:PogChamp
August 13, 2020 1:26 PM   Subscribe

Today was a big day for cyberpunk corpo-warfare! First, Epic Games (creators of Fortnite) pushed an update with a new option for buying the in-game currency: $9.99 through the App Store, or $7.99 through Epic, bypassing Apple's in-app payment system and 30% cut. Apple responded by kicking Fortnite out of the App Store. Epic immediately responded with a 65-page lawsuit complaint and a parody of Apple's famous 1984 Macintosh ad.

Previously: in-app purchase disputes between Apple and Basecamp/Hey.com.
posted by theodolite (116 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
 
The lawsuit complaint is very readable and has this belter of an opening:
In 1984, the fledgling Apple computer company released the Macintosh—the first mass-market, consumer-friendly home computer. The product launch was announced with a breathtaking advertisement evoking George Orwell’s 1984 that cast Apple as a beneficial, revolutionary force breaking IBM’s monopoly over the computing technology market. Apple’s founder Steve Jobs introduced the first showing of the 1984 advertisement by explaining, “it appears IBM wants it all. Apple is perceived to be the only hope to offer IBM a run for its money . . . . Will Big Blue dominate the entire computer industry? The entire information age? Was George Orwell right about 1984?”

Fast forward to 2020, and Apple has become what it once railed against: the behemoth seeking to control markets, block competition, and stifle innovation. Apple is bigger, more powerful, more entrenched, and more pernicious than the monopolists of yesteryear. At a market cap of nearly $2 trillion, Apple’s size and reach far exceeds that of any technology monopolist in history.
posted by adrianhon at 1:28 PM on August 13, 2020 [19 favorites]


I hope the plucky underdog multi-billion dollar company defeats the trillion dollar company.
posted by Reyturner at 1:38 PM on August 13, 2020 [90 favorites]


Indie devs paying THIRTY PERCENT to Apple on each sale is astronomical and unacceptable. That's on top of all their expensive hardware and developer software. In comparison, Epic only takes 12% from games sold on their Epic Games Store and gives away their Unreal game engine -. arguably the most sophisticated game engine on the market - and instead only takes a small cut past the first $1 million in revenue for all games made with it.

So yeah, I'm totally hoping that Epic fucks Apple's shit up.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 1:48 PM on August 13, 2020 [47 favorites]


FWIW, Google also takes a 30% cut.
posted by Thorzdad at 1:55 PM on August 13, 2020 [4 favorites]


2%-3% might be fair.
posted by not_that_epiphanius at 1:58 PM on August 13, 2020 [5 favorites]


Steam also takes 30% up to the first $10 million, and then reduces to 25%.

It's unclear if 12% is "more fair" or if it's a large company trying to undercut a fair rate for distribution in order to woo developers to their new(ish) distribution store.

As far as Apple taking a cut of in-game purchases: seems fine to me. If they didn't have a policy of doing that, what's to stop literally every dev from "selling" their game for free on the Apple store, and then having the real price be an in-game purchase?

I'm not super happy that there's only a handful of options, but these aren't just middle-men. The "stores" are providing legitimate value not only in exposing the game to an audience, but in actually distributing the game, as well as providing matchmaking and other connectivity features at times.
posted by explosion at 2:02 PM on August 13, 2020 [14 favorites]


Honestly, I’ve always thought that while the 30% cut for normal app purchases could be argued as fair, the 30% cut for in-app purchases struck me as a “fuck you, we own you” move
posted by AirExplosive at 2:03 PM on August 13, 2020 [14 favorites]


Fuck Google, too. Sure, they allow sideloading, but it’s not exactly a cakewalk.

I would encourage everyone to read the legal complaint. It addresses pretty much every counterargument I’ve seen online and in this thread. Assuming you think developers should be able to, you know, eat and buy clothes, they do not have any choice about whether to publish on Apple or Google.

Matchmaking and connectivity features? OK, if I forgo those, can I get a discount on the 30% cut? If I agree not to be featured on the App Store, can I get a discount? You basically can on Microsoft’s store.
posted by adrianhon at 2:06 PM on August 13, 2020 [10 favorites]


App store? What I'm unclear about is who is insane enough to be playing Fortnite on a tablet or phone?
posted by GallonOfAlan at 2:08 PM on August 13, 2020 [6 favorites]


Honestly, I’ve always thought that while the 30% cut for normal app purchases could be argued as fair, the 30% cut for in-app purchases struck me as a “fuck you, we own you” move

the "problem" there, is that you then have a million "free" apps on the app store that you then pay for once you launch it.
posted by Reyturner at 2:09 PM on August 13, 2020 [5 favorites]


I wish Apple and Google would enforce a 90% cut on "in app" purchases in games. The "Free to Play" or "Free to Start" models should both die in a fire.
posted by 3j0hn at 2:12 PM on August 13, 2020 [27 favorites]


What is so outrageous about developers being able to publish their apps on phones and tablets without paying anything to Apple or Google? Who cares if you have a million free apps? Phones and tablets are computers, and like any Macs and PCs, we should be allowed to install whatever software we like.

As it has done for decades with the Mac, Apple would still make money on selling hardware, and it can still run its own App Store which would undoubtedly be very popular. And it can still help users keep secure by other means.
posted by adrianhon at 2:12 PM on August 13, 2020 [22 favorites]


I use and like Apple products. I have no idea what a fair fee is and how much its costs to run the store, handle payments, do all the app testing and review, and everything else development wise that makes it a successful and secure platform. I mean that costs money and they should be compensated and its fair for it to be not just cost recovery, but profitable. But yeah even as somewhat of an Apple fan, 30% *feels* super-excessive and just arbitrary.
posted by inflatablekiwi at 2:15 PM on August 13, 2020 [1 favorite]


Pretty ballsy move when there is an outstanding EO that bans Tencent from doing business in the US in like 5 weeks. I know there is a "clarification" that the EO only affects WeChat, but not sure if that is anything more than a "pinky swear" from the Trump WH.

In any case, and not speaking for my employer in absolutely any way, but companies that get booted for their marketing stunts over long, long established App Store policies (having an entire movie and 60+ page lawsuit ready to go means this was nothing but a marketing stunt) can fuck off over to Android land and their ~30% of the app revenue market.
posted by sideshow at 2:17 PM on August 13, 2020 [5 favorites]


GallonofAllan, according to this,
Since its release, SensorTower estimates, the game has reached 133.2 million installs and seen $1.2 billion in spending worldwide on Apple’s App Store alone.
posted by MythMaker at 2:19 PM on August 13, 2020


In comparison, Epic only takes 12% from games sold on their Epic Games Store and gives away their Unreal game engine -. arguably the most sophisticated game engine on the market - and instead only takes a small cut past the first $1 million in revenue for all games made with it.

FWIW, Epic only charges 12% because they sell it all below cost. As the store gets bigger the costs are only going to go up. There's also the serious amount of resources Epic is having to blow catching up to Valve's functionality. The only reason Epic can even afford this gambit is because Fortnite is a money printing machine. Not to mention Epic is basically splitting the community up by money hatting every indie title they can get their hands on while simultaneously piggy backing on Valve's stuff *cough*SteamVR*cough* because making it themselves would be too long, hard, and expensive a job.

The ultimate problem is that there's not really a fair way to charge fixed cost price to be paid for a service that needs to continue indefinitely. It's basically saying "I'll give you 12/30/whatever% of the up front price and you do something basically in perpetuity". And that's a thing because individual developers can't be expected to run their own infrastructure from now until the heat death of the universe. The larger the company, the bigger you have a fighting chance of keeping access to things and that's exactly what an app store is about.

What's the solution? Effectively there isn't a good one that doesn't screw someone. The ideal solution in terms of those who benefit paying for the service would be to charge the users a monthly fee to provide access to their game library but the problem is all it takes is one service to put the fee on the backend and it wrecks the entire pricing market. So where do you go? You basically turn it into bill and keep and hope the cycle sustains itself in the mean time? Of course right now that's a trivial thing because times are good, things are stable, and there's enough revenue coming in. But what happens when the plates start to wobble?

If anything, the entire industry needs to come together to take ownership of the situation and provide a solution that doesn't depend on a few companies staying in business. Digital license locker, store front end, everything available on it, distribution to consumers either through charging either the front or back end for the service. Like while you're on the service you pay X% and if you go broke the industry store entity retains the right to continue collecting revenue and its share, and send the remainder to the rights holders who bought the scrap.

This balkanization cannot possibly hold in the long term but Epic sure as fuck isn't helping the situation by giving unrealistic expectations to developers.
posted by Your Childhood Pet Rock at 2:19 PM on August 13, 2020 [11 favorites]


The thing is that vetting and delivering a $1 app costs Apple the same as vetting and delivering a $500 app so the tax they are extracting is not really proportional to the benefit.
posted by Lanark at 2:20 PM on August 13, 2020 [6 favorites]


Itch.io publishes many fine games and its cut is 0%. Most developers choose to give them more than 0%, obviously, but let’s not think that anything below 30% or 12% is somehow dumping.
posted by adrianhon at 2:23 PM on August 13, 2020 [18 favorites]


The "stores" are providing legitimate value not only in exposing the game to an audience, but in actually distributing the game, as well as providing matchmaking and other connectivity features at times.

That's where the monopoly comes in though, right? The EU once made Microsoft offer alternative default browsers on Windows, and IE was just a free browser that at least didn't charge websites percentages on their income. The parallel here would be to force Apple and Google to offer users the easy choice of any number of app stores - not necessarily including the Apple/Google ones - each of which could freely set its own terms of distribution.
posted by trig at 2:23 PM on August 13, 2020 [5 favorites]


There's two notions at odds here:

- Apple's design of their iOS environment as a "walled garden" is a feature they advertise and protect. Allowing devs and users to bypass the current model of installing apps means that any amount of malicious software. Apple decided a while ago that if you want a Wild West of "download whatever you want", pick an Android or MS device.

- They are effectively a monopoly because there just isn't a lot of competition between OSes, and customers should have a right to modify their device how they like it.

I'm not sure where the happy medium is. If you fuck up your car with a shitty non-standard filter or whatever, most users will say "oh I fucked up," and not "this car is shitty." But for computers, as often as not, they'll blame the device, and so I truly do sympathize with the choice to screen apps before they're available to users.
posted by explosion at 2:25 PM on August 13, 2020 [6 favorites]


The other thing is that a lot of people have forgotten how mobile billing worked in the time before the app store. Billing was done ad hoc via premium SMS and carriers a lot of the time. People basically got ripped off left, right, and center while the carrier didn't give a flying fuck. What were you going to do? The whole attraction of an app store with a single point of transaction and a single point of support was that you didn't have to go trapsing around the fucking Internet trying to find the website of scammers trying to extract revenue from premium SMS and then arguing with the carrier to stop it, little alone reverse the billing.

Has it swung back too hard in the direction? Probably. But where can you put a line as to where you can clearly tell who should be able to bypass the app store simply because they already have an extensive billing system of their own? This is especially the case when a lot of these digital services already run on fuck all margins and are budgeted to have payment processing overhead of 3% not 30%. It's just a giant clusterfuck all round.
posted by Your Childhood Pet Rock at 2:27 PM on August 13, 2020 [7 favorites]


explosion: You can also “download whatever you want” on a Mac.
posted by adrianhon at 2:27 PM on August 13, 2020 [2 favorites]


Itch.io publishes many fine games and its cut is 0%. Most developers choose to give them more than 0%, obviously, but let’s not think that anything below 30% or 12% is somehow dumping.

Itch doesn't publish multi dozen gigabyte monsters to tens of millions of people.
posted by Your Childhood Pet Rock at 2:31 PM on August 13, 2020 [2 favorites]


What I'm unclear about is who is insane enough to be playing Fortnite on a tablet or phone?

At least one such insane person is my kid. The presence of auto-fire (if your crosshairs are on an enemy and you have a weapon and ammo you'll fire automatically) MOSTLY makes up for the ways in which it is clunky on iPad. In any event, he can keep up with his buds. He gets better frame rate than I do on the Switch, for sure.

What an interesting mess. What's the opposite of a "a pox on both their houses"? I genuinely think there's a case to be made that Apple/Google deserve some bit of the cashflow, at least for the overhead, but also that the amount is onerous. And it's particularly strange to note that Fortnite is absolutely 100% free to play - from a competitive POV there is no advantage to be had no matter how much in-game currency you spend. You can buy a big bad gaming machine and that assuredly WILL help you, but dances and skins are all you pay Epic for.
posted by dirtdirt at 2:32 PM on August 13, 2020 [3 favorites]


30% sounds like an insane premium over normal credit card fees (3-4%?). But I gladly admit I explicitly pay for in-app subscriptions in the App Store, even when I don't have to, because I know it's going to be handled in a consistent and reliable manner. And there are too many companies with my credit card number already, who have very different ideas of how billing and security should be handled.

I don't even know what other than billing the App Store provides in 2020. The Game Center that I haven't used in eight years (and large companies build their own already)? The App Store that literally has ads in it for something that I didn't search for, and has regular accusations of rating and download number tampering? The malware scanning which seems arbitrary and capricious?
posted by meowzilla at 2:38 PM on August 13, 2020 [4 favorites]


Your Childhood Pet Rock: Most iOS games are not multi-gigabyte and itch.io supports multi-gigabyte games. The cost to retrieve a gigabyte on AWS measures in the single cents. And if itch.io is sustainable at its current userbase, I am sure it would sustainable with tens of millions of users.

My point is not that itch.io is the best store for everything. It’s that alternate models to Epic and Steam and the App Store already exist, and that if you design and optimise for different things, you can reach a fee that is much lower than existing stores, while still being sustainable.
posted by adrianhon at 2:39 PM on August 13, 2020 [9 favorites]


Blast from the past: in 2009, the company doubleTwist, which makes software that allows users to access their iTunes library from any device, made their own parody of the 1984 ad. Video here.
posted by Apocryphon at 2:42 PM on August 13, 2020 [2 favorites]


Apple and Google take a cut of in-app purchases because Apple and Google handle the payment processing, much like Visa or Mastercard take a cut of transactions when you buy something at a store with your credit card. Whether 30% fair is up for debate. (FWIW, Visa charges 1.51% plus 10 cents.) The advantage of letting Apple/Google handle in-app purchases is that, as meowzilla notes, it's reliable. It keeps your payment information secure, and it makes it easy to cancel recurring subscriptions—plus it's easier for the consumer to give you their money in the app rather than going to the web. Apple and Google use this as leverage, yes, but it's still a net benefit for the customer.

Now, if Epic doesn't want to pay Apple or Google a share of the money they make selling stuff in their game, they can just sell it all over the web. Admittedly, Apple can be prickly about this, but Netflix, Amazon's Kindle and ComiXology apps, and a number of other services sell their content on the web, not through in-app purchases. One thing that Apple does get prickly about is if you're charging less outside of the app than you are in the app. This is exactly what Epic is doing. Apple's rule is pretty clear: don't offer the purchase in the app if a customer can get it cheaper outside the app. This seems eminently reasonable to me.

What I think will happen is they'll settle out of court. Epic will either lower the in-app price to $7.99 and eat the 30% (or, if they're lucky, negotiate down to 15%), or raise the web price to $9.99. That's how similar fights have played out, and I see no evidence that this will be any different.
posted by SansPoint at 2:44 PM on August 13, 2020 [5 favorites]


Your Childhood Pet Rock: Most iOS games are not multi-gigabyte and itch.io supports multi-gigabyte games. The cost to retrieve a gigabyte on AWS measures in the single cents. And if itch.io is sustainable at its current userbase, I am sure it would sustainable with tens of millions of users.

COD:MWR is a 71 gigabyte download. At the lowest tier of AWS egress charges that's $5 for a single download. Horizon: Zero Dawn just released was a 67 gig download. Cents per gigabyte adds up on modern games. That's why Steam doesn't even use AWS. It uses akamai like a proper service to make sure they have POPs at peering points just about everywhere and they charge monthly fees not per gigabyte. Which is further why all the costs are thrown into a % revenue charge rather than a per gigabyte on the game charge.

My point is not that itch.io is the best store for everything. It’s that alternate models to Epic and Steam and the App Store already exist, and that if you design and optimise for different things, you can reach a fee that is much lower than existing stores, while still being sustainable.

Yeah but there's nothing actually to itch. It's purely put up a page, link it to Stripe/Paypal.

It's like complaining that Arizona Ice Tea costs a dollar while teabags are less than a dime per unit.
posted by Your Childhood Pet Rock at 2:45 PM on August 13, 2020 [8 favorites]


Your Childhood Pet Rock: OK, I give up. Clearly Itch.io does nothing for the developers on it, who don’t make real games like COD:MWR anyway (which, I forgot, is that on iOS now?) and who wouldn’t want to publish their games on an Itch.io iPhone store if they could, and even if they did, no-one would play them, right?
posted by adrianhon at 2:48 PM on August 13, 2020 [8 favorites]


Game developers are predatory jerks who engineer game mechanics that operate like gambling and target children, and the App Store is a monopoly. A pox on both their houses.
posted by hilberseimer at 2:49 PM on August 13, 2020 [10 favorites]


SansPoint: “don't offer the purchase in the app if a customer can get it cheaper outside the app”

This is not correct. It used to be the case but hasn’t been for some time. In fact, many people suggested Hey.com should “solve” their dispute with Apple by charging more on iOS than on their website.
posted by adrianhon at 2:51 PM on August 13, 2020 [1 favorite]


Your Childhood Pet Rock: OK, I give up. Clearly Itch.io does nothing for the developers on it, who don’t make real games like COD:MWR anyway (which, I forgot, is that on iOS now?) and who wouldn’t want to publish their games on an Itch.io iPhone store if they could, and even if they did, no-one would play them, right?

I'm sure there's plenty of self-published devs who like itch.io but a modern store is not just a matter of put up a page, put up a Stripe/PayPal widget, link to an S3 bucket, and job's done.
posted by Your Childhood Pet Rock at 2:51 PM on August 13, 2020


COD:MWR is a 71 gigabyte download. At the lowest tier of AWS egress charges that's $5 for a single download.

More like $1.42 at the largest-scale, lowest-priced tier, which Epic would easily reach just from Fortnite downloads alone. And Amazon is far from the cheapest provider out there.

If the actual marginal cost of bandwidth is less than 4%, even for a giant AAA game, I don't see how you can claim so definitively that 12% is "below cost".
posted by teraflop at 2:51 PM on August 13, 2020 [8 favorites]


Your Childhood Pet Rock: OK, so is your point that Itch.io isn’t a modern store? I’m confused. In June, they sold over 800,000 Bundles for Racial Justice (containing 1700 games). Yes, Steam and iOS sold more. So what? They’re providing a useful service to devs and gamers. They could provide a similarly useful service on iOS, if they were permitted.
posted by adrianhon at 2:55 PM on August 13, 2020 [8 favorites]


For pretty much the entire history of store-based (and mail order) retail sale of boxed software, the vendor's profit margin has been around 30%, it's long been the industry standard. Apple didn't pull that number out of a hat.
posted by dbiedny at 2:56 PM on August 13, 2020 [2 favorites]


If the actual marginal cost of bandwidth is less than 4%, even for a giant AAA game, I don't see how you can claim so definitively that 12% is "below cost".

If I look at every ancillary cost in a vacuum and ignore every other piece of the puzzle then yeah, 12% isn't below cost.

There's the marginal price of bandwidth, the processing power of the backend, the dev time to implement features (sell a VR game on itch or EGS, you're probably still using SteamVR), the payment network overhead, chargebacks, fraud, customer support, platform support for things other than Windows.

Not to mention EGS has been handing out multimillion dollar checks to every indie they can lay their hands on. Keeps them off Steam but also keeps them off GOG conveniently enough. I'm sure they factor that into covering their 12%.
posted by Your Childhood Pet Rock at 2:59 PM on August 13, 2020 [1 favorite]


Your Childhood Pet Rock: OK, so is your point that Itch.io isn’t a modern store? I’m confused. In June, they sold over 800,000 Bundles for Racial Justice (containing 1700 games). Yes, Steam and iOS sold more. So what? They’re providing a useful service to devs and gamers. They could provide a similarly useful service on iOS, if they were permitted.

Cloud saves, achievements, multiplayer, microtransactions, input libraries, social aspects including friends list along with voice and video APIs, user authentication, anti-cheat user blocking. You don't get those things on itch.io. This is the kind of stuff that's meant by the term "modern store".
posted by Your Childhood Pet Rock at 3:02 PM on August 13, 2020


For what it's worth, Epic is far from the first company that's had App Store woes this year.

Telegram, ProtonMail, Spotify, Hey from Basecamp, Facebook, Microsoft, all have found themselves afoul with App Store policies within the past few months. Antitrust scrutiny towards Apple has been increasing in both the U.S. and in the EU. There's currently a class action lawsuit right now between smaller independent third party developers against the 30% cut, accusations of monopsony power, in Apple v. Pepper. None of this is happening in a vacuum, Epic is just the only company that's escalating it to open lawfare.
posted by Apocryphon at 3:03 PM on August 13, 2020 [15 favorites]


dbiedny: There has been an entire few decades where software has been directly sold to consumers on Mac and PC, and the margin is not 30%. Panic, the developers of Transmit, Coda, and Prompt, has handled its own payments and distribution and I would be surprised if the cost exceeded 10%.

Your Childhood Pet Rock: Yeah, but what if I don’t want any of that? Why should I pay for it? My game handles its own cloud saves and achievements; we don’t have any multiplayer or social aspects or video. I don’t begrudge Apple running their own App Store. They can even keep it pre-installed on iOS, and I’m sure most users and plenty of devs would continue using it. But I would like the option of a store that gives me fewer “modern” services and charge me less for it.
posted by adrianhon at 3:06 PM on August 13, 2020 [13 favorites]


Your Childhood Pet Rock: Yeah, but what if I don’t want any of that? Why should I pay for it? My game handles its own cloud saves and achievements; we don’t have any multiplayer or social aspects or video.

Then don't put it on Steam? Like I get that people want to shit on rentier capitalism. I love to shit on it too and the model they use is so out of whack. But these stores aren't bubblegum and string with zero costs and there are no good vendors (apart from itch and maybe GOG). My friends and acquaintances do have to eat when they've spent their time making this shit work.
posted by Your Childhood Pet Rock at 3:08 PM on August 13, 2020 [1 favorite]


Was hoping this was going to be about actual pogs
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 3:14 PM on August 13, 2020 [12 favorites]


Your Childhood Pet Rock: I’m not even sure what we’re arguing about any more. I’m not talking about Steam – I’m talking about Epic’s complaint that Apple prohibits any form of app distribution on iOS other than its own. I don’t doubt that Steam and the App Store are hard and expensive to code, but I don’t quite understand why a 10MB single-player indie game needs all that overhead. Maybe they would still be better off publishing on Steam rather than Itch.io on PC, but at least they have a choice.

Anyway, to take this in a completely different direction, here’s a story about Sweatshop, a “serious” game that examined the dangers of running a factory that supplied cut-price clothing to British retailers, and how you can’t get it on iOS because these kinds of games are prohibited on the App Store, and there are no alternate distribution routes.
posted by adrianhon at 3:14 PM on August 13, 2020 [17 favorites]


For pretty much the entire history of store-based (and mail order) retail sale of boxed software, the vendor's profit margin has been around 30%, it's long been the industry standard. Apple didn't pull that number out of a hat.

Sure. But there's a lot of relics of retail-box times that haven't survived to this point. Apple was one of the first hardware vendors to recognize some of these changes -- witness the end of optical drives and then the end of any dedicated accommodation for external storage.

Physical media's role has diminished greatly. What else has changed? There is so much of the entire distribution/purchase infrastructure that can be automated compared to running a national network of retail operations or even working with an existing ones, and marginal costs diminish with scale when it comes to digital distribution in a way that boxed software distribution never would.

Running a digital app store is clearly not cost-free, I think Apple can fairly take a cut, but if I were guessing, 10% is a lot closer to fair than 30%.
posted by wildblueyonder at 3:19 PM on August 13, 2020 [4 favorites]


Apple has maintained that the App store 30% cut is their break-even point considering all factors. Also, paid apps have to give free apps a ride (30% of nothing is nothing) even if the "free" apps are booking it through ads or off-site purchases. Maybe it's true, it's probably true, at least via "accounting." It's a distraction though.

As an ex indie developer, I never got cranky about the 30% cut.

What absolutely infuriated me was the rate at which "progress" simply broke my apps time and time again. 30% of income to me is who cares; I make money, they make money, cool. Taking 20% of my time year over year just to make sure my fucking apps will run on the next version of the OS, that drove me off the fucking platform.

I have DOS games I made 30 years ago that people are still playing because there's emulators. But all the phone and tablet apps I made less than ten years ago are just wibbles in the past of a bunch of electrons, never to be experienced again by humans.

To me, that's unforgivable.
posted by seanmpuckett at 3:30 PM on August 13, 2020 [39 favorites]


I think Apple can fairly take a cut, but if I were guessing, 10% is a lot closer to fair than 30%.

I mean, it seems like Econ 101 to me that we're not supposed to need to guess: Apple is supposed to be competing with a bunch of other companies that do the same thing and the fair market rates are determined via healthy competition. The rate that lets you stay in business, that keeps you profitable but doesn't let your competitors undercut you, that's the "fair" rate. The very fact that we have to "guess" what's a fair cut for an app marketplace owner is itself a sign that app marketplaces are totally dominated by unhealthy monopolies (Google is just as guilty IMO) and lacking in competition.
posted by mstokes650 at 3:38 PM on August 13, 2020 [28 favorites]


What is so outrageous about developers being able to publish their apps on phones and tablets without paying anything to Apple or Google?

Not in any way speaking for my employer in any respect but, when a phone/iPad app performs badly, who do you think the consumer goes to for support? The dev, or their local Genius Bar?
posted by hanov3r at 3:59 PM on August 13, 2020


And, they're out of the Google Play Store, too.
posted by hanov3r at 4:00 PM on August 13, 2020 [3 favorites]


hanov3r: Hmm, let me take a look at the 92,000 support tickets that our millions of players have filed in the eight years our apps have been published in the App Store and Play Store and get back to you about that.
posted by adrianhon at 4:12 PM on August 13, 2020 [11 favorites]


There's also a European Commission investigation underway.

I'm only speaking from the point of having done the mandatory annual competition law training at work, but I can easily see Apple having real problems with abuse of market dominance here.

Couple of other people mentioned the problems Microsoft had with Internet Explorer further up, and there was the Windows Media Player complaint before that. Microsoft ended up with more than €1.5bn in fines for bundling, charging more for royalties than the Commission thought reasonable, and for failing to include the browser ballot for a few months.

Put that against Apple, and think about it in terms of the 'special responsibility' that companies have when they are dominant in a market.

Apple ties app hosting and payment processing together.
It refuses to supply hosting to certain competitors (xCloud as an example).
It favours its own services (ebooks, audiobooks, streaming).
It apparently conducts price discrimination, charging some larger players less than others (eg Amazon).

With EU competition law, "ultimately the aim is to avoid consumer harm". Apple just removed Fortnite from iOS because they used a different payment processor, and charged consumers less. I don't see how Apple argues this and wins.
posted by MattWPBS at 4:23 PM on August 13, 2020 [10 favorites]


MattWPBS: The consumer harm argument is that Epic is adding a layer of complexity by using their own payment processor rather than the systems built by Apple and Google to make payment easier and more secure.

This argument is absolutely debatable, but I know I find it much more pleasant to just do the FaceID thing to pay for something in an app rather than have to punch in my debit card info again.
posted by SansPoint at 4:33 PM on August 13, 2020 [1 favorite]


@SansPoint - Epic didn't remove the FaceID option from Fortnite though? If it's worth the additional cost to you, then there's nothing changing your experience.
posted by MattWPBS at 4:46 PM on August 13, 2020 [5 favorites]


Apple just removed Fortnite from iOS because they used a different payment processor, and charged consumers less. I don't see how Apple argues this and wins.

Both ecosystems removed Fortnite from iOS because Epic charged consumers more on the respective app stores which is against the policy of both. Epic said in their email they sent out the discount was permanent. It just wasn't extended to iOS and Google Play users.

It's not like Epic is new to this. V-Bucks cards in store have a similar amount of margin lopped off the top for retailers and intermediaries. Are they going to start fucking them too just because they don't feel like anyone deserves margin anymore?

Netflix might have a case but I really hope every government regulator tells Epic to jump into a lake because they want 100% of revenue on a product that's essentially all profit.
posted by Your Childhood Pet Rock at 4:47 PM on August 13, 2020 [2 favorites]


People keep saying that apps can’t charge more on the App or Play Store than on their websites, and it simply isn’t true:
Another approach we've seen is an increase in prices by 30 percent for users who pay for the services through Apple’s billing system. Spotify did this for a while and it is still practised by most other music streaming providers such as Pandora, Deezer, YouTube Music, Soundcloud, Tidal and Napster. These providers charge $9.99/month for their premium service and $12.99/month for purchases through iTunes and iOS.

Some services increased their overall prices to cover the fees, but most have kept their prices unchanged and give Apple their share, for now. I expect more major players in other services, such as Cloud Storage and B2B-applications, to take similar action in the near future.
Apple removed Fortnite primarily because it offered a way to purchase digital content that didn’t go through the App Store payment system.
posted by adrianhon at 4:59 PM on August 13, 2020 [5 favorites]


Spotify did this for a while and it is still practised by most other music streaming providers such as Pandora, Deezer, YouTube Music, Soundcloud, Tidal and Napster. These providers charge $9.99/month for their premium service and $12.99/month for purchases through iTunes and iOS.
These are examples of companies who are in direct competition to services offered directly by Apple (Apple Music in this case) and so there is a clear monopoly argument to be made. Epic might have a case if Apple starts selling hats and dances in battle royale games.
posted by 3j0hn at 5:03 PM on August 13, 2020


If they didn't have a policy of doing that, what's to stop literally every dev from "selling" their game for free on the Apple store, and then having the real price be an in-game purchase?

This is actually the model many developers use now, because Apple don't have any kind of 'free trial' functionality. Asking people to pay to see if a game is any good has been a losing proposition on the App Store for a few years now.

It's also why you've seen such... innovation... in how to make money off a game that has no upfront costs. Apple had a chance to fix this before it really started to happen, but Apple fundamentally do not understand nor particularly like games - there is a reason the Apple Design Award for games always goes to the game with the best visual design - so they didn't really have any idea of how to cultivate "good taste" in games like they attempt to do for apps.

I don't particularly like Epic, but I'm definitely on board with giving Apple a bloodied nose over this.
posted by Merus at 5:07 PM on August 13, 2020 [12 favorites]


Google has booted them also.

But, hey, Epic is free to put their games on disk and sell at retail where they will actually get 25% of the selling price. Or they can invest the billions in development and marketing to create their own platform that they can set their own rules for.

I think quarterly profits that Apple and Google produce are insane, but Epic knows the economics of game development and they knew the rules of the app stores. They made the decision to be on iOS and Android. Their bed, they sleep in it. No sympathy from me.
posted by jwest at 5:53 PM on August 13, 2020


I'm conflicted, because 30% is a hell of a lot less than retail used to take. I think that also makes me old.
posted by inpHilltr8r at 6:07 PM on August 13, 2020 [2 favorites]


I read about halfway down, then did a search on the page for the term "15%" and didn't find anyone saying what I think is an important detail:

Apple's cut of in-app purchases goes down to 15% after the first year.

So for everyone on this thread that think 30% sounds steep, I'll grant you that. But what about 15%, when Epic charges 12%? Are you pro-developer at 12% but at 15% you're anti?
posted by jragon at 6:15 PM on August 13, 2020 [2 favorites]


I'm conflicted, because 30% is a hell of a lot less than retail used to take.


Retail used to take 40%. I don't think 30% is a hell of a lot less.

Retail had it tough compared to a download store. They had to buy the product at wholesale to stock it, and they could get stuck with unsold inventory. They had to make rent on a storefront and pay clerks to staff it, and people would often steal the merchandise.

A fair cut for a download store, curated by humans so it's not full of viruses and Trojans, would be 5 or 10 percent.
posted by w0mbat at 6:24 PM on August 13, 2020 [5 favorites]


jragon A good point, but the 15% after a year thing is specifically for subscriptions. Epic is doing one-time purchases, which is always 30%.

MattWPBS They didn’t remove it, but the other option doesn’t have price parity. That, I continue to suspect, is the real issue. If Epic said “Okay, fuck it, you want in game currency, go to the web,” Apple and Google might have complained but let Fortnite stay. Instead, they’re including direct payments in the app, at a discount, alongside the standard IAP option. That’s what’s got both Apple and Google mad, and not unreasonably in my opinion.
posted by SansPoint at 6:25 PM on August 13, 2020


jragon A good point, but the 15% after a year thing is specifically for subscriptions. Epic is doing one-time purchases, which is always 30%.

Oops. Thank you for the correction. Everything else I said was garbage, then :)
posted by jragon at 6:34 PM on August 13, 2020 [1 favorite]


they can invest the billions in development and marketing to create their own platform that they can set their own rules for

Not if they want to be on iPhones. If they want to be on iPhones it's go through the App Store and fork over 30% to Apple or nothing.
posted by ultraviolet catastrophe at 6:50 PM on August 13, 2020 [4 favorites]


> Pretty ballsy move when there is an outstanding EO that bans Tencent from doing business in the US in like 5 weeks. I know there is a "clarification" that the EO only affects WeChat, but not sure if that is anything more than a "pinky swear" from the Trump WH.

Indeed this is risky because Apple is close to the Trump administration on a number of fronts.
posted by Poldo at 7:02 PM on August 13, 2020 [1 favorite]


I have an iPhone, and iPad, and a PC. I love my Apple products. I’m not much of a gamer, and I don’t mind having to buy things through the Apple Store. I’d be very, very happy if they would let me buy my Kindle and ComiXology books through their apps without having to play tricks or go through Windows to do it. Oh, and not with a 30% premium, too, thanks. Generally I don’t want to be locked into Apple as a reading platform, and they’ll never get me to buy all my books with Apple’s DRM (we won’t talk about what I do with Amazon’s DRM).
posted by lhauser at 7:04 PM on August 13, 2020


> Retail used to take 40%. I don't think 30% is a hell of a lot less.

No, retail is 50% and that's on top of manufacturing costs. Source: I used to sell software at retail as an independent developer. I was lucky to take home 30% of the MSRP and if it was ever put on sale, I got more like 0% or lost money.
posted by jwest at 7:22 PM on August 13, 2020


My understanding of capitalism is mostly from cartoons, but I understand that if there isn't downward pressure on price between competitors, there may monopolistic or collusive behavior going on. (It has been ____ days since Silicon Valley companies were busted in a price-fixing scandal...)
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 7:28 PM on August 13, 2020 [5 favorites]


For me, it seems like the problem isn't really the 30% cut. The amount of Apple's cut on using their payment processing is almost a red herring. I would say that the real problem is Apple's my-way-or-the-highway policy. If their payment processing was really worthwhile (e.g.: it's trustworthy, it's convenient, it's too expensive to build your own payment system, etc...), then game publishers would be clamoring to use it. But if my understanding is correct, the whole point is that Apple refuses to entertain any alternate in-app payment systems at all. That's the part that seems like an abuse of monopoly power, though it doesn't really feel like a slam dunk case to me because they do seem to allow payment systems outside of the app (e.g.: Netflix).
posted by mhum at 7:37 PM on August 13, 2020 [3 favorites]


Not if they want to be on iPhones. If they want to be on iPhones it's go through the App Store and fork over 30% to Apple or nothing.

Indeed. One detail that I find fascinating is how Apple's marketshare is under 15%. So here's a thought exercise:

* If Apple had 99% marketshare, that's a monopoly
* If they're down at 85%, it's harder to say there's no competition at all
* If they're at 50%, gosh, that's clearly not dominating the whole market
* At 15%, it sure as hell aint a monopoly

The issue is those 15% are really, really attractive consumers. But -- and I'm just speaking for me here -- part of why I love iOS is because of this level of control and standardisation. I am aware that Android exists, I am aware it has side-loading, I am aware it's more open, and I chose the locked down walled garden that works better for me.

This clip sums it up for me, not just as a consumer but someone who's worked in this space. You cannot set up a strong system of privacy, billing, preventing illegal content, etc on the honour system. You have to set strict limits, full stop.

And it's ok if you disagree, because Android exists.
posted by jragon at 7:37 PM on August 13, 2020 [9 favorites]


I think there are a lot of similarities between the "freedom" of Android and the "freedom" of America.

In New Zealand, people were getting arrested for disobeying lockdown. It was more important for the country to be strict and decisive than let each state, county, city, and neighborhood come to their own decisions, America-style.

Apple spots when developers are stealing data, and stops them unilaterally. Is that heavy handed? Yeah. By design. To make a better quality experience overall.

It's possible to freedom your way into a shitty situation.
posted by jragon at 7:41 PM on August 13, 2020 [4 favorites]


> App store? What I'm unclear about is who is insane enough to be playing Fortnite on a tablet or phone?

A million poor Brazilian kids whose only access to the Internet is through their smartphones. Only their phones are shitty Androids so they're all playing Free Fire instead – that's the real underdog! They're from Indonesia and the game is specifically designed to be lightweight and work on older phones. Not everyone has access to gaming PCs.
posted by Tom-B at 7:44 PM on August 13, 2020 [17 favorites]


The issue is those 15% are really, really attractive consumers. But -- and I'm just speaking for me here -- part of why I love iOS is because of this level of control and standardisation. I am aware that Android exists, I am aware it has side-loading, I am aware it's more open, and I chose the locked down walled garden that works better for me.

Plus it's not like there aren't a billion different Android devices out there that are insanely good for sideloading things like emulators on. Amazon pretty much gives away half decent quality Android tablets. It's not like there's a shortage on devices that can be used to do pretty much whatever one wants.

Although I would kill for a new revision of the Shield Portable. That thing has never been bettered for the sheer convenience of emulation.
posted by Your Childhood Pet Rock at 8:01 PM on August 13, 2020


Google has booted them also.

A massive difference is that Google lets users side-load and install applications outside of the Google Play Store, just as Microsoft does with the Microsoft Store and Windows (and what Apple does with Mac OS X!).

What makes mobile so different in Apple's eyes?

Some people might like the curation offered by walled gardens, but as mentioned above, that curation comes at the price of censorship. That it is wealthy Westerners who delight in and defend this state of affairs is a fascinating phenomenon in itself.
posted by Ouverture at 8:37 PM on August 13, 2020 [5 favorites]


As an Android phone user, I've been amazed by iPhone specific things. People "like" a message I send, and get a message back: "Liked "whatever I messaged"" People send group messages from iPhones, and I don't even see them...
posted by Windopaene at 9:01 PM on August 13, 2020 [1 favorite]


I thought Fortnite on Android was already using its own store (2018). What happened with that?
posted by meowzilla at 9:08 PM on August 13, 2020


A fair cut for a download store, curated by humans so it's not full of viruses and Trojans, would be 5 or 10 percent.

Google takes 30 percent, also. If they could charge less they would, so it seems odd that they don't. Most Android users don't sideload. If I asked my parents what that meant, they wouldn't know, and I consider them technically savvy but typical Android users. So I suspect it is that G have an actual, true monopoly, in terms of market share, compared with all others. Another answer that seems reasonable is that this cut is what makes the parent corporation a certain profit that answers to their shareholders, just as that cut makes shareholders happy to hold on to stock in Microsoft, Apple, Nintendo, Sony, and every other hybrid software/hardware vendor out there.
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 9:08 PM on August 13, 2020


Epic is giving/ gave away "free to keep" 'Total War Saga: Troy' today.

Ostensibly a $45 USD game, for 24 hours on August 13th (not sure which time zone) if you had an account and downloaded it - you get the full game in your account for $0.00.

Interesting experiment - curious as to download/ sales numbers over the next few months.

Love(d) the Total War games (before general AI and "blobby lines" changes), haven't even heard about the "Saga" versions. I finally got a machine a couple of years back that could run 'Three Kingdoms' but never ended up playing it, or any games much.


Intrigued at the discussion about costs of selling games by the current big distributors - when people uninstall games, how onerous are the re-installation bandwidth costs of selling games that have already been sold?
posted by porpoise at 9:39 PM on August 13, 2020 [1 favorite]


Apple isn't the most restrictive platform, also, as mentioned, they only hold a 15% market share of smartphones.

Consider that Sony Playstation holds a 63% market share of consoles, and doesn't allow cross play at all for games like Overwatch.

Say I've spent $60 buying Overwatch on PC and spent about $300 on skins. If I want to play Overwatch on Playstation with my pals there? I need to buy Overwatch again... and it's a fresh account with no skins, and I need to buy all those skins again.

Apple allows cross platform accounts for games like League of Legends (TFT) and Hearthstone. I've spent plenty of money on PC on those games, and I'm able to use my account to play 100% free on Apple's platform - Apple doesn't get a cent from me, but they have to support those games through their store anyway.
posted by xdvesper at 9:45 PM on August 13, 2020


SansPoint: They didn’t remove it, but the other option doesn’t have price parity

That's the point, it doesn't need to. Like Mhmm said, if it has the benefits, people will use it anyway. You made the argument in your original comment - it's convenient, you don't have to type in your card number, etc. If that's worth it to you, you keep doing that, but there's no argument to suggest that everybody should have to pay more because of it.

jragon: One detail that I find fascinating is how Apple's marketshare is under 15%. So here's a thought exercise:

* If Apple had 99% marketshare, that's a monopoly
* If they're down at 85%, it's harder to say there's no competition at all
* If they're at 50%, gosh, that's clearly not dominating the whole market
* At 15%, it sure as hell aint a monopoly


I don't think that hardware sales will be considered the relevant market here, it's app sales. The European Commission are definitely focusing on that, Apple's gatekeeper role, the mandatory use of their own payment processor, the inability to advertise cheaper prices being available outside the app, etc.
posted by MattWPBS at 2:16 AM on August 14, 2020 [3 favorites]


Google takes 30 percent, also. If they could charge less they would

Erm, no. If they could charge more they would. That's how for-profit business works.

I guess they think charging more than 30% would cause regulators to take notice, or cause developers to stop making apps.
posted by swr at 5:28 AM on August 14, 2020 [6 favorites]


What makes mobile so different in Apple's eyes?

The biggest concern is that attached to every mobile device is a cell radio and premium rate messaging. A lot of scams in side loading (especially in pirated apps) involve malware that gets onto your system and basically starts sending messages to premium rate numbers.
posted by Your Childhood Pet Rock at 5:52 AM on August 14, 2020 [1 favorite]


There's the marginal price of bandwidth, the processing power of the backend, the dev time to implement features (sell a VR game on itch or EGS, you're probably still using SteamVR), the payment network overhead, chargebacks, fraud, customer support, platform support for things other than Windows.

Netflix might have a case but I really hope every government regulator tells Epic to jump into a lake because they want 100% of revenue on a product that's essentially all profit.

Hmmm. Are you saying that it doesn't take bandwidth, backend processing power, dev time to implement features, the customer support, platform support for things other than Windows, etc. to run Fornite? The skins, the dances, the events, the new content, the Travis Scott concert, the WebRTC clients that require an AWS instance per game to run, none of that costs money? Weird.
posted by ryoshu at 7:26 AM on August 14, 2020 [2 favorites]


Interestingly, Apple got into a fight with Wechat a couple of years ago over in-app purchases.

Wechat has this feature where you can 'Reward' authors for articles they publish in their 'public accounts'. The payment is handled through Wechat's own payment system, and is very easy to use. This basically is the holy grail of making micropayments, and a lot of bloggers and other content generators moved to Wechat public accounts and make good money that way.

Unsurprisingly, Apple took notice of this and considered such payments in-app purchases, so they demanded their usual 30% cut. Tencent countered by taking the 'Reward' button away from the iOS version of their app. Eventually Apple and Tencent reached an agreement so that neither of them would take a cut, and all the reward money would go to the content providers.

I guess I want to share this story as a rare example of fights between giant corporations leading to good results for the little guys. But also it shows Apple's willingness to play hardball in order to get their cut. When this Reward dispute first came out, I definitely was thinking of 1984.
posted by of strange foe at 8:05 AM on August 14, 2020 [1 favorite]


Apple having 15% of smartphone users is a weird way to identify the market for iOS versions of apps.

It seems like saying, "well the market for Toyota car parts is all cars so it's okay for toyota to forbid people from using non toyota parts for repairs or aftermarket customizations. "

If the Apple App Store is so superior, then customers and developers would choose it over other possible stores. But we can't know that, because Apple prevents it.
posted by gryftir at 9:15 AM on August 14, 2020 [5 favorites]


I have DOS games I made 30 years ago that people are still playing because there's emulators. But all the phone and tablet apps I made less than ten years ago are just wibbles in the past of a bunch of electrons, never to be experienced again by humans.

I think that manages to express why digital gaming is lost to me these days. I don't want more transient things in my life ... even if it is only entertainment.
posted by NoThisIsPatrick at 9:56 AM on August 14, 2020


> They sucked his brains out!: "Google takes 30 percent, also. If they could charge less they would, so it seems odd that they don't."

Hmmm... how odd it is that the two participants in a duopoly happen by sheer coincidence to have chosen to charge the exact same rate. Quite the mystery....
posted by mhum at 10:30 AM on August 14, 2020 [5 favorites]


Epic is giving/ gave away "free to keep" 'Total War Saga: Troy' today.

They do this (give out a free game) every week (or maybe month?), and so do all the other stores (Xbox, PS, UPlay, etc.). This is unrelated to their other stunt.
posted by sideshow at 10:51 AM on August 14, 2020


Quite the mystery....

It's almost as if the "they should just charge 5%, tops!" crowd is just pulling numbers right out of their asses!
posted by sideshow at 10:52 AM on August 14, 2020 [1 favorite]


Erm, no. If they could charge more they would.

A monopoly could charge less to undercut the threat of competition, but the smart ones probably don't to limit attention from regulators. Keeping a competitor manageably small makes it harder to be accused of antitrust violations, when regulators do show up. (It would be a huge story if a monopoly engaged in price fixing, though, agreed there.)
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 10:58 AM on August 14, 2020 [1 favorite]


I mean, Apple got caught illegally fixing wages to the tune of $3b stolen from workers, so they have no ethical misgivings about illegal price fixing in a market where they're one of few big fish.

Epic isn't pretending to be on my side, and I can see where their incentives are.
Apple tried taking money out of my pocket, and never apologized for it or made an indication that they felt chastened.
posted by CrystalDave at 11:06 AM on August 14, 2020 [5 favorites]


> sideshow: "It's almost as if the "they should just charge 5%, tops!" crowd is just pulling numbers right out of their asses!"

Lol, I'm not sure what this response is about exactly but let me try to be a little more detailed: There is often this implicit idea that companies charge the lowest price they can for products relative to the cost of producing/providing those products. So, if a company charges a seemingly high price, it's assumed to be necessary because their underlying costs must be commensurately high. Except, this theory only really holds when there is adequate competition to drive prices lower. In practice, companies do all kinds of stuff to ensure that such adequate competition doesn't emerge, ranging from the perfectly acceptable (e.g.: product differentiation, etc...) to the opposite (e.g.: collusion, abuse of monopoly powers, etc...). In this duopolistic environment where both players: 1) together control the vast, vast majority of the app market, 2) are engaging in the same kind of arguably anti-competitive behavior (i.e.: bundling the distribution on their appstores with the requirement to use their in-app payment systems), and 3) somehow have arrived at the exact same 30% fee, I'm gonna need to suspend quite a bit of disbelief in order to accept that adequate competition exists.

More succinctly, companies charge prices as high as they can get away with. In a highly competitive environment, they can't get away with that much. In a less competitive environment, they can get away with a lot.
posted by mhum at 12:08 PM on August 14, 2020 [7 favorites]


Two greedy companies fighting about greed. Now, I am all for relaxing the iOS app store's rules, especially for smaller developers that could really use that money. If this battle were being fought by an indie studio or something I'd be 100% on their side, but this is really about Epic's bottom line and that makes it a lot harder for me to get behind.

For now, the bottom line is this makes Fortnite (a harmful addiction for vulnerable kids) harder to get, so I hope this legal battle continues for a good long while.
posted by signsofrain at 1:00 PM on August 14, 2020 [3 favorites]


Does anyone know how it actually plays out in-game when they decide to show a movie in Fortnite? Like, you go there to get in a Battle Royale and it goes, "Nope, here's a movie" and people just roll with it? or do they have a big button that's like "Wow! Brand new Fortnite Event! Wiggity Woo! Join now!"

What about people who are in the middle of a match? Do they pause or cancel the match, or do they stop beginning new matches until there's none still going? Or is there more of a staggered roll-out so not everyone is really watching it simultaneously?
posted by RobotHero at 1:14 PM on August 14, 2020


signsofrain: It is possible to be suspicious of Epic’s motives while acknowledging the validity of their argument – an argument that’s shared by countless other app and game devs who are too small and too scared to speak out, let alone file a lawsuit.
posted by adrianhon at 2:34 PM on August 14, 2020 [3 favorites]


sideshow: In another post, you said that certain people in this thread “don’t have a fucking clue about anything”. Who are these people and what exactly is wrong about their arguments?
posted by adrianhon at 2:55 PM on August 14, 2020


Jim Sterling: Screw Apple, Screw Google, And Screw Epic Games.
posted by Pendragon at 4:35 PM on August 14, 2020 [1 favorite]


Okay, so apparently there's a distinct "Party Royale" mode, but I'm still wondering how do they build up to the movie, did they have a splash in the main menu, or is it just sprung on people who wanted to have Party Royale anyway?
posted by RobotHero at 9:47 PM on August 14, 2020


RobotHero: Okay, so apparently there's a distinct "Party Royale" mode, but I'm still wondering how do they build up to the movie, did they have a splash in the main menu, or is it just sprung on people who wanted to have Party Royale anyway?

For events in the main game mode (e.g. end of season events or the Star Wars trailer) there's generally a countdown timer somewhere in the game that starts a few days out so everyone know's something is coming. 30 minutes before the event you'd join a special events server and hangout killing everyone with respawn mode on, build a huge tower to watch from, and hangout until the event starts.

Now with Party Royale mode, there's event notices on the game selection landing page advertising upcoming events. They've done a few in-game concerts lately that were pretty popular. There's still countdown's on the in game movie screen for "something's coming" but we won't tell you what as well.
posted by Arbac at 11:24 PM on August 14, 2020


adrianhon: Oh yes, you're right. If Epic is victorious it'll be a win for smaller studios so if I have to pick a side it's theirs. I just have complicated feelings about cheering them on since for them it's only about greed, not any kind of altruism. Would any rank and file employee at Epic get a raise if they win this, or would it just mean bigger paydays for executives?
posted by signsofrain at 9:34 AM on August 15, 2020 [1 favorite]


This is actually the model many developers use now, because Apple don't have any kind of 'free trial' functionality. Asking people to pay to see if a game is any good has been a losing proposition on the App Store for a few years now.

This isn’t exactly true, though. There are tons of games in the app store that are free to play the first few levels, after which, if you like the game, you can unlock the entire game as an in-app purchase. This functions quite well as a free trial.

All of this bickering seems to ignore the primary reason Apple built its walled garden in the first place, which is to keep users’ iThings as free of malware, spyware, etc. as possible. A function which Apple has been pretty successful at. I would seriously hate to see court rulings put cracks in that wall.
posted by Thorzdad at 1:06 PM on August 15, 2020 [1 favorite]


The biggest concern is that attached to every mobile device is a cell radio and premium rate messaging. A lot of scams in side loading (especially in pirated apps) involve malware that gets onto your system and basically starts sending messages to premium rate numbers.

This seems like an after-the-fact justification. If this is an actual concern on Apple's part, why do they allow email or a web browser at all? Far more money is lost through those vectors than side-loaded apps.

The Reckoning Over Apple and Google's App Stores Has Been a Long Time Coming:
The closest analogy to app stores outside of the mobile world are PC games stores like Steam, GOG, Battle.net, and others. For a long time, Steam was the premier game store, running uncontested for years. But over the last decade, multiple publishers and game devs (including Epic) have stepped up to create their own digital storefronts, which eventually led Steam to lower its service fees. While some people may complain about things being annoying now that Steam is no longer the home for every single game, it’s a clear case of competition resulting in more revenue for game devs and lower prices for consumers.

But perhaps the bigger issue is when Apple and Google’s own app store guidelines get applied in different degrees. According to emails shown to Congress during the recent tech antitrust hearing, Apple agreed to cut its typical 30% service fees in half for a year in order to entice Amazon to put Prime Video in the App Store.
posted by Ouverture at 2:46 PM on August 15, 2020


The trick of getting donkeys down from minarets, said the Patrician as the desert unwound below them, is always to find that part of the donkey which seriously wishes to get down.
posted by jenkinsEar at 7:50 PM on August 15, 2020


This isn’t exactly true, though. There are tons of games in the app store that are free to play the first few levels, after which, if you like the game, you can unlock the entire game as an in-app purchase. This functions quite well as a free trial.

This is what I said? The thing is, it's a lot more effective to design your game so that people can buy it multiple times...
posted by Merus at 3:06 AM on August 17, 2020


Epic claims Apple has threatened to remove Epic developer accounts. "This will terminate Epic’s inclusion in the Apple Developer Program, a membership that’s necessary to distribute apps on iOS devices or use Apple developer tools" and will "irreparably damage Epic’s reputation among Fortnite users and be catastrophic for the future of the separate Unreal Engine business."

If true, and Apple hasn't commented directly on this latest claim best I can tell from current sources, this seems like the very definition of you come at the King, you best not miss.....
posted by inflatablekiwi at 3:02 PM on August 17, 2020


Hmmm... how odd it is that the two participants in a duopoly happen by sheer coincidence to have chosen to charge the exact same rate. Quite the mystery....

Apparently, Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo may also take 30% for their Xbox, Playstation, and Switch platforms. Perhaps more.

Unless all five companies are in on a massive price-fixing conspiracy, it looks like Google and Apple are separately following what the market has decided upon as "fair". If any of them could reduce their take, they'd have probably done so already to get more developers on board and marginalize their competition.

There's an argument that these five companies, in total, have too much control over software pricing, but that would be a different story from Google and Apple engaging alone in a conspiracy, which doesn't appear to bear out if they are both charging the going rate.
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 4:44 PM on August 17, 2020 [1 favorite]


There's an argument that these five companies, in total, have too much control over software pricing, but that would be a different story from Google and Apple engaging alone in a conspiracy, which doesn't appear to bear out if they are both charging the going rate.

I think the going argument about that is that console makers often sell the hardware as a loss leader and the attach rate is where the backend profit is. Apple on the other hand makes a couple of hundred dollars per unit and has no incentive to backend profitability. Although I'm looking forward to Epic making an antitrust case of 15% of the market on cell phones and 8% of the market on PC/laptop sales.
posted by Your Childhood Pet Rock at 5:05 PM on August 17, 2020


It is definitely odd to call a company a monopoly, when it has a tiny slice of the market. I don't know how Epic will explain that to a judge, but it will be interesting to see, assuming they don't cave before the end of August. Losing Unreal Engine royalties might complicate decision-making.
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 5:25 PM on August 17, 2020


I guess the argument is they don't have a monopoly over phones, they have monopoly access to iPhone owners.

Is there an economic term for when a choice is non-exclusive? Because if Google Play had 20% it wouldn't lure devs away from the Apple store, because the Apple store is still the only place to sell to iPhone owners.

So the economic pressure of being undercut by the competition is not as great, I think. It's several steps removed. It would require Google to lower their rates, devs to lower their prices on Android in response, rather than pocket all the difference, and then for phone customers to start buying Android phones because the apps are slightly cheaper, before Apple would face any consequence for being undercut.
posted by RobotHero at 5:57 PM on August 17, 2020 [1 favorite]


I think when its put into terms of dollar value Apple actually overtakes Google on sheer app store revenue. In the developed nations Apple certainly has a stronghold while in lower income countries, Android dominates making up the gap in world market share.
posted by Your Childhood Pet Rock at 6:22 PM on August 17, 2020


Anyone else remember the Atari VCS? The common wisdom is the market got flooded with garbage titles because anyone could put out a cartridge. This caused the consumer perception that Atari games were garbage and then we had the Great Video Game Crash of 1983, wiping out Atari. Nintendo made the NES so that it required an encryption key to boot up cartridges. Wanted the key? Sure, just pay them a license fee. They do that to this day. What's their fee? Don't know, because Nintendo keeps that information out of the public eye and firmly under NDA with their third-party developers.

Why is Epic making such a stink about this with Apple and Google but not with Sony (Playstation), Microsoft (X-Box) or Nintendo (Switch)? Supposedly, the cuts they require are very, very similar to what Apple and Google require. I don't understand why we accept this with nary a complaint from our game consoles but Apple and Google cause wailing and gnashing of the teeth.

Yes, yes. I hear you already. Nintendo, et. al supposedly sells their consoles at or below cost. But why should that matter to me the consumer? The answer is it shouldn't -- how a hardware company chooses to (legally) make a profit is absolutely not germane to whether they should/should not get a cut of software sales.
posted by Big Al 8000 at 10:46 PM on August 17, 2020


The problem is that making money on the hardware has been tried before and has generally been a market failure. CD-i, CD32, 3DO all made money on the units. None were cheap enough to break into the market even when using fairly underpowered commodity parts.
posted by Your Childhood Pet Rock at 7:17 AM on August 18, 2020


Apple, Epic, and the App Store - "That Apple has controlled app installation and payment processing from the beginning is an obvious point; what is less appreciated is that Apple leveraged its control of payment processing, which was based on its control of app installation, which was based on its control of the operating system, into complete ownership of the customer relationship."
What is troubling about this example, which also applies to Netflix, Spotify, and other so-called “Reader” apps, is that Apple’s aggressive integration up the stack isn’t really helping anyone. Users are confused, these big developers get fewer customers than they might have otherwise, while Apple’s overall iPhone experience is degraded. The ones that really lose out, though, are smaller developers whose cost structures cannot support Apple’s 30% cut, yet don’t have the brand awareness to enable customers to find their websites. In this way Apple is actually making dominant companies even stronger (much like they are Facebook).

Apple also appears to be making an effort to limit this exception; while Basecamp managed to drive Apple to a face-saving retreat from its insistence on in-app purchase for its Hey email service, I heard from many developers that App Store review had started rejecting apps that had been in the store for years because they only allowed users to subscribe on the web.

What was particularly disappointing about these shakedowns, though, is that Apple itself admitted in a press release that it had been holding up bug fixes in App Review “over guideline violations”, many of which were about driving usage of its own payment processor. This is truly an inversion of the win-win-win dynamic that characterized the company’s previous integration efforts: now users were being put at risk for bugs developers were liable for because of arbitrary reasons related to Apple&’s drive for Services revenue.
App stores, trust and anti-trust - "Epic is explicitly arguing that we should abandon the smartphone software model and security model almost entirely, and switch to what would actually be the old Windows model."[*]
I’m much more interested in Spotify and Stadia, where the situation now looks unsustainable, and that’s where we’re more likely to see changes... the EU, which is becoming the tech regulator by default, is already working on plans for the store review model to be regulated, with real, external rights of appeal and review, and external transparency. Apple could try to get ahead of this, or it might be too late. It might have no choice but to allow Stadia, and ‘we just don’t like that’ won’t do anymore.

Second, I think Apple is going to have to make fundamental changes to the payment model. Epic only has margin at stake, but Spotify can’t pay at all, it’s a direct competitor, and there’s no user benefit at all to Apple’s policy, just confusion and annoyance. The EU is now pursuing two separate competition policy cases against Apple: one over the App Store, with Spotify a complainant, and the other over Apple Wallet and Apple Pay. This second one is instructive: the EU is taking the view that Apple has a monopoly of payment on the iPhone. Market definition is everything. I-am-not-a-lawyer, but I don’t see how Apple can win on Spotify (or Kindle), and I don’t think it should.

That might mean changes in who and what is covered by payment rules, but it probably also means changes to the 30%. There’s a lot of argument about principle, but there’s also a price: if the rate was, say, 10%, I’m not sure that we would be having the same conversation, and Epic would certainly get less sympathy...

---
[*] ...we’ve been arguing about this since the store launched in 2008, but really, some of this debate is as old as personal computers. Right back to the 1970s, there’s been a religious split between people who want computers that they’re free to change however they like, and people who want computers that are easy and safe to use for as many people as possible. This is a trade-off, but there's a certain kind of person in tech that thinks app stores and the iOS sandbox have nothing to do with the success of smartphones and the iPhone - they're just a stupid Apple thing you could get rid of with no ill effects. 30 years ago they thought the same about GUIs, and indeed a lot of Epic’s PR comes straight out of furious Usenet posts from the 1990s about how GUIs are evil and infantilising. But the whole direction of computing since the Apple 1 has been about more abstraction, less access to the lower levels of the system and inherent in that more accessibility for more people.

Apple has always been at one, extreme, end of that debate, taking a strong opinion on how it thought a good computer ‘should’ work and letting you choose it or not. From 1976 to, say, 2015 or so, it was just one fairly niche vendor, and some people chose Apple’s opinion and some didn’t. But with the iPhone, Apple finally won the argument with users’ wallets, and that means it’s not niche anymore - Apple has become the navy, and different rules apply.
also btw...
Would breaking out 'big tech' work? What would? - "Most of the things we worry about aren't actually competition problems, but even where they are, breakups are unlikely to be effective. The strengths of Google Search or Instagram are based on network effects, and network effects are a natural monopoly: merely changing the ownership would not lead to new competitors. The real answers are in much more detailed and micro work: in regulating the internal mechanics of these products, line by line, much as we regulate telcos or credit cards." (Antitrust Politics)

and earlier: "Apple has confirmed that will block cloud streaming games services, such as Google's Stadia and Microsoft's new Xcloud, from iOS. The stated logic is that it can't review the games (for abusive mechanics or harmful content, perhaps). The knee-jerk criticism is 'rent-seeking' - that Apple just wants its 30%. That may even be true, but I think it misses the deeper point: Apple has a very particular view of what kinds of things it wants to happen on its platform, and it think that games should be native apps written with its own APIs. This is partly strategy (no disintermediation), partly about UX (an iPhone game shout not require a games controller to be playable) and partly just, well, personal preference. Either way, it's self-defeating - there is no real customer benefit to Apple's decision, and if Stadia or Xcloud work (a whole other discussion) then that's a reason to switch to Android. Apple had to flex on exactly this point for WeChat in China."
posted by kliuless at 2:28 AM on August 19, 2020


What Can America Learn from Europe About Regulating Big Tech? - "European lawmakers, however, have long outpaced their American counterparts; having adopted new privacy regulations in 2018, they have now begun drafting a series of new laws aimed at limiting the anticompetitive practices of the major tech companies in Europe. Schaake—with her skepticism of rhetoric, her insistence on the role of government in protecting privacy and challenging monopolies, and her conviction that regulation enables rather than suppresses innovation—epitomizes a pragmatic and quintessentially European approach to tech. For her, the question is not whether the major tech companies will face democratic accountability but when."*
At Stanford, Schaake is part of an antitrust working group; she would like to see European and American experts collaborate on a shared antitrust framework that could apply on both sides of the Atlantic. Margrethe Vestager, the European Commissioner for Competition since 2014—she is working on a new slate of laws to limit monopolistic practices by major tech companies—is a friend and mentor of Schaake’s, and the two share a common perspective on regulation. European antitrust regulators tend to define consumer harm in terms broader than the prices of products, and the E.U. regulatory process, which is overseen by independent experts, is more insulated from political pressures. (Schaake has critiqued the revolving door between the F.T.C. and many tech companies, with former regulators joining the tech companies they had once monitored, and vice versa.)

[...]

Schaake often finds herself confronting two distinct visions for how the citizens of such a society should relate to their tech companies. The first sees companies and consumers as engaged in a virtuous circle of responsible, market-driven self-regulation. People support companies that offer useful services and protect their privacy; companies, who want to keep their users happy, try to strike a balance between those values when they conflict. It’s hoped that even firms that depend on advertising will eventually respond to consumer pressures and self-regulate accordingly. Government may have a limited regulatory role, but it’s really all about likes and dislikes.

The second model is more cynical about large companies and governments. It sees technology as a solution to the problems of surveillance and oppression, and regulation as either a malign constraint on freedom or a well-intentioned mistake. Strong, end-to-end encryption, it’s argued, can block both governments and companies from accessing sensitive information; such technology is better than regulation, because it largely forecloses the possibility of abuse. Governments that seek to regulate information technology—because it allows human traffickers, say, to communicate privately—must be restrained, lest all our freedoms be endangered.

Schaake believes that both of these perspectives are too narrow, and seeks to provide an alternative... Many people who work in Silicon Valley see themselves as championing democracy and empowering individuals. But Schaake differs from the Silicon Valley consensus in her idea of what constitutes democratic power. Unregulated information technology is often presented as a bulwark against authoritarianism, and yet, in her view, technology that is beyond the reach of laws—and, therefore, voters—is anti-democratic. Her belief is that tech can be democratic only when a political process involving voters and representatives, rather than consumers and Silicon Valley thought leaders, has a chance to shape how the tech platforms are run... In a culture addicted to bluster and hyperbole, and hooked on its own rhetoric of post-governmental creative destruction, she represents a kind of disruption by common sense; her genuinely shocking position is a commitment to democratic procedure and the rule of law...

Schaake offered a hopeful vision for the new values that could animate Silicon Valley—values that were democratic, incremental, and even traditional. Many talented software engineers, she said, “are looking for more value than the value of money. They also see the homeless people in the streets in the areas where they live, and they can’t afford homes themselves.” If tech companies could be regulated by voters, she said, then laws could be passed that limited the civic and economic damage those platforms caused. Legislation could protect privacy and increase transparency about how companies use data; revised liability laws could hold companies accountable for what they disseminate, and improve public debate; antitrust actions could check the flow of wealth to the small number of companies that control platforms, aggregators, and algorithms. Stronger taxation might fund a more effective and comprehensive social safety net. There might be less homelessness in the Bay Area. Possibly, people at Silicon Valley cocktail parties would no longer introduce each other by referencing their net worth. The world would be a bit more sane.
posted by kliuless at 4:11 AM on August 19, 2020


This is a trade-off, but there's a certain kind of person in tech that thinks app stores and the iOS sandbox have nothing to do with the success of smartphones and the iPhone - they're just a stupid Apple thing you could get rid of with no ill effects. 30 years ago they thought the same about GUIs, and indeed a lot of Epic’s PR comes straight out of furious Usenet posts from the 1990s about how GUIs are evil and infantilising. But the whole direction of computing since the Apple 1 has been about more abstraction, less access to the lower levels of the system and inherent in that more accessibility for more people.

That's basically the essence of the problem. Apple sees the iPhone as an unimaginably powerful appliance. Epic wants it to act like a computer. But iOS doesn't have nor need things like malware scanners, the central point of billing makes any scam attempts ultimately nippable in the bud by Apple, and it's virtually impossible for an actor who isn't a nation state to take over the phone. The iPhone is like a Fisher Price car with an LS1 hiding underneath and Apple is really happy to keep it that way.
posted by Your Childhood Pet Rock at 7:13 AM on August 19, 2020


I wouldn't mind the 30% if the Apple App Store actually tested.

I stupidly sent them a bad Mac build once, where most keys on the keyboard would crash the app. It was still usable because all the expected keys worked, but I would expect real or automated QA to spot my dumb error. Any kind of automated "monkey" test would catch it.
They immediately approved it after "testing". I know the crash was my fault, but I am pointing out that they provide no safety net for the 30%.

I spotted my mistake shortly after the app was approved. Totally horrified at my error, I quickly submitted a good build. Meanwhile my customers were getting updated with this crashy version.

The good build got a bogus rejection, for use of a forbidden API it does not use. There is a bug in their screening tool, and it sometimes reports illegal behavior that does not exist.

I had to appeal to the App Review Board, saying I don't call that API. I had no idea how long that would take. After what seemed like an eternity (OK later the same day) the app was approved just before.the weekend and then it took like a day and a half for the good build to propagate. The whole time I was stressed as hell because people were still downloading the bad build, and this was just when my app was getting a lot of buzz.

In the end my mistake was fixed but it was such a stressful experience. There is no way to rush a build out, no way to recall a bad version and revert to the one before. There is kind of a way of marking versions as supported and unsupported, so people with an old OS get the right old version, but it doesn't really cover this case.
posted by w0mbat at 11:47 AM on August 19, 2020 [3 favorites]


This second one is instructive: the EU is taking the view that Apple has a monopoly of payment on the iPhone. Market definition is everything. I-am-not-a-lawyer, but I don’t see how Apple can win on Spotify (or Kindle), and I don’t think it should.

The market definition point needs to be emphasised, and I think a lot of people are underestimating it. I posted earlier that I thought the European Commission would look at application revenue rather than iOS hardware sales when it came to deciding about market share, and I'm now pretty sure I underestimated exactly how bad a position Apple is in.

Here's the legal definition of a market that the European Commission uses for competition law:

A relevant product market comprises all those products and/or services which are regarded as interchangeable or substitutable by the consumer, by reason of the products’ characteristics, their prices and their intended use.

That gives us some direction, but the clearer pointer is to look at how the markets were defined in the Google case, which looked at "general internet search services, licensable smart mobile operating systems and app stores for the Android mobile operating system" (emphasis mine).

The Commission takes the interchangeability part of the definition seriously, they call out in the link that users are unlikely to switch to app stores for other operating systems due to needing to purchase a new device. I can't see any way to reconcile the approach in that pre-existing case with anything other than at least one relevant market being 'app stores for the iOS mobile operating system', which Apple has ensured it has a monopoly on.

The Commission's clear that there is nothing inherently wrong in holding dominant or even monopoly position, only in abuse of it. So as long as Apple hasn't committed any of the examples of abuse listed there, and has treated all companies equally and fairly when it comes to the App Store, I'm sure they'll be fine.

I mean, it's not like they've allowed some content streaming services while arbitrarily denying others, and even allowed their own games streaming service, right?
It's not like they've put a margin squeeze on competitors, right?
It's not like they've charged some players different fees for access, right?

I don't know if threatening to terminate Epic's entire developer access, impacting things like Unreal Engine, if they don't republish Fortnite with Apple Pay purchases included would fall under a refusal to license IP, a refusal to supply, or is just so bugfuck insane that nobody has had to form case law around it before.
posted by MattWPBS at 3:29 PM on August 19, 2020 [1 favorite]


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