A war of Epic proportions

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A truly fascinating conflict is brewing in the two dominant app stores where the most popular gaming app, Fortnite, has staged a revolt against the 30% payments cut taken by Apple and Google.

This requirement that apps pay almost a third to the relevant app store is a long-standing bone of contention. Last year streaming music service Spotify reported Apple to European competition authorities because of this fee.

The maker of Fortnite, the now very appropriately named Epic Games, is taking on the two giants of the mobile software world. Much like the gaming inside the app, this fight is going to be… epic. It’s only just begun but it’s going to be fascinating.

The immovable object (in this case Apple and Google’s app store rules) has met the unstoppable force, a game so popular it can go head-to-head with the titans of mobile tech.

The case, as made by Spotify and others, is that Apple is being anticompetitive, not least because it has similar apps of its own, but, as US Senator Elizabeth Warren says, because “you can be an umpire, or you can be a player – but you can’t be both”.

These comments last year were specifically directed at Amazon, during her #BreakUpBigTech campaign, and how it deals with smaller competitors that sell their products through the ecommerce giant’s marketplace.

But she has said virtually the same about the iPhone maker: “Apple, you’ve got to break it apart from their App Store,” she said. “Either they run the platform or they play in the store. They don’t get to do both at the same time.”

Apple has been accused of anticompetitive behaviour for years about the way it deals with other apps that compete with Apple’s own offerings. It is these antitrust concerns that saw its CEO Tim Cook appear before US lawmakers last month, with the CEOs of Amazon, Facebook and Google, for the first hearing about this competition-stifling behaviour.

Apple doesn’t make games but it offers a subscription service for gaming named Apple Arcade.

After Microsoft was forced last week to drop a new streaming service for gaming, which is being played on its Azure data centers, called xCloud, it said Apple “consistently treats gaming apps differently, applying more lenient rules to non-gaming apps even when they include interactive content”.

Apple also banned a gaming app from Facebook, which said: “Apple rejected the app claiming the primary purpose of the Facebook Gaming app is to play games. It’s not. [About] 95% of app activity on Android is from watching live streams. We shared this stat with Apple, but no luck.”

Google’s own Stadia streaming service launched an app for iOS without the ability to play a game.

But if ever there was a David that could take on the app store Goliaths, it is the phenomenally successful Fortnite. It’s so popular as the hottest game that it may well have the slingshot ability to defy the mighty app store overlords.

In each game of Fortnite, 100 gamers parachute onto an island where they play what’s known as a “Battle Royale” ­– a fight until the last player standing is the winner.

Ironically, that seems to be the scenario playing out in Epic vs Apple and Google.

This article first appeared in the Financial Mail.

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About Author

Toby Shapshak is editor-in-chief and publisher of Stuff, a Forbes contributor and a Financial Mail columnist. He has been writing about technology and the internet for 20 years and his TED Global talk on innovation in Africa has over 1,5-million views. He has written about Africa's tech and start-up ecosystem for Forbes, CNN and The Guardian in London. He was named in GQ's top 30 men in media and the Mail & Guardian newspaper's influential young South Africans. He has been featured in the New York Times. GQ said he "has become the most high-profile technology journalist in the country" while the M&G wrote: "Toby Shapshak is all things tech... he reigns supreme as the major talking head for everything and anything tech."

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