You have to admit, Epic's battle against Apple's App Store started off looking, well, epic. The PR campaign, which included an in-game Mega Drop, a parody video of Apple's famous 1984 ad, and a series of tweets, followed by a lawsuit against the iPhone maker, as well as Google.
The campaign was all very well-produced and coordinated to make a point. That point was that Epic was on the side of developers everywhere in fighting against the raging corporate machine that Apple has become. The gaming company was also on the side of its users, offering them a less-expensive way to buy the virtual currency used for in-game purchases by avoiding Apple's payment system altogether.
Except Epic isn't the right developer to make this case. It's not Basecamp trying to launch Hey, an innovative new email app that got rejected by Apple. It's a huge company that makes massive profits by getting people to spend their real money on fake money they can then spend on fake goods like virtual skins for their Fortnite avatars. It's hard to make a moral case when your business model inspires the envy of casinos.
Also, Epic isn't the champion of developers. Despite what it says to the contrary, it has an agenda that exists only for its own benefit. Actually, it said as much when it admitted in court filings that if it weren't for "Apple's illegal restraints, Epic would provide a competing App Store on iOS devices, which would allow iOS users to download apps in an innovative, curated store and would provide users the choice to use Epic's or another third-party's in-app payment processing tool."
Epic would be happy to help other developers out by allowing them to put their games in its store. Of course, it plans to charge them for the privilege.
Epic clearly anticipated that Apple would remove Fortnite from the App Store when it added its own in-app payment system. That was the trigger Epic used for filing its lawsuit. At that point, Fortnite still had access to its massive base of iOS users.
Then, Apple said it would revoke Epic Games' developer certificate, which would prevent future updates to Fortnite on iOS, including the season that launched on August 29. To avoid this, all Epic had to do was resubmit a version of Fortnite that no longer violated the App Store guidelines Epic had agreed to. Epic refused, saying it was unwilling to submit a version that complied with what it described as "Apple's illegal restraint."
Epic's main argument seems to be that it thinks the 30 percent commission collected by Apple is unfair because it doesn't provide value in the way a console maker like Microsoft or Sony does. Epic's CEO, Tim Sweeney, apparently has no problem paying the same 30 percent to those companies because there is some value to Fortnite.
The two went to court and a judge reminded Epic that this situation was entirely of its own making, and that it could solve the Fortnite ban without compromising its lawsuit. Whether or not it ever expected Apple to call its bluff and actually terminate its developer account, that's exactly what Apple did.
Now it turns out, Apple very much provides value to Epic, to the tune of a third of its overall user base. Since Fortnite was removed from the App Store, Epic says game play is down 60 percent on that platform. And, in a court filing on Tuesday, Apple says that Fortnite has made over $600 million on the App Store. Remember, that's $600 million collected not for physical products or even services, but fake goods with $0 marginal cost to Epic.
Epic has tried hard to make it seem like Apple has been completely unreasonable at every turn. Its argument has basically been that Apple doesn't have to impose consequences on Epic for violating the App Store rules, so it's acting in a punitive or retaliatory way in doing so. That's absurd considering Apple didn't ask for this fight. In every way, Apple has simply done what it said it would do.
Did Apple have to terminate Epic's developer account? Of course not, in the same way that you don't have to ask the really loud drunk guest who just knocked over your wedding cake to leave the reception. That guy is still not welcome, and no one thinks you're unreasonable for kicking him out. To expect otherwise is not only naive but disingenuous.
Apple explains the same point this way in its most recent legal filing:
Epic attempts to recast Apple's conduct as "retaliation." But the exercise of a contractual right in response to an open and admitted breach is not "retaliation," it is the very thing to which the parties agreed ex ante.
In claiming otherwise, Epic gave up its own credibility. The problem with that, at least from a brand perspective, is that trust is very hard to earn and very easy to lose. Epic obviously has earned plenty of goodwill from its more than 300 million users, but it has placed them in the middle of an unnecessary fight that only serves its own purposes. That's one thing no brand should ever do.
By the way, Apple is now upping the stakes considerably, asking for damages for breach of contract in its latest response. It looks like a loss of credibility might not be the only thing this entire stunt could cost Epic.