Last week, Epic Games, the developer of the massively popular Fortnite and Unreal Engine, sued Apple and Google’s parent company Alphabet over anti-competitive practices on their mobile app marketplaces. The story is explained clearly by the YouTuber YongYea:
YongYea also mentions Microsoft’s complaints against Apple for blocking Microsoft’s upcoming gaming platform on Apple devices.
MarketWatch views Epic’s lawsuit as a possible attack vector in the United States government’s antitrust investigation of Big Tech. In this article, MarketWatch notes that gaming is now the world’s biggest entertainment industry, surpassing Hollywood in recent years. As one of the most powerful AAA developers, Epic might have the war chest needed to crack Big Tech’s hold over the economy.
“This is an inflection point, and the start of a long-running debate on how these platforms push us right to the edge of what we are willing to pay,” said James Currier, managing partner at NFX, a Silicon-Valley-based venture capital firm. Currier has co-founded several startups, including videogame company Wonderhill.
“These closed gardens feel like extortion,” Currier told MarketWatch. “You need to pay to survive. It harkens to Microsoft MSFT, -0.72% and the Department of Justice investigation [in the 1990s], and AT&T T, +0.06% before that. With Apple and Google, it comes down to what is the ‘right’ take for the platforms? Thirty percent? 10%?”
Indeed, the Epic lawsuits are likely to serve as a starting point for what is shaping up as a long-standing debate in a network-effect economy of large-scale players. A handful of companies — Apple, Google, Amazon.com Inc. AMZN, -0.38% and Facebook Inc. FB, -0.74% , all of which are under investigation for their business practices — wield massive platforms that make it almost essential for smaller companies to inhabit if they choose to survive, Currier said.”
Congress questioned the chief executives of Apple, Google, Facebook, and Amazon in July (“Congress has a million-plus documents from Big Tech antitrust investigation, and are ready to grill big-name CEOs”). Democrat politicians are concerned about Big Tech’s anticompetitive practices which stifle smaller businesses and startups, while Republicans are fighting censorship on their communication platforms.
However, Epic Games is not a completely innocent company either. In recent years, they opened the Epic Games Store, a PC platform for 3rd party game developers to sell their titles. Nominally, the Epic store is meant to compete with Valve’s store Steam, but Epic has carried out its own anticompetitive tactics. Epic uses its vast cash reserves to make exclusivity deals with publishers, who had previously planned to launch on Steam as well.
Many games are pre-ordered on Steam before release, and independently made games are crowdfunded with the promise of release on multiple platforms. Such games that go Epic-exclusive represent promises broken, and anger the gaming community. Epic’s lawsuit on other corporations strikes gamers as hypocritical, as seen in the comments on YongYea’s video.