#5: A mighty quest for Epic loot

My centralised platform could beat up your centralised platform.

#5: A mighty quest for Epic loot

While the judge in the Epic vs Apple case will likely take several weeks to hand down a verdict, the trial itself came to a close last week. With the dust therefore settling on what’s been a cheeringly busy few weeks for games-media newsdesks — if you need catching up, I recommend GI.biz’s commendably thorough round-up — I thought I’d share a few thoughts on potentially the most important legal battle the game industry has ever seen.

At top of mind is a question: does Epic still think this was a good idea? A lot of dirty laundry has been aired, and not just of Apple’s. Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo were all dragged into proceedings as well, and were among a lengthy list of companies who hastily petitioned the court to have sensitive documents sealed or redacted. While it’s been an illuminating, even thrilling look into how deals gets done at the very top of the industry, I’m doubtful Epic’s other platform-holder partners will be particularly happy at having been so publicly involved — particularly given the judge’s early warning that any finding against Apple may have implications for other digital storefronts as well.

Nor am I sure that Epic has come out of it all that well. Emails between Epic and Sony, when the former was trying to coax the latter into allowing cross-platform Fortnite play, walk a fine line between persuasion (“Epic [will go] out of its way to make Sony look like heroes”) and bullying. “Epic’s not changing its mind on the issue, so let’s just agree on it now,” wrote Epic’s Joe Kreiner, three whole sentences after reminding PlayStation’s Gio Corsi that Sony’s Unreal Engine 4 license was soon to expire. I admire the brass neck, certainly, and it’s a fine illustration of how powerful Epic has become in the Fortnite and UE4 era. But it does make it harder to picture Epic as the valiant David standing up to the Big Tech Goliath.

When Epic first filed the lawsuit, I’ll admit I took their side. I like Tim Sweeney: he’s affable, open and insightful, and the rare kind of billionaire who actually wants to use their power for good. He’s bought tens of thousands of acres of North Carolina forest, saying he wants “to put my money to work for conservation.” I supported Epic’s bid to challenge Steam, particularly given its attractive developer terms and Valve’s historically laissez-faire attitude to the primary source of its fortune. Challenging Apple felt like a natural extension of that: another major player blithely coining it in through a lofty revenue share it doesn’t do anywhere near enough to truly earn.

As the case has rumbled on, though, it seems to have been more about power than anything else. Just as those emails to PlayStation politely pointed out that Fortnite and Epic were too big to ignore, so the Apple case is really just about who gets to call the shots. On the stand early in the trial, Sweeney repeated his oft-stated claim that Fortnite is no longer a game, but a metaverse — pointing to the in-world rap gigs and movie showings that have cemented Fortnite’s status as a pop-culture phenomenon.

But that metaverse is almost entirely dependent on other people’s platforms, so I’m not entirely sure it’s as persuasive an argument as Sweeney thinks. Only on PC does Epic truly run the show from top to bottom — the one platform where it hosts the client, runs the servers and handles payments and customer service — and that accounts for a fraction of the overall Fortnite playerbase (one in seven, according to one admittedly outdated study). I’m not sure this was ever an argument against big centralised platforms, just an argument that there should be another one, and it should be allowed to sit on top of all the others because it makes a lot of money, and would like to make more.

Given all it has cost Epic so far — upset players who can’t play their favourite game because its maker wants a fight; some presumably pissed-off platform-holder partners; a colossal legal bill — I wonder whether all this has really been worth the bother, whatever the final result. Win or lose, Epic may come to regret it.



Rockstar Games is launching a record label in partnership with legendary Ibiza party CircoLoco. I love Rockstar almost as much as I love dance music, but I have to admit I don’t understand this at all.

Italian game studios are now able to take advantage of a 25% tax cut on development costs, as the government seeks to support an industry that is growing rapidly and skews young: almost 80% of Italy’s developer workforce are aged under 36.

Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot insists the publisher has made “considerable progress” in its bid to transform a company shaken by widespread allegations of harassment and abuse, countering a French report which claimed little had changed in the year since the scandal broke.

I missed this last week, but Kat Bailey’s investigation into Blizzard’s recent struggles is excellent — and in an all-too-rare exception to the rule of these kinds of stories, gets quotes on the record, as well as off. More of this, please.