It’s easy to roll your eyes at Epic Games’ “Nineteen Eighty Fortnite” ad, which parodies a 1984 Apple ad about the company’s fight against a monopoly. Can a $ 17.3 billion gaming company really act like a dependent on a man? Then again, the alternative – rooting for Apple – does not look much better. Apple is the most valuable company in the world; he can certainly live on getting a smaller commission from the products sold in the first part of the store.
“Everything about this sucks,” complains Kotaku gaming website. It is a feeling I have seen echoing on social media, where some people think that in a buffet war between two tech giants, the only real winner is the corrupt tendencies of capitalism. After all, this issue comes down to money, and making more of it.
But this skeptical narrative also shows what is at stake in the legal battle between Epic Games and Apple. The language of the lawsuit is revealing. In it, Epic says it does not want monetary compensation from the proceedings.
“Even Epic does not seek favorable treatment for itself, a single company,”; the document reads. Many people worry that this brawl will end with Apple facilitating the Epic Games by ignoring everyone else, but the Epic lawsuit clearly states that the company does not want special treatment not given to others. “On the contrary, Epic is seeking facilitation to allow fair competition in these two major markets that directly affect hundreds of millions of consumers and tens of thousands, if not more, of third-party application developers.”
Epic’s complaint against Google reads similarly, with Epic saying it is not seeking “favorable treatment” for itself, but rather, a more open environment for all. Of course, winning this battle meant that the Epic Games earn more money, which would be “favorable” to them. But the implications of the lawsuit could be broader for the gaming industry in general, especially when it comes to smaller game developers.
If Apple – or indeed, any large department store – were to receive less than its usual 30% cut for apps and in-app purchases, it could make a global difference for India’s developers. The percentage that Apple receives is quite standard in digital stores, like Steam or Nintendo eShop. But mobile devices are more ubiquitous than dedicated gaming devices, and seeing a notoriously stubborn enterprise budget for something like this can help change some other stores to reconsider their commissions, too.
A recent viral tweet from game developer Emma Maassen claims that if in-store stores received a smaller share of revenue, like the 12% that Epic Games gets on its store surface, that extra revenue will had allowed her Kitsune Games studio to develop a new title without raising funds. Responses to the tweet include other Indians sharing similar opportunities that would have been made possible by fairer revenue-sharing models across the gaming industry.
“The amount of extra things we could add to our game would be insane,” wrote indie developer Elwin Verploegen.
On platforms like Steam, the more you sell, the better your reward; the share of income can go down to 20%. Sure, a smaller developer needs extra money more than a blockchain studio. Shares of a smaller payout are higher for the little boy, who usually can not influence what these numbers look like. Epic almost looks like he’s getting the dress for them.
Does Epic Games give a lot of credit to this? Maybe. But the company seems to be on its feet. Beyond providing a better revenue-sharing model in its storefront than other big players, Epic has taken other progressive steps to help smaller developers across the board. Earlier this year, the battle royale maker announced that anyone using its Unreal Real Engine would not have to pay royalties on the first $ 1 million in revenue, a move that only affects India. This is in the $ 100 million grant offer to people who use the Unreal Engine in new ways, including upgrading open source tools that help the community at large.
In practice, the Epic seems to support the idea that a rising wave removes all ships. A smaller portion of revenue may mean less profit for porters in the short term, but if it allows creators to do and do more, the long-term tail is better for everyone involved.
It is a generous philosophy that has become rare to see within technology. We live in a world where Facebook has destabilized democracy, Google has previously held contracts with the government to upgrade weapons, catering services like Grubhub can contribute to the destruction of small businesses, and Uber threatens livelihoods. The algorithms tuned for engagement and expansion regularly betray everyday people. Google’s old motto, “Don’t get me wrong,” now seems like a joke.
To see a company like Epic Games not only choose a fight, but act fair about what seems to be wrong in a world where technical giants constantly fail us. Corporations do not have to act as they wish for what is best for everyone – not anymore.
But when I look at the messages about Epic Games and its values, I do not fully see a soul-sucking machine looking for number one. Instead of a completely depersonalizing brand, Epic Games also exists as an extension of a specific idiosyncratic personality: company founder and CEO Tim Sweeney.
I see Sweeney poetically shifting to want to build metaverse and destroy every barrier that stands in his way, like some star-eyed idealists. I see Sweeney, a billionaire who should probably never look at code again, talking enthusiastically about programming minutes on social media. I see Sweeney quietly using his fortune to buy large tracts of land for storage.
What kind of business plan is to remove your video game from the two largest platforms available, for who knows how long? Why choose a fight that will cost you money for boats? Who gets Apple and Google and thinks they can win? More than any big, modern tech company I can think of, Epic Games seems like the personal tool of an optimist who believes in something bigger than himself, even if it is unrealistic or stupid.
Speaking of being unrealistic, it is perhaps easy for me to believe in the supposedly noble intentions of an eccentric billionaire. Even so, if Sweeney succeeds against Apple and Google – and this is definitely Sweeney’s fight, given his extremely antipolar Twitter feed – Epic Games will not be the only party to benefit.