One of the most interesting tech stories of the year has been major developers rounding on Apple and criticizing the company’s App Store policies on iOS. Some of the biggest tech giants are involved, most notably Microsoft and Epic Games. In fact, Apple and Epic Games are currently locked in a legal battle over the matter.
Microsoft has sided with Epic on the matter and been a vocal critic of Apple’s practices. However, the Redmond company may find itself brought into any ruling against the App Store because of policies on its own Xbox platform.
Apple is threatening to stop Epic accessing its iOS and macOS developer features, including its Unreal Engine SDK. The company’s stance comes from the popular Fortnite game violating the terms of the App Store.
Those terms state all developers must give Apple 30% of all revenue they make. As long as the freemium Fortnite was on the store, it was paying this revenue. However, Epic also provides users a way to play the game through their own website. This violates Apple’s terms, with the Cupertino giant stopping dev’s from offering alternatives.
Apple reacted by banning Fortnite from the store because of the alternative route to play the game. Epic hit back by suing the company for antitrust monopoly practices. Microsoft took the side of Epic Games following its own complaints against Apple.
The company says it sides with Epic Games in the legal battle through an official legal statement. Kevin Gammill, General Manager of Gaming Developer Experiences at Microsoft, says the removal of the Unreal Engine harms all developers.
Microsoft has been a long term critic of Apple and its App Store practices during 2020. In June, Microsoft President and Chief Counsel Brad Smith suggested Apple was creating a monopoly by charging developers 30% of their revenue on the App Store.
What About Xbox?
In an ironic twist, Microsoft’s own Xbox practices could be affected by any ruling against Apple. Like the App Store, the Xbox platform similarly locks in developers with a revenue fee. Like Apple’s services, dev’s are not allowed to bypass this requirement with their own access to purchase.
Yvonne Gonzales Rogers of the District Court for the Northern District of California says Epic Games’ lawsuit against Apple could have “serious ramification” for gaming giants Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo, saying:
Indeed, Sony, Nintendo and Microsoft all operate similar walled gardens or closed platform models as Apple, whereby the hardware, operating system, digital marketplace, and IAPs are all exclusive to the platform owner.
Epic Games’ avers that the iOS platform is unique from other gaming devices. Specifically, Epic Games argues that gaming consoles and computers require electrical outlets and separate screens and thus lack capacity for mobile play, which demands portable, battery operated, and cellularly connected devices with built-in screens.
Yet, Epic Games repeatedly ignored discussion of gaming laptops, tablets, and the Nintendo Switch, all of which can be played in a mobile fashion. These devices could have significant overlap with the iOS platform in terms of the ultimate consumer.
Naturally, not the role is reversed Microsoft completely disagrees. Speaking to The Verge, Xbox chief Phil Spencer argues Microsoft’s practices are different to Apple’s:
If you just look at the scale, there are a billion mobile phones on the planet. Those are general compute platforms. A game console does one thing really; it plays video games. It’s sold, for us, at a loss. Then you make money back by selling content and services on top. The model is just very, very different from something the scale of Windows, or iOS, or Android.
I think there are 200 million game consoles that are sold in a generation across all of our platforms. That’s less than a year of phone sales. It’s just not even close. People say, well, the scale shouldn’t matter. It actually does. When you start looking at how we look at open platforms and access, those things do matter. From a legal perspective, they matter.
It seems Spencer’s entire argument rests on the fact Xbox is not as popular as iOS. As this is not a popularity contest, I think his argument won’t wash. Has the gaming industry shot itself in the foot by going after Apple?