Epic Games Makes Epic Play Against Apple, Google

Thom Weidlich 08.20.20


Using an aggressive legal and communications strategy, “Fortnite” creator Epic Games separately sued Apple and Google last week alleging antitrust violations. One factor that renders the episode fascinating is how obviously planned out it all was.

For years, Epic and other app developers have been frustrated over the big cut — 30 percent — the two tech giants take from sales in their app stores. On Thursday, Aug. 13, Epic took a stand and made in-app purchases available in “Fortnite” itself. In a further cheeky ploy, the company offered a 20 percent discount for its V-Bucks currency.

What Epic did violated Apple’s and Google’s terms. They immediately (the same day) retaliated by booting “Fortnite,” one of the most popular video games, with 350 million registered users, from their online bazaars. Again on the same day, Epic filed lengthy (read: drafted long before that day) complaints against the two behemoths in federal court in San Francisco. It isn’t seeking money damages, but a court order forcing the companies to change their policies.

“[Epic CEO] Tim Sweeney just led Apple right into an, ahem, epic trap,” Business Insider’s Troy Wolverton wrote. (Epic said in court papers Monday that, in another retaliation round, Apple is threatening to block the game maker from Apple’s developer tools.)

Control, Power

Epic’s litigation communications were also planned. “Epic is using all of its own power to execute a marketing campaign designed to highlight Apple’s control and power,” Tom Warren wrote on The Verge.

The company released a video within “Fortnite” parodying Apple’s 1984 anti-IBM 1984 Macintosh commercial (Epic: “They have taken our tribute, our profits, our control”). In mentioning the Apple ad in its complaint against the company, Epic wrote, “Apple has become what it once railed against: the behemoth seeking to control markets, block competition, and stifle innovation.”


All players should have a choice in payment providers.

— Epic Games

In its statement and FAQ on the spat, Epic told Apple users, “Make your voice heard in the fight against the app tax! Message @AppStore using #FreeFortnite on social. All players should have a choice in payment providers and save up to 20%. Apple disagrees!”

The social-media campaign succeeded. By the end of Thursday, #FreeFortnite was the top-trending hashtag on Twitter, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Game Giant

Epic reaped great press. The main message was that a video-game giant was willing to go up against even bigger tech Goliaths (closely held Epic, based in Cary, North Carolina, is valued at $17 billion, while Apple is worth $2 trillion and Google parent Alphabet $1 trillion). Some of the press even said Epic acted not only for itself but for the video-game industry as a whole.

It’s a major gamble on Epic’s part. It’s losing access to all those potential customers through dominant app stores (unlike Apple, Google lets people download apps from outside its Android shop). But Epic must have thought about that. It’s clearly hoping gamers place the blame on Apple and Google.

That may depend on how well Epic continues to communicate.

Photo Credit: Marco Verch/Creative Commons

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