#FreeFortnite

Don’t underestimate what just happened: Epic remotely adding an in-app circumvention for in-app purchases in Fortnite on mobile is an engagement of hostilities on par with the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Or the people of Paris taking the Bastille, depending on your point of view. This isn’t just the Hey saga: the relationship between Epic and Apple (and Epic and Google) can never be the same after that.

What’s at stake? Just the whole principle of tight control of mobile platforms by their stewarts, that’s pretty much it. Indeed, you can’t keep the conversation on the “dirty percent” without then reviewing the agency model and the exclusivity (or extinguishing dominance, in the case of Android) of the platform application store, which brings into question app review, which leads us to Apple’s meddling and misguidance and around-pushing and self-dealing and feeding us garbage and capriciousness (too many incidents to list) and inconsistency and preferential treatments (again, too many) and dual-personality and overpowering control and petrification of developers (worth blowing one NYT free read).

Any single one of those is a fundamental injustice, in the sense that each of them represent a damned-if-you-do (Apple could catch you), damned-if-you-don’t (you have to take user criticism/you get punished by the market for being non-competitive/etc.) alternative for the developer. And yet with few exceptions (coverage by Charles Arthur at The Guardian comes to mind), this never reaches the mainstream. But Epic has accomplished that: the news has spread everywhere by now, leading to unprecedented scrutiny of Apple’s actions, and it’s not about to stop. For instance, we’ve always had to assume the best possible intentions from Apple whenever they introduced some restriction, because conspiratorial thinking leads to nowhere, but as Steve Troughton-Smith raises that which we could learn through the lawsuit could be very damaging through revealing what their planning was for introducing them. Yes, it’s a stunt. Of course it’s a stunt. Of course it’s self-serving. But many significant actions were initially dismissed as stunts; what matters is whether it brings us closer to justice.

I think Epic’s message is rather awkward and is preaching too much to the choir, and that them targeting the Play Store as well (which you could always circumvent through Android side-loading) is muddying the message. But not only did it reach the mainstream as mentioned, Epic is making an important point that through sheer airspace saturation has a good chance of reaching the rank-and-file at Apple (and Google): didn’t you become that which you fought? Such a targeting is something that I feel has been missing in the tech conversation. That’s the second thing they’re doing right.

I also hear they are a big faceless company, and I myself wouldn’t trust them any farther than I can throw them, but I can’t answer this argument better than mcc did: given the sheer size of Apple and Google, how could an indie possibly hope to meaningfully take on them? Still, that leaves the question of what will they actually do if they win… but, as it turns out, that doesn’t matter. It’s not a succession war with a zero-sum outcome of just determining who will lord over us: Epic can’t dethrone Apple as the platform stewart. The best they can hope for is having their own store as a peer to the Apple-managed iOS App Store, and if that happens, guess what will happen? Valve will be able to do so as well, and so will instantly bring Steam to iOS. Activision Blizzard will probably want in on the action, as well. etc. And now you have healthy competition of app stores on the platform, such that none of them has veto power over any developer. That is the third and most important reason for why their campaign deserves to be supported.

Look, it can simultaneously be true that Epic is full of shit when they “pass on” the savings for cosmetic add-ons for which they have full pricing power and zero fixed cost, and that they are in the right to take on this Apple policy, because that policy is abusive for the many, many cases where there are fixed costs and pricing power is more limited, so it is abusive in general. And while I think that Epic has little chance of winning their lawsuit given current U.S. law (or elsewhere, should they attempt in France or the E.U.), I also think they should eventually win this fight. So, yeah, #FreeFortnite.