If you have any interest in games industry news, yesterday was an inconvenient day to log off and take a nap. Over the course of about 12 hours, a feud between some of the world's largest gaming and tech companies that's been percolating for months (hell, years, if you go back and read some of Tim Sweeney's statements from Back In The Day) finally bubbled to the surface.
All because Epic Games, meticulous plan already in hand that it has surely been concocting for some time now, laid the bait. And boy oh boy, were Apple and Google willing to bite.
So, let's just get straight to a full recap of what happened literally just yesterday, shall we?
STAT | $7.99 - The amount Fortnite players could pay for 1,000 V-Bucks as of yesterday morning if they accepted Epic Games' option to bypass the App Store or Google Pay, with their 30% platform fees, and buy V-Bucks directly. Normally, that amount of V-Bucks would cost $9.99. This discount was applied across all platforms, including PC and console.
QUOTE | "The fact that their business interests now lead them to push for a special arrangement does not change the fact that these guidelines create a level playing field for all developers and make the store safe for all users." - Apple's response shared with The Verge, as it explained why it was removing Fortnite from the App Store in the wake of this attempt to skirt its charges.
QUOTE | "If Apple had the way, they'd block the web and make arbitrary decisions about what pages you're allowed to visit...and then demand 30% of the revenue from every company that does business on the web." - Epic CEO Tim Sweeney, in a tweet in late July, seemingly teasing the fight he was about to pick with the smartphone maker.
QUOTE | "Fast forward to 2020, and Apple has become what it once railed against: the behemoth seeking to control markets, block competition, and stifle innovation. Apple is bigger, more powerful, more entrenched, and more pernicious than the monopolists of yesteryear. At a market cap of nearly $2 trillion, Apple's size and reach far exceeds that of any technology monopolist in history." - The opening remarks of a legal complaint against Epic Games filed following the removal of Fortnite from the Epic Games Store, in which it accused Apple of anti-competitive practices and sought injunctive action to get it to open its walled garden ecosystem.
QUOTE | "While Fortnite remains available on Android, we can no longer make it available on Play because it violates our policies. However, we welcome the opportunity to continue our discussions with Epic and bring Fortnite back to Google Play." - Google this time, in a statement to The Verge confirming it had removed Fortnite from Google Play for the same reason as Apple.
QUOTE | "Google was founded as an exciting young company with a unique motto: 'Don’t Be Evil'. Google’s Code of Conduct explained that this admonishment was about 'how we serve our users' and 'much more than that...it’s also about doing the right thing more generally'. Twenty-two years later, Google has relegated its motto to nearly an afterthought, and is using its size to do evil upon competitors, innovators, customers, and users in a slew of markets it has grown to monopolize." - Epic Games again, this time in a legal complaint filed against Google for the same accusations it levied in its complaint against Apple.
QUOTE | "Epic Games has defied the App Store Monopoly. In retaliation, Apple is blocking Fortnite from a billion devices. Join the fight to stop 2020 from becoming '1984'." - Epic Games once more, in a video it shared on its social channels and in Fortnite itself, positioning itself as a hero fighting back against the evil designs of Apple trying to take Fortnite away from the players. The entire video is a reference to an Apple ad from 1984, in which Apple made itself the hero fighting back against then-dominant personal computer company IBM.
QUOTE | "The second you exit the territory of 'advocating for human rights' and enter the world of trying to drum up mob support for your giant gaming corporation against another gaming corporation, things get real weird. It begs the question of what other issues Epic will perceive as important enough to call its players to action over in the future." - Apologies, this one's me, writing about how the above video is irresponsible corporate propaganda that's trying to weaponize a young audience in its complex legal battles to come.
STAT | $1.2 billion - The amount of money Epic Games has made from player spending on the iOS version of Fortnite since it launched on the platform, according to Sensor Tower.
STAT | $3.3 million - The amount of money the Fortnite audience on Google Play spent in the game in the last 30 days, also according to Sensor Tower. For comparison, App Store players spent $43.4 million in the same period. The discrepancy is due to the fact that Fortnite only launched on Google Play back in April, and a good chunk of the game's audience on Android owns the game by downloading it through Epic directly, where it's been available since 2018.
QUOTE | "Even on the main Facebook app and Messenger, we've been forced to bury Instant Games for years on iOS. This is shared pain across the games industry, which ultimately hurts players and devs and severely hamstrings innovation on mobile for other types of formats, like cloud gaming." - Facebook Gaming chief Vivek Sharma, speaking to The Verge at the tail end of last week. As if Apple needed any further battles to fight, Facebook, Microsoft, and Google are all irritated because Apple refuses to let them host storefronts within their own apps on the App Store unless it can review every single game within—meaning no Project xCloud, no Google Stadia, and no Instant Games within Facebook Gaming.
This absolutely wild saga that played out yesterday is a series of events we won't know the full implications of for months, or even years. On one hand, Epic Games has a dang point. Apple's aggressively walled garden, strict rules, and 30% revenue cut put together are deeply reminiscent of the 2001 court judgment against Microsoft over antitrust violations that forced the PC maker to open its platform up further to non-Microsoft software.
And it's worth pointing out that Epic isn't seeking damages in its complaints—what it says it wants is for iOS and Android to become truly open platforms for everyone, without sky-high revenue shares, with the ability for app makers to release their products without having to conform to a million restrictions.
Of course, Epic Games is also a big company, and what a big company exists to do is make money. And given that its court case specifically mentions Epic would make its own app store on iOS if it had the chance, just as it's made its own PC storefront, well, let's just say I think you'd be right to assume the big company that wants to make money is probably primarily in this for its own gain in the end, even if other smaller companies happen to benefit through its actions.
Anyway! That was quite a lot just for one week, don't you think? Surely nothing else occurred in the last five days that we really need to pay attention to, right?
QUOTE | "We have made the difficult decision to shift our release to 2021 to ensure the team has adequate time to deliver a Halo game experience that meets our vision." - 343 Industries studio head Chris Lee, announcing that Halo Infinite was being delayed out of the Xbox Series X launch due to multiple factors, including COVID-19.
Wait, that was this week? Wednesday feels like 10 years ago.
QUOTE | "There will be thousands of games to play, spanning four generations, when Xbox Series X launches globally this November and over 100 optimized for Xbox Series X titles, built to take full advantage of our most powerful console, are planned for this year." - Xbox Wire editor-in-chief Will Tuttle, in a post published simultaneously with the Halo Infinite delay to announce the Xbox Series X would be launched in November and, despite not having a single (new) first-party console exclusive available at launch, assuring potential buyers that there would still be plenty of reasons to drop money on the Microsoft-flavored game box.
STAT | $???.?? - The amount said Microsoft-flavored game box will cost, which we still do not know. We also still do not know the price of Sony's, despite the fact that during the last next-gen console launch cycle, we knew the pricing on both consoles by early June of the launch year.
QUOTE "Xbox Series X|S" - Text from the back of a box that The Verge confirmed contains an Xbox Series X controller—meaning that Microsoft is indeed going to release an "S" model of its next-gen console. Whatever that means.
QUOTE "Nonetheless, it casts a certain tone on the Xbox Series X/S launches; for a lot of consumers, the arrival of the new hardware is now going to be an event more comparable to the launch of Xbox One X—a better, more high-spec way to play your existing games—than a 'true' next gen launch event. Microsoft wanted to emphasise continuity in the Xbox line, for sure, but this isn't how it would have wanted it to play out." - Our columnist Rob Fahey, writing on how, despite how surprisingly well the console announcement cycles this year have played out in the disaster of a year generally that has been 2020, Halo Infinite's delay represents a watershed moment for the whole business.
I obviously am quite biased and think every story included in these columns is worth reading, but Rob's take above gives as good an overview of how COVID-19 has impacted gaming companies in a year that would have been packed with upheaval even were there not a global pandemic on.
As he accurately points out, Sony has likely also seen similar impacts to what would have been its launch slate, but given that it hasn't confirmed anything specific to pair with the PS5's debut (Spider-Man: Miles Morales arguably aside), it's had the flexibility to pretend otherwise. And then there's Nintendo, which is perfectly comfortable admitting not all is right with it given that it's sitting pretty mid-cycle and still riding Animal Crossing's partially-lockdown-induced success.
Both console makers are still playing at a staring contest where neither is willing to blink first on matters such as pricing, launch date, and certain details (especially related to the cheaper versions of each box). It was pointed out to me recently by a colleague that if Sony would cave and delay the PS5 into early 2021, Microsoft would likely follow suit happily within 24 hours. This may be the worst possible year to launch a console, but both hardware makers appear to be doggedly staying as on-track as they possibly can. Even with the shake-up of Halo Infinite's delay, I'm not sure there's anything that could push them to act in perhaps everyone's best interest and give the next-generation a few more months to percolate.
QUOTE | "Think about it: On January 1, who was the king of all media? It was clearly Disney. And Disney's business across the board has just been decimated by this transition to virtual that is required by COVID. And so we think that going forward, there's going to be a new class of winners. And we think that Nexon will be one of them." - Nexon CEO Owen Mahoney speaks following the company's Q2 financials on the mobile publisher's long-term plans to ride a wave of new entertainment—beginning with $1.5 billion in investments.
STAT $19.4 billion | The total player spending across the global games market in Q2 of this year, according to Sensor Tower analyst Craig Chapple. That number is up 28% year-over-year and 10.7% quarter-over-quarter—significantly stronger quarterly growth than seen in previous years.
QUOTE | "I've personally been a big believer in cloud gaming being here for the long term, and what we've seen is that COVID has accelerated the awareness and interest in cloud gaming. If you don't necessarily have a few hundred dollars to invest in a console, or a few thousand to invest in a PC, lapsed gamers can see cloud as a way of getting back into the hobby without making that investment." - Candice Mudrick speaks at our recent State of Games event on what might become of the games industry once the pandemic is over.
QUOTE | "Simplifying our approach and narrowing our focus goes beyond, for example, having one content organization vs two. It also means that we will be reducing the size of our teams, our layers, and our overall workforce." - WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar in a message to all employees, discussing a company restructuring and accompanying layoffs. It is unclear how this impacts WB Games, which has been reported for sale in previous weeks. We asked WB Games for comment, but did not receive a response.
QUOTE | "We just wanted to keep it tiny—no pun there. We wanted to do it where it makes sense financially. We're doing a lot of experimental things with Grounded—it's not our bread and butter. We're getting into something new. We're keeping the risk low, but still being able to be agile enough that we can develop really cool things quickly." - Grounded game director Adam Brennecke, discussing how the early access title is being made by both the smallest, and the collectively most senior team, at Obsidian, and why that matters.
STAT 11 | The number of panels from GamesIndustry.biz's digital event examining the crossovers between video games and other forms of media that took place on Thursday: Changing Channels. The event is over, but all the panels are free to watch on our YouTube channel.