Apple has always had a complicated relationship with the gaming industry, but this month that relationship got caught up in a bitter and very public legal and regulatory war that could shape the future of iPhone apps. The first escalation came when Apple made it clear why there are no plans to approve cloud gaming services from its tech rivals Google and Microsoft. The second was when Apple kicked the hugely popular battle royale hit Fortnite from the App Store after its inventor Epic Games provoked the company with an update against rules.
Epic countered the removal of Apple with an antitrust lawsuit that was prepared well in advance and accompanied by a detailed 62-page appeal. It could be powerful enough to change Apple's business forever. But Epic's dramatic public performance – an unprecedented piece of corporate trolling like we've never seen it before – leads the feud with Apple as a battle verging on good versus evil, with Apple, the company's bad guy, aggressively taxing and restricting developers . Epic's complaint argues that behavior is also against the law.
Epic's accomplished stunt portrays his feud with Apple as a battle that borders on good versus evil
The company is suing Google on similar grounds after Google removed Fortnite from its Play Store. As Epic pointed out in an unprecedented video mocking Apple's iconic Macintosh ad "1984" – one that was also broadcast direct to gamers in the virtual world of Fortnite itself – is Apple and its long-standing and often controversial administration of the iOS app the main target ecosystem.
The ad shows a signature Fortnite character racing into a dimly-lit auditorium of corporate zombies, with sagging jaws and glassy eyes, while an anthropomorphic apple celebrates the exploitation of the working class. The character swings her pickaxe on the screen, smashes it and displays a message modeled after the memorable on-screen text of the original Apple ad: “Epic Games defied the monopoly of the App Store. In retaliation, Apple Fornite has blocked one billion devices. Join the fight to keep 2020 from turning out to be 1984. "
It's a stunning animation as it uses Apple's original underdog personality in the 1980s personal computing industry and Orwellian themes of government control to see Apple as the ultimate villain. His growth and greed made him an enemy almost four decades ago.
Every single step by Apple – jerking Fortnite or banning cloud gaming services – could make gamers skeptical of Apple's control of the App Store and the company's commitment to getting the best games on the phone and keeping them there. Together, however, there is a risk that Apple will lose a generation of young, playful smartphone owners who may prefer platforms and services over which the iPhone maker demonstrably has little control.
Apple, which as gatekeeper led one of the most lucrative gaming booms in the last decade, has now removed from its business one of the most popular mobile games played by children and teenagers around the world. Many of these players grow up without a game console or PC, as Fortnite itself proves. At the same time, Apple specifically and specifically excludes cloud gaming platforms that can broadcast the type of games that require a dedicated console or PC to the same player's phones – by using the iPhone or iPad's screen and network connection as a mere channels are used for a cloud gaming server instead.
The Stadia cloud gaming service launched by Google in November 2019 works on mobile devices, but only for Android devices, as Apple does not approve an iOS version of the Google app.
Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge
APPLE, FORTNITE AND THE HIDDEN THREAT OF CLOUD GAMING
Apple's ban on cloud games was not entirely unexpected, but it was met with skeptical ears. When the company explained why Google Stadia and Microsoft xCloud could never exist on iOS, condemnation of the move was quick, even on Apple websites. Macworld called the move an "obviously absurd" excuse, AppleInsider said it was "anti-consumer", even the trustworthy Apple blogger John Gruber of Daring Fireball called it "nonsensical" in his article.
This Apple statement: Cloud gaming services are not one of them because they provide access to a library of games that Apple cannot individually review. In order for games to exist on the iPhone and iPad, they must be submitted individually for review, subject to user reviews and be found in search results, suggests Apple. Games shouldn't be treated like music, movies, and TV shows in Apple's eyes, but rather as software that requires careful scrutiny so that they're not later updated in ways that violate its strict content guidelines, the company told The Verge.
In Apple's eyes, games are not treated like music, movies, and TV shows, but rather as software
It is unspoken here, of course, that all apps that sell digital goods of any kind must pay Apple's 30 percent fee. Cloud gaming apps that provide access to many games that contain their own virtual marketplaces for digital goods complicate this set business arrangement. How does Apple get its revenue if a player spends money in Epics Fortnite once it is streamed through Microsoft's xCloud instead of locally on their phones?
Epic CEO Tim Sweeney, who hates rental-seeking middlemen and market restrictions, has been a harsh critic of the App Store in the past and had harsh words for Apple's cloud gaming restrictions. Last Thursday he tweeted: “Apple banned the Metaverse. The principle they literally spell out would exclude all cross-platform ecosystems and games with user-created modes: not just XCloud, Stadia, and GeForce NOW, but Fortnite, Minecraft, and Roblox as well. "
Over half of US children play Roblox, a game that lets you create other games – ones that Apple may not need for individual approval.
A week later, Epic made its move. The Fortnite app has been updated with its own in-app payment system, bypassing Apple's 30 percent cut. It didn't stop there: it also lowered the prices of all in-app purchases by 20 percent using this payment system, claiming to pass the savings on to consumers. (Regardless of whether Epic saves 30 percent and passes on 20 percent, it will take an additional 10 percent home with it itself.) With Apple removed the app, Epic can now claim that there is evidence of consumer damage and use that supposed damage to to scold anger consumers and take on Apple with their #FreeFortnite campaign.
But really, Epic knew Fortnite would be banned all along. In defense, there was a prepared lawsuit and extensive social media campaign alleging that Apple had committed antitrust violations in relation to the operation of the App Store and the rules and payment mechanisms on which it was based. While Epic's lawsuit filed against Google makes similar claims, Android users can still easily download, update, and play Fortnite using Epic's own third-party launcher, which can be downloaded through a web browser. The same does not apply to the iPhone.
This is where Sweeney's previous complaint about Apple's cloud gaming ban helps shed some light on his case. Epic's lawsuit is not aimed at financial relief. Rather, the App Store is to be closed and, in addition, the option of using your own payment systems or a more generous breakdown for in-app purchases. From Sweeney's point of view, Apple is a threat to all game makers trying to build rich entertainment and trading platforms that, like Fortnite and other massive multiplayer games, could one day replace the web. In this context, Epic's "1984" parody takes on a more self-serious tone, and Epic's struggle is starting to resemble the virtuous campaign that Sweeney calls it.
In a four-part tweet thread published on Friday evening, Sweeney said the fight with Apple is not about money, but about "the fundamental freedoms of all consumers and developers." He described Apple as a company that was restricting the freedoms of smartphone owners by restricting what apps they can install and how developers distribute that software.
The main argument is: "Smartphone markers can do what they want". This is a terrible idea.
We all have rights and we must fight to defend our rights against anyone who would oppose them. Even if that means fighting against a beloved company like Apple.
– Tim Sweeney (@TimSweeneyEpic) August 14, 2020
With Fortnite, Epic is waging war on Apple's established, crystal clear rules by dramatically, publicly, and legally opposing Apple's 30 percent cut. (Few have bothered to do this before.) However, when it comes to cloud games, Apple's App Store rules are a little less clear-cut – and frankly, the rules don't even include Apple's core argument.
Tech blogger John Gruber in a blog post last week deciphered the work Apple said in its cryptic cloud gaming statement, which addresses Apple's desire to review every single game individually. He believes that it is less about the fact that individual games have to be their own apps and more about the fact that cloud gaming platforms are "simply forbidden" in his words. Why? We don't know for sure, but Gruber posits this because Apple prefers native apps over those that run remotely in the cloud.
Apple isn't going to say exactly why cloud gaming platforms aren't allowed in the App Store
It's a nonsense justification, there is no doubt about it. However, the comparison with Netflix or Spotify is secondary. Of course, Apple cannot and cannot review every movie on Netflix or every title on Spotify. But if you think about it, they could check out every game on Xbox Game Pass. Even if there are 100 games, they could all watch, ”wrote Gruber. “The point is, streaming video and music services are allowed on the App Store. Streaming software (games or other) is not allowed unless it works on the web. Apple just doesn't want to say that. "
Microsoft issued the sharpest reprimand of Apple's position in a statement late last week when it said the company's ban on cloud games was further evidence that game makers and game apps were being treated unfairly. “Apple is the only all-purpose platform denying consumers cloud gaming and gaming subscription services like Xbox Game Pass. And it treats gaming apps consistently differently and applies milder rules to non-gaming apps, even if they contain interactive content, "said a Microsoft spokesman, referring to the type of experimental interactive videos that Netflix has invested in and used as Video games could be classified.
It is true that there are examples of Apple's preferential treatment of non-gaming services, particularly in the context of this increasingly controversial 30 percent cut, often referred to as the "Apple Tax". Subscription services like Netflix and Spotify, for example, can only pay 15 percent instead of 30 percent after a customer has been registered for more than a year. More recently, Apple has started letting Amazon sell movie and TV rentals without paying for the cut. This was part of a new program that only a small handful of streaming video platforms could participate in (the other two are lesser-known services from Atlice One and Kanal +). However, like music streaming services, gaming apps don't seem to qualify.
While Apple's approach to gaming apps may have made sense in a world where all games have to be downloaded and run locally on hardware, cloud gaming is starting to improve on that regime in ways that could massively transform the video game industry, similarly as streaming changed, Hollywood filmmaking and television has changed forever.
Apple has exempted apps from Amazon and others from paying the 30 percent cut
Suddenly Apple's argument that every game on iOS must be submitted individually rather than as part of a larger portal or subscription service fades. For example, why doesn't Netflix have to get approval for every new show it publishes live on its streaming video app, even those that include interactive elements like Black Mirror: Bandersnatch? What about YouTube, with its endlessly growing mountain of user-generated content?
Apple didn't respond to repeated requests for comment on whether there was a specific App Store policy that said games must be submitted individually or an exception for interactive content included in streaming video apps like Netflix or YouTube. We couldn't find one. We reviewed the guidelines, and while Section 4.2.7 specifically goes into "Remote Desktop Clients" which seem to prohibit "Thin Clients for Cloud-Based Apps", there doesn't seem to be a rule saying that all games on iOS Must be submitted as individual apps.
Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge
Cracks in the walled garden
Cloud gaming offers a different vision of game development and distribution than that of Apple or Sony and Nintendo. Future games may not require players to own powerful hardware or even pay full price for the title itself. Instead, a distant cloud server and monthly subscription service could theoretically deliver a Netflix buffet of all-you-can-play offerings. All of this is available on your TV, phone, tablet, or any other screen that you have on hand that can be connected to a relatively fast internet connection.
There are conceivable reasons why cloud games are a threat to Apple. Apple may not want to draft new App Store agreements for subscription game services or review processes for evaluating each new title on a platform like Microsoft xCloud. It just might not want to give up control of the user experience when an iPhone simply turns into a tiny wireless television screen for games running on remote Windows or Linux PCs.
Why create an iOS game when you can distribute it through a cloud gaming service without paying the App Store price?
There is also the argument that a cloud app is the ultimate version of software that is everywhere and available on any device. In this scenario, why would a game developer create a dedicated iOS title with touch controls and in-app purchases, plus all the other bells and whistles required of an iPhone game when they can make the game easier to publish to xCloud or a contract could complete? Google and spread it through Stadia? In a world where Apple gives cloud gaming apps the green light, this software can be streamed instantly to mobile devices without the developer having to submit it for Apple review or paying the dreaded “Apple Tax”.
For whatever reason, the company's defiance – despite eager appeals from its competitors and consumer demands (there's a petition from Change.org asking Apple to change its mind) – sets the stage for a world where iPhone is -Users do not have access to what could be the future of how video games will be played. Meanwhile, Google, Microsoft, Nvidia and other platform providers and their partners are joining forces to create Android as a future-oriented platform for the future of mobile and cloud gaming. From September 15th, Android owners can use Microsoft xCloud, Google Stadia, Nvidia's GeForce Now and lesser known services like Parsec and Vortex. You cannot access any of these platforms on the iPhone.
In many ways, this is another chapter in the ongoing Apple cartel saga. Critics, regulators and developers are more concerned than ever that Apple is exerting undue influence over the app makers on its platform, even when it develops its own products and services that compete with those of its developers. Apple has the added benefit of giving its own products access to iOS hardware and software entitlements that many third-party developers do not have. We have seen this countless times before – being sherlocked in the software industry means that Apple is copying a key product or feature and integrating it into its own operating system or app, killing the competition.
However, the talk about Apple's power and whether it is monopoly behavior has grown louder in recent years. The company is now facing two antitrust investigations in the European Union, in part because companies like Spotify complained that Apple was competing on an unequal playing field by using its App Store rules and iOS permissions to defeat its competitors to suppress.
The conversation about Apple's power and whether it is monopoly behavior has grown louder in recent years
Earlier this summer, Apple was also in a big showdown with Basecamp, the company behind a new email service. Hey, Apple has banned its iOS app from updating due to a disagreement over the design of the app and whether it should leave the App Store, Cut. Much like a cloud gaming platform, Hey was a new breed of consumer service that came across Apple's inconsistent management of the App Store simply because Apple didn't yet have a clear rule for that type of app. When Hey tried to bypass the App Store cut, as many similar enterprise apps have done in the past, Apple blocked Basecamp from updating it and prompted the company's co-founders to launch vocal social media and press campaigns to target the to win public favor. Apple didn't give in until Basecamp added an in-app sign-in option.
After the Hey Dustup, Apple introduced a way for developers to appeal against App Store policies that they believe were wrongly enforced, as was the case with Basecamp. However, Facebook soon claimed the appeal process was just the latest in how Apple treated gaming unfairly: the company attempted to appeal after filing its dedicated Facebook mobile gaming app on the App Store, but it was denied since the app included access to a platform allowing you to play small Flash-style mini-games through an integrated web browser.
It wasn't a cloud gaming problem per se, but the rules and context surrounding the rejection are similar: Apple doesn't like developers offering access to apps or app stores nested in other parts of iOS software, except in very specific circumstances. Facebook removed the ability to play and Apple then approved the app. But when Facebook filed its appeal, it said it didn't hear back.
"Even in the main Facebook app and Messenger, we were forced to bury instant games on iOS for years," said Vivek Sharma, head of Facebook Gaming, in a statement to The Verge. "This is a common pain across the gaming industry that ultimately hurts gamers and developers, and significantly hinders innovation on mobile devices for other types of formats such as cloud gaming."
Last week the EU said it was "aware" of the cloud gaming ban, Reuters reported, although antitrust investigators refused to comment on whether the decision would feed into their ongoing investigation.
Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge
APPLE AND GAMES: A LOVE-HATE RELATIONSHIP
On the one hand, this becomes a potential antitrust problem, especially if Apple ever develops its own cloud gaming app. On the flip side, it's just the most recent altercation in Apple's long and controversial relationship with the gaming industry. The App Store as it exists today, and with it the entire iOS platform, owes much of its success to the growth and continued popularity of gaming apps.
The earliest iPhone success stories were hits like Angry Birds that turned into massive multimedia franchises. Later on, the world's biggest game companies like Activision Blizzard and China's Tencent would invest heavily in smaller studios to create billion dollar companies like King's Candy Crush Saga and TiMi Studios Honor of Kings and Arena of Valor. Surprise hits like the augmented reality pioneer Pokémon Go would further increase the appetite for new mobile-first gaming experiences, with the iPhone being the first address for the monetization of this software despite the fees extracted by Apple.
The App Store owes its success primarily to the growth and continued popularity of gaming apps
But it's only in the past few years that Apple has officially recognized the category by highlighting it as one of the most important app categories in its mobile market and launching its own paid subscription service, Arcade, which is full of games that Apple developers have created exclusively for its own platform created. For much of the last decade, Apple viewed gaming as a sideline and chose to cede the PC market to Microsoft by refusing to equip its laptops and desktops with the GPUs needed to play more powerful computer games and itself Resting largely on its laurels on mobile devices, Android struggled with piracy and copyright infringement.
Meanwhile, the gaming industry, and mobile app developers in particular, viewed Apple as a benevolent dictator for iOS who could not be fought and who often held absolute authority. While Fortnite maker Epic tried to bypass Google's Play Store by distributing the mobile version of the hit Battle Royale itself (an effort that was eventually declared a failure), Epic only ventured a similar one this month Try the method for the iOS version -app Payment Coup. (The reason is simple: there is no way for developers to sideload an app on iPhone without going through Apple and paying the App Store fee, unless they take advantage of loopholes or just target jailbroken devices .)
Eventually, however, gaming got too big for the tech industry to ignore, and Apple wanted a bigger chunk. The company launched its arcade subscription in September last year. The service now includes more than 100 titles, all of which are available for download for a monthly fee of $ 4.99. It was a bold game to further legitimize iOS games as a space with space for high-profile, high-quality experiences that you're more likely to find from established indie developers and mobile app veterans.
Subscriptions and games have not been mixed well in the past due to complex factors ranging from the investment required to create a game to the various financial risks associated with selling over a large network of digital markets. But here was Apple offering upfront cash to cover development costs and some more. And it's largely seen as a success, even if Apple's financial agreements and strict exclusivity requirements pose risks to indie developers who can't easily migrate their games to other platforms.
Microsoft's xCloud lets you play games like Halo on a phone over the cloud – but not if it's an iPhone.
Photo by Nick Statt / The Verge
But Apple wasn't alone, and subscription services that include both buffets and a la carte marketplaces are popping up with cloud gaming technology. Microsoft xCloud will be available from September 15th, combining two future-oriented business models for game distribution in one elegant service. Microsoft is already an industry leader in subscription services with Xbox Game Pass, which was first launched in 2017 and now includes more than 100 games, including past and future Microsoft first-party games like the upcoming Halo Infinite that can be downloaded and kept for as long as You pay the monthly fee. Every game Microsoft announced for its next Xbox game console last month will also be available for Game Pass.
xCloud could make cloud games a lot more palatable, but iPhone users are left out
And next month, the Ultimate version of the subscription, which includes access to PC and Xbox games for $ 15 a month, will get xCloud as an added benefit, giving subscribers the option to access all Game Pass titles for free Streaming their Android phone at an additional cost. The move could make xCloud a great competitor to Google's Stadia and Nvidia's GeForce Now, as anyone with a PC or Xbox and Android phone can enjoy a much more robust game library on a variety of screens.
It can take many years for cloud games to mature into a technology that can keep up with running native software downloaded onto a device. But where cloud games can really shine is in the way xCloud was designed: as an added mobile perk to an already great multi-platform subscription service. This could boost cloud gaming in ways that Stadia, GeForce Now, and lesser-known services like Shadow never could.
The only problem now is that a large part of the audience who own a smartphone cannot ride. This is because Apple has determined that such products are not in their own interest or in the best interests of the platforms it owns and curates, including the competing arcade subscription service. This is another reminder that while Apple's walled garden is immaculately manicured and comfortable, it remains small and restrictive even as new innovations continue to emerge in space beyond its limits.