Epic’s Effort To Rally ‘Fortnite’ Fans Against Apple Has Not Really Panned Out

There were two prongs in Epic’s decision to pick a direct fight with Apple by bypassing iOS app store payments which caused Fortnite to be kicked off the market, frozen in time, unable to be updated with new patches and seasons of content. The first was legal, as Epic was prepared for that response and is now taking Apple to court over the 30% cut and the banning of apps like Fortnite that don’t follow that.

The second was a public-facing campaign where they branded this new crusade #FreeFortnite, letting fans print their own merch, and airing an ad mocking the Apple’s own 1984 commercial implying they were now the oppressive overlords they once fought against. There’s even an anti-Apple in-game skin, the Tart Tycoon.

The legal challenge is obviously the most important part of this, and it seems like each week the case takes some new twist or turn with Apple taking more action or countersuing or some new thing breaking in Epic’s iOS ecosystem (most recently, iOS 14 had the potential to permanently erase Fortnite from phones, according to Epic). The biggest judgement so far was that Apple couldn’t strip Epic of its tools to support Unreal Engine across iOS, but it was allowed to keep Fortnite off the app store. Where this ends, no one seems to know.

But the other angle of this has really petered out, and never took off to begin with.

While yes, I think you can make a certain collection of people agree that Apple taking a 30% cut from games like Fortnite (and much smaller developers than Epic) is kind of a bad system, it’s also hard to convince people that it must change, and must change imminently.

Many people seem to understand that for better or worse, this is industry standard across Apple, Google, Steam and even Xbox and PlayStation stores, which Epic is not suing, citing that the 30% cut is “unreasonable” on iOS and Google Play, but not as much on video game consoles for reasons that aren’t fully able to be understood by folks not in the industry.

Your average Fortnite player…does not seem to care about this entire conflict. If a game disappears from your mobile device, you either move to play it on another platform (Switch, home consoles, PC, etc) or you move to play another game you like on mobile (Minecraft, Roblox, etc). As for the pro players, the big name streamers who have made a living off Fortnite, I’ve heard practically nothing from any of them in strong support of Epic here. They’re not using their platforms to present a meaningful case about the issue to their millions of fans. They simple don’t care, and since nearly all of them play on PC (with a few on consoles), the mobile platform might as well not even exist for them in the first place. It’s just not on their radar.

Fundamentally, the narrative I have heard most often is that this just seems like one corporation versus another corporation, and it doesn’t really matter by how many orders of magnitude Apple is bigger than Epic. It’s also hard for people to believe that Epic is in this for altruistic reasons. Not everyone is reading Tim Sweeney’s heartfelt tweets about the unfairness of this for both Epic and all developers, rather the assumption is that this is a corporation that just wants to make more money by giving less money to another corporation.

I think Epic has turned the tide on a long fought war for the minds of many PC players when they debuted the Epic store as a rival to Steam, attempting to solve the problem of the 30% cut on that platform by creating an alternative (a 12% cut) that practiced what they preached.

But without the ability to do that on mobile (which is part of the case they’re arguing, that they can’t open up an Epic Store there if they wanted to), this results in a messy, lengthy case where the end result seems questionable. If the only way that Epic will get Fortnite back on iOS is to get some judge to declare that Apple’s 30% cut is anti-competitive and must go, that seems like an incredibly tall order.

Yes, there is some rumbling from other megacorps like Facebook and Microsoft who are similarly annoyed with Apple’s app store practices, including the 30% cut, but others like Google (which Epic has also filed against) are moving to be even more like Apple with pending changes to their stores, and no one else is going “all in” like Epic is here.

Fundamentally, I do believe Epic is “right” here that a closed ecosystem on mobile that demands a 30% kickback for practically nothing is bad and should be regulated better. And yet their public PR campaign for this movement has fallen flat, if not disappeared entirely, and seemingly produced no results (what was anyone supposed to actually do about this? Write angry letters to Tim Cook?). And the lawsuit seems like a mixed bag for now, with each new update seemingly being about Epic suffering some new blow as their privileges on iOS continue to shrink and shrink. I don’t know where this ends, but if it’s Fortnite permanently being gone from mobile, that would mean this fight probably wasn’t worth it, as it hamstrings not just the potential of the game but the Metaverse it was trying to create.

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