Tim Sweeney, the outspoken billionaire CEO of Fortnite makers Epic Games, is not ready to call off the company's legal feud with Apple. Still incensed by the walled garden nature of the iOS App Store and its 30% fee he refers to as "the Apple tax," Sweeney has stepped up the rhetoric a notch further, comparing the conflict to "civil rights fights, where there were actual laws on the books, and the laws were wrong."
In a live interview with The New York Times' Andrew Ross Sorkin (via TechCrunch), Sweeney defends Epic's position in the fight against Apple to Sorkin in moral terms, claiming that it's "everybody's duty to fight" the way Apple runs the iOS App Store.
"If we had adhered to all of Apple's terms and, you know, taken their 30% payment processing fees and passed the cost along to our customers," says Sweeney, "then that would be Epic colluding with Apple to restrain competition on iOS and to inflate prices for consumers. So going along with Apple's agreement is what is wrong."
Sweeney then goes on to make the aforementioned comparison to "civil rights fights," stopping short of elaborating on any deeper similarities he sees between Epic's goal of opening up Apple's digital storefront and the myriad legal challenges and civil disobedience struggles embarked upon for equity across race, gender, and sexuality. "[T]he laws were wrong," he says, "and people disobeyed them, and it was not wrong to disobey them because to go along with them would be collusion to make them status quo." A generous reading sees Sweeney emphasizing his belief that the payment processing change that led to Fortnite's removal from the App Store (and Google Play) was a necessary, rightful course of action.
After the interview, Sweeney took to Twitter to defend his statement. "Hey critics," writes Sweeney, "please read what I said and tell me if it's actually wrong: When the rules were wrongful, it was right to disobey them. That's the comparison to the civil rights movement."
In subsequent tweets, Sweeney has started to walk the statement back some. "There's no comparison between the struggle for fundamental human rights and this argument with monopolies, but there is much we can learn from the movement," he writes. "The tendency for companies is to negotiate privately for profit advantage, shying away from standing for real principles."
Regardless of whether Sweeney's comparison was made in poor taste, it serves as a way of signaling that he believes Epic's fight with Apple should continue until his desired outcome is reached. Epic has made clear that it would launch its own competing store and payment processor on iOS if it were allowed to, but Sweeney also tells Sorkin that he might consider an 8% fee on the Apple App Store to be sufficiently fair.
In other words, Apple's new policy that will lower its App Store fee to 15% only for developers making up to $1 million per year (made not just in the face of Epic's challenge but with increasing anti-trust scrutiny) is not mission accomplished in Sweeney's eyes.
The aim of the new fee structure, Sweeney opines to The Wall Street Journal, is to "remove enough critics that [Apple] can get away with their blockade on competition and 30% tax on most in-app purchases." If Epic chooses to keep rallying against the iOS norms on principle, it'll continue to be a difficult battle regardless of how often its messaging hastily veers into questionable territory.