Apple Plays Checkers While Epic Plays Fortnite

An Epic trolling of Apple could lead to real change...

It sure feels like we’re in the endgame now. While the days leading up to WWDC were tense, given the Hey situation in particular, yesterday’s maneuver by Epic to goad Apple into banning Fortnite was, well, epic. The immediate lawsuit complete with its own subversive sizzle reel mocking Apple’s famous ‘1984’ ad was well, Jobsian. Showmanship at its finest.

To put it another way: Epic out-Apple’d Apple.

And seemingly caught them flat-footed. Because of course the in-app payment circumvention was simply meant to bring about a ban of one of the most popular games not only in the App Store, but of all time, anywhere. Apple walked right into it and then after the press ate it up, released a statement that came across as flat at best.

Epic has the upper-hand here. And they know that. Which is why they can take on a $2T company with such irreverence. They also have allies in the shape of other entities with varying degrees of leverage — Netflix, Spotify, etc. Even Facebook. Apple has an ally of their own, but it’s a strange bedfellow, to say the least: Google. The company that runs the other app store, of course.

So how does this all play out? Impossible to say right now! My feeling is that it’s advantage League of Extraordinary Apps. And because they’re at least saying the right things in terms of also trying to do this for the little guys, this could have major ramifications. And because the tech behemoths are under government scrutiny, both at home and abroad, this could have really major ramifications.

If I had to guess, I think we’ll see Apple come back quickly with an attempt at a temporary “fix”. Certainly, generic statements aside, Apple would be willing to cut a backroom deal with Epic, as they’ve done with other big developers, to ensure Fortnite remains on iOS devices. But if you believe Epic, that won’t be good enough. And so what we may see is an indication of a “new deal” from Apple, as it were. A promise of a full revisiting of the App Store rules and policies from the ground up. But it will take some time, of course. So in the meantime, let the games begin again?

Maybe that works. Maybe not. Regardless, I suspect any “new deal” wouldn’t necessarily mean a “better deal” for all developers. I think it would just signal Apple’s intent to get a lot more granular with regard to App Store rules and percentage cuts. An acknowledgment that times have changed from when many of the current “strict” (by which I mean, broken routinely and arbitrarily) rules were put in place. Because 2020 is not 2010.

Perhaps more likely is a promise of more transparency in how this all works, and the decision-making process. That would be a good thing, but would it be enough?

To me, this has never primarily been about the 30% cut. That’s part of it, sure. But it’s more about arbitrary rules put in place in a very different world with regard to the mobile landscape. The App Store was never meant to be about Apple making money, if no less than Steve Jobs was to be believed at the time. And yet, it’s now arguably Apple’s second most-important business, after the iPhone.

And so that’s going to make it very hard to put this genie back into the bottle, even if Apple recognizes it’s the “right” thing to do. How will shareholders feel about Apple potentially giving up billions of dollars in revenues? The answer should be that they should feel good about it, because it will ensure that Apple remains both dominant and beloved in the mobile ecosystem. It’s a short-term hit for a long-term payout.

That’s what was so disappointing about Apple’s (I’m sorry, a third-party’s) survey about the state of marketplaces and cuts. Apple is playing the “we’re no different than anyone else” card, when they should be playing the “think different” card. They should be leading by example here and getting ahead of developer strife by doing the “right thing” for their partners. And that’s in quotes because, again, it’s not actually just the right thing for their partners, it’s actually the right thing for themselves too. Because without the changes, one day, there will be no more partners.


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