.
- Many mobile game makers have built a sizable chunk of their growth strategy around an iOS feature that lets app makers track user activity to, for instance, target would-be users by interest and see if they actually clicked on a mobile ad directing them to install a particular app.
- iOS 14, set for a September release, is poised to change that feature so that users have to expressly opt in to let an app track them. A number of gaming publishers told Axios they expect only 20–30% of users to do so.
- This will make it much harder for gaming publishers, especially smaller ones, to attract new users. (It will also serve as a blow to platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and others that rely on app-install ads for revenue.)
Plus: Media companies are grumbling about a recent change Apple made to its mobile and desktop operating systems to send news readers to Apple News+ to read stories, rather than publishers’ own websites. The grievance adds to the pile of antitrust concerns around how Apple operates its platforms.
Between the lines: Epic is marshaling a considerable mass of pent-up frustration with Apple in an effort to deal serious damage to the company. Even if it loses its court case, it could draw public attention and stepped-up regulatory scrutiny to Apple's practices.
Kyle, Ashley and Sara have more here.