Over the past few weeks, a storm has been brewing over the way the two mobile app stores treat their developers and their platforms. The biggest offender has been Apple, whose App Store is a closed ecosystem with a set of very strict rules that are expensive for app publishers. They have even barred Google Stadia and Xbox Game Streaming from their platform entirely. Among those rules is that if you offer anything for purchase in the app that is usable in that app, you must process your payment through Apple's system, which includes a 30% fee to use the system. Google has a similar rule, but it only applies if you distribute Google Play and use any Google Play Services.
One of the companies that has been loudest about its dislike of the rules has been Epic Games. When they launched Fortnite on Android, they bypassed Google Play and Google Play Services. This allowed them to do as they wished with the game, including avoiding the heavy fee for V-Bucks, the in-game currency. Eventually, the company gave in and published through the store for the convenience of gamers, which meant implementing Google Play Services. They also brought the game to iOS, all with the same result.
This week, Epic Games introduced the ability to purchase V-Bucks directly from Epic in both the App Store and Google Play variants of Fortnite, including offering a discount for using that option instead of the store payment. Within a few hours, Apple pulled the game from the App Store over policy violations. Apple replied to the move saying,
As a result their Fortnite app has been removed from the store. Epic enabled a feature in its app which was not reviewed or approved by Apple, and they did so with the express intent of violating the App Store guidelines regarding in-app payments that apply to every developer who sells digital goods or services.
This is exactly what Epic was hoping for, however, as they had a lawsuit locked and loaded, which was filed nearly immediately. The suit alleges that Apple has used its position in the market to extort developers out of money. Shortly after the Apple lawsuit was filed, Google pulled the game from Google Play. Google said,
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.
A nearly identical suit was then filed against Google, with similar claims about the overreach of the company and its policies. Epic said of Gooogle,
In 1998, Google was founded as an exciting young company with a unique motto: "Don't Be Evil." 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.
This suit is inline with other antitrust suits against Apple and Google. The EU has been investigating both companies, and both CEOs have recently had to answer to the US Congress over their business practices. It could be a landmark case, truly bringing the behavior of these large companies intothe light of the law.