Early this morning I saw a bunch of tweets from various people showing off how Fortnite was allowing users to pay less with an App Store payment bypass. This allowed customers to purchase the battle pass with either an in app purchase, or for a few dollars less, a credit card directly through the app. This has been known since 2008 to be against Apple's rules and Apple doesn't like it when you break their rules.
The rumors and questions were flying. Would Apple allow this to continue? After all, Fortnite is one of the biggest games of all time with over 350 million accounts. Would they change their ways and allow Epic's Fortnite to continue like this and forever change the landscape of the App Store?
It wasn't much longer afterwards that Apple banned Fortnite from the App Store. It played out exactly as I had expected, and apparently exactly how Epic had planned.
Immediately a lawsuit was launched, one which was clearly prepared in advance. Then at 1pm, they launched a video mocking Apple's 1984 commercial where Apple was going up against Big Blue, aka IBM.
They knew exactly what would happen. They were playing chess and Apple fell for the trap and gave up their rook. It was... Epic.
Many people have asked why this is happening? Why is a billion dollar Goliath going up against a 2 Trillion dollar Super Mega Goliath? To me, I think Epic is fighting the good fight. On the iPhone, the only way to get apps is via the App Store. Curated, safe, secure, unique-ish, and good design is the norm. There's no way to get around the App Store for iOS devices like there is on every other platform.
The rules aren't always completely fair. Sometimes apps are rejected out of the blue. Occasionally app updates, which may have important security patches or bug fixes, are rejected because of an adjacent feature that Apple doesn't like. I've personally had apps rejected because it was possible to view profanity through the web view, which by the way, apple provides as a part of it's very own SDK. It's the opaquely inconsistent rules and Apple's complete control that has been driving developers mad. And mad they should be.
One of the biggest confusions in the App store is preferential treatment. Most recently, Hey, a Basecamp email client was rejected because you could subscribe to it via a website outside of the app. Apple has an exclusion for this if you're considered a reader app, such as for eBooks. Email is reading, right?
The Kindle app let's you buy books and send them to your phone without Apple taking a cut. It's confusing, and they rejected Hey for quite some time until enough social pressure helped get attention to this. Luckily, Basecamp is good at getting social attention. Most indie developers just don't have the following to make enough noise.
Apple also wants a 30% cut of sales from not only the app download itself, but all in app purchases, and you cannot get around this for digital goods. Apple charges $99/yearly for the privilege (you still have to apply) to publish to the app store. This 30% is a requirement. Developers cannot use alternative payment methods and because the only way to get apps onto an iPhone is via the App Store, customers are left without choice.
Apple has brushed shoulders with anti competitive behavior in the App Store before. They've rejected competing apps and have removed apps after they launched something similar claiming "your app is too similar to one in the store" even if it came first. Companies like Netflix and Spotify have struggled with this too. Netflix stopped allowing customers to subscribe via the App Store. Spotify and Youtube Premium also charge a few dollars more for their subscription, too. In the end, it's not good for customers and it's even worse for developers.
So here we are. Confusing rules that favor all of the Big Brothers that Apple swore to defeat in 1984. What appears to be preferential treatment of these mega corporations and dismissal of the little guy is not only anti-competitive, but stifles innovation. And now, here we are, with arguably the most popular video game of the past few years played by tens of millions of teenagers ready to pull out their iPhone flash lights and skinned pickaxes ready to go to digital battle with Apple. Epic isn't the little guy by any stretch of the imagination—they're massive, and I'm incredibly glad they're using their influence to fight this fight. Someone has to. The little guys have been trying for years, and now we have a Hulk on our side. Whether the App Store allows for more choice or Apple allows side loading, this will surely turn out to be something to watch. The company they sought out to destroy in 1984, is the company they are becoming.
We will prevail.