Unpacking 'Fortnite' And Apple's Embarrassing Legal Battle

Is it over? Who won? The deets on mobile gaming's biggest lawsuit
Unpacking 'Fortnite' And Apple's Embarrassing Legal Battle

Apple and Epic Games, the people behind Fortnite, have been going to court for over a year now, battling it out over which of them should get your money. As with most of these kinds of corporate suits, both sides have slung money-mudballs to make the other megacorp seem like the bad guy. Epic Games even went so far as to release a parody of Apple's 1984 commercial, casting themselves as the rebel underdog.

As many commenters have noted, if you're playing Fortnite, you probably don't remember the ad this is a parody of.

So both Tims, (Epic's) Sweeney and (Apple's) Cook, have been hyping up their side and claiming the other is a no-good scoundrel. But over what? What exactly happened, again? Even though the legal battle started in 2020, the feud between Epic and Apple feels like it's been going on forever.

And that's because, in internet terms, it has. Tim Sweeney, Demon Martyr of Wall Street and CEO of Epic Games, has complained since at least 2015 that storefronts like Apple's App Store and Valve's Steam could be profitable with just an 8% cut, not a 30% cut like Apple … Epic's Game Store charges 12%, but close enough I guess.

Tim didn't put his money where his mouth was until 2020 when Epic internally launched what they called Project Liberty. Unlike other Project Liberties, it's not trying to advocate for a healthier internet or even preserving a cool boat- no, it was about slipping a secret game store into Fortnite's mobile code. And on August 13, 2020, Epic pushed a tiny amount of code, uncovering their storefront. Revealing their dastardly plan, just like all underdogs do!

Apple and Google both pulled Fortnite from their app stores since having your own checkout is against their policies. Oh yeah, Google was involved in this too, but they really don't want to be and insist that their case is different from the Apple case. Either way, Epic takes both of the mobile titans to court for anticompetitive behavior. How dare they?? Tim Sweeney reply:

Quick sidenote- Tim Sweeney's net worth as of April 2021 is $7.4 billion. And his Project Liberty! which is to, lemme check my notes, "make him boatloads more money." Got it. A real man of the people. Tim, maybe instead of making noises about rights, you should settle down and pay some taxes.

Anyways, Apple countersued Epic, saying they deliberately provoked Apple to take their app off the App Store just to sue them. Dastardly! Epic, what is this, Entrapment? Are you Catherine Zeta-Jones, Epic? At the same time, Apple tried to remove Epic's access to iOS developer tools, but the good Judge blocked it. Take that, Apple! (Who am I supposed to be rooting for? The company worth billions or the one worth a trillion?)

All of that happened in August 2020. Then, because this is the American justice system, after all, we wait.

And wait.

And wait …

Until May 2021. The trial begins, and things immediately get weird. Philosophically weird. Epic says that Fortnite is more than a game; it's a metaverse! Apple says that Roblox is a game, and the games within Roblox are experiences. Roblox, unsure how they got involved, changed their website's language to call their games-within-the-game "experiences." Poor Roblox, minding its own enormous business and getting dragged into a fight.

Most of the trial isn't about Roblox, though. The case focuses mostly on Apple's anti-steering policies in the App Store. The Judge says no more racing games on iPhones. 

Just kidding, not that kind of steering. Anti-steering means that Apple won't let you include anything that could provoke a user to go spend money at a different storefront from an Apple app. So you can't steer users to your store.

After the trial, we had another nice long wait until September 2021. Judge Rogers issued her verdict! She found in favor of Apple on all counts but one: anti-steering. This means Fortnite isn't allowed on the App Store anymore. (Epic says they don't care, they don't even wanna be on the App Store ☹️.) However, it means that developers can now direct their users to other stores from Apple Apps. (Apple says they don't care, they don't even wanna stop steering anymore ☹️.)

Which brings us, roughly, to the present. The case is … over? So wait, why the heck did I write this whole thing? Because Apple has decided to appeal the ruling. Yeah, that's right- they won nine out of 10 charges, but they're the ones appealing. Why the heck would they do that, you might ask? Basically, the ruling said Apple has to allow steering as soon as December 2021, but if Apple appeals, then they could delay that by months. And months. And months.

So, now you're caught up. Fortnite isn't on the App Store. Apple won't allow you to pay some other way yet. And Roblox games are not games at all; they're experiences.

One thing I found interesting about all of this is that Tim Sweeney and Epic Games kept saying they were doing this for the people, man. But when the Judge said early on that maybe it would be best to have a jury rule on this case, both Epic and Apple said, "Uhhhh, no, let's not let regular people tell us what they think." Maybe a jury wouldn't be too sympathetic to the whining of a billionaire? Just a guess.

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