Thursday, August 13, 2020

Epic Direct Payment

The Fortnite Team (via Hacker News, MacRumors):

Today, we’re also introducing a new way to pay on iOS and Android: Epic direct payment. When you choose to use Epic direct payments, you save up to 20% as Epic passes along payment processing savings to you.


Currently, when using Apple and Google payment options, Apple and Google collect a 30% fee, and the up to 20% price drop does not apply. If Apple or Google lower their fees on payments in the future, Epic will pass along the savings to you.

Of course, this was asking to be removed from the App Store.

Apple, quoted by Juli Clover, explains this and continues to gaslight us (also: Hacker News):

Today, Epic Games took the unfortunate step of violating the App Store guidelines that are applied equally to every developer and designed to keep the store safe for our users. 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.


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.

Epic was ready with a lawsuit (PDF, via Hacker News):

Mobile computing devices (like smartphones and tablets)—and the apps that run on those devices—have become an integral part of people’s daily lives; as a primary source for news, a place for entertainment, a tool for business, a means to connect with friends and family, and more. For many consumers, mobile devices are their primary computers to stay connected to the digital world, as they may not even own a personal computer. When these devices are unfairly restricted and extortionately “taxed” by Apple, the consumers who rely on these mobile devices to stay connected in the digital age are directly harmed.


Epic is not seeking monetary compensation from this Court for the injuries it has suffered. Nor is Epic seeking favorable treatment for itself, a single company. Instead, Epic is seeking injunctive relief to allow fair competition in these two key markets that directly affect hundreds of millions of consumers and tens of thousands, if not more, of third-party app developers.


There is no security justification for requiring the use of In-App Purchase for a user’s in-app purchase of in-app content. […] Apple permits app developers like Amazon, Uber and Airbnb to process payments from customers for the goods and services they sell; it can likewise permit Epic, Match, Pandora and others to process payments from customers for the digital goods and services they sell.


Update (2020-08-17): Ryan Jones:

Even haters must admit, this is the only way to get change with Apple. It’s the strategy tax of silence.

Nick Statt (tweet):

The ad features a signature Fortnite character racing into a dimly lit auditorium of corporate zombies, slack jawed and eyes glazed as an anthropomorphic Apple celebrates exploitation of the working class. The character swings her pickaxe toward the screen, shattering it and displaying a message modeled after the original Apple ad’s memorable onscreen text: “Epic Games has defied the App Store monopoly. In retaliation, Apple is blocking Fornite from a billion devices. Join the fight to stop 2020 from becoming ‘1984.’”

It’s a stunning piece of animation because it uses Apple’s original underdog persona in the personal computing industry of the 1980s and Orwellian themes of state control to cast Apple as the ultimate villain, its growth and greed having turned it into the very suit-clad enemy it railed against nearly four decades ago.

John Gruber (tweet):

Epic, in a very savvy way, is waging this war as much or more in the court of public opinion as they are in any court of law. And, ultimately, Apple stands to lose more in brand equity than in dollars, no matter how this turns out.


How do I get a refund if I’ve spent money on Fortnite and can’t access my purchases because of the Apple blockade?

Unfortunately, Apple doesn’t allow Epic Games to directly refund players for iOS purchases and instead requires players to ask Apple for a refund. Please follow these instructions to ask Apple for a refund[…]

Steve Troughton-Smith:

It’s almost like Epic is baiting Apple into generating evidence for the antitrust cases 😅 Offering non-Apple IAPs, at a discount, with a remotely-enabled UI after passing App Review days ago?


If Apple doesn’t change the rules or come to some other kind of agreement, any other developer would have their developer account revoked and be banned from the App Store for remote-enabling functionality like this 🤷‍♂️

Paul Haddad:

Pretty sure anyone else would have their app and developer account fully banned for this kind of stunt.

Paul Haddad:

If nothing else this proves that App Review is mostly security theater, any bad actor can quite easily put in remotely enabled code that they’ll never catch.

James Thomson:

Whatever happens here, I will be highly surprised if it leads to any improvements for small devs like me. Most likely, a backroom deal will be made with Epic, and another secret exemption will be added to the App Review guidelines…

Steve Troughton-Smith:

Epic’s angle to players: they offered a discount, Apple wants to screw players over for 30% extra instead, so Apple kicked Fortnite off of iOS. Combined with Apple’s stance on Microsoft’s xCloud, message will be clear: if you care about playing or making games, forget iOS

Michael Gartenberg:

Apple refused to settle the ebook antitrust case. Tim felt Apple was in the right and was willing to take it all the way to the end. Apple lost, has to pay for a special master to oversee process amongst other things. I do not see Apple walking away. It’s going to be epic.

Federico Viticci:

Questionable rules that are not applied equally to all devs; seemingly random app rejections; secret backroom deals; inability to change default apps; rejection of cloud gaming services; a 30% fee in 2020; conflict of interest with  Services.

None of this bodes well.

For me, all this ultimately boils down to a single question:

What’s preventing iOS devices from being like Macs, where you have an App Store *and* the secure GateKeeper mechanism for installing software?

M.G. Siegler:

Here’s what I don’t get (from Apple’s perspective): this rebellion was always inevitable. They kept putting band-aids over the dam cracks and now it’s gone and burst.

The actual cut part is secondary. It’s more so about re-writing and re-thinking the App Store rules for 2020, not 2010. Everything has changed in world and in this space.

Apple is standing on extremely shaky (and in many ways disingenuous) ground. And I don’t see why it’s worth holding such ground in the face of pissing off developer partners and the next generations of their consumers. There’s a bigger game afoot. They’re missing it.

Sriram Krishnan:

I saw first hand at MSFT in the mid-00s the harm caused by having developers root against you. Took almost a decade and Satya’s ascension to recover from.

Apple may not be able to measure yet the long term impact of having so many developers upset with them.

Damien Petrilli:

Is there any company who was hated so much by its own dev community outside Apple?

Greg Miller:

This is exactly like -- I’m not joking -- Taylor Swift taking on Spotify. Taylor didn’t need the money, but she was a big enough voice that her making a statement brought the issue to the masses:

Francisco Tolmasky:

The most interesting thing about Apple in this App Store war is what I think is a genuine lack of empathy for the other side. I think they actually don’t see it. Not that they have to agree with it, but I think they can’t even fathom what the other position is.

Perhaps it’s because they rarely interact with anyone that isn’t another huge player, like Amazon for example. So at that scale, it really does seem like just an arm-twisting battle. We each have missiles pointed at each other, and we’ll see who chickens out first.

This is perhaps how you arrive at completely bizarre double speak: The App Store is in place to provide a "fair marketplace" for apps, however, the companies that LEAST need assistance (the Netflix’s and Amazon’s), are the ones that get the special reduced deals.

Alastair Houghton:

Honestly, I think @TimSweeneyEpic is right about some of it. The payment restrictions in the App Store aren’t about keeping people safe.

Nor, really, is there a reason to ban third-party app stores.

David Barnard:

This is 100% a self-own by Apple. Ball’s in their court, there is so much they can do to improve App Store policies & take some heat off both the Epic lawsuit & antitrust complaints. But I don’t think they will. Working at Apple makes it difficult to see the forest for the trees.

Apple would do well to internalize some of the dissenting voices. Literally. Hire App Store critics and make it their job to tear apart internal arguments that would otherwise go unchallenged by employees who aren’t empowered to speak up, or have lost all perspective.

I’ve had a lot of conversations with Apple over the years. And I know they think they do this, but they just don’t. It’s way more insular than anyone at Apple can ever admit to themselves or the rest of the company.

Jack Wellborn:

I think Apple unhealthily leans on App Store fees to boost revenue growth. I’ll add here that I believe protecting these fees has taken priority over both user experience and developer relations, and that Apple’s reputation has taken countless hits as a result. That said, Epic isn’t merely trying to force app stores into lowering their fees or allowing third party payment processors, they are trying to force Apple and Google into allowing their own games store.

Charlie Chapman:

Oh dang, they’re not fighting for 30% of Fortnite sales, they’re fighting for ~12% of everyone elses 😅

Makes more sense why they’re prepping to spend this much money on this long shot battle with Apple.

Tim Sweeney:

At the most basic level, we’re fighting for the freedom of people who bought smartphones to install apps from sources of their choosing, the freedom for creators of apps to distribute them as they choose, and the freedom of both groups to do business directly.

The primary opposing argument is: “Smartphone markers can do whatever they want”. This as an awful notion.

We all have rights, and we need to fight to defend our rights against whoever would deny them. Even if that means fighting a beloved company like Apple.


Apple is partying in antitrust land forcing its competitors to hand out 30% of its revenue. And they are lying about the undeniable: That they run monopolies. The game is rigged. And no one is enforcing the rules.


Android users don’t spend money on apps. Not spending money is the Android brand. Android is not an alternative, it’s an alternate reality.

Jason Snell:

I really do believe that, if left to its own devices, Apple would simply shrug and walk away, leaving Epic unable to reach people who want to play Fortnite on an iPhone or iPad. But surely Apple is also considering the potential threat of government intervention in its business. If I were at Apple, I would rate that threat as one of the top two existential threats to Apple. (The other is Apple’s reliance on China both as a place to sell products and as its manufacturing hub, given the deteriorating relationship between it and the U.S.)


My inclination is that Apple should compete on the merits of its features, rather than winning because it’s the only option. Apple’s in-app purchase system will be simpler, more convenient, and more familiar to most users of its platforms. Add in Sign In With Apple and Apple Pay and things could become even more frictionless. If Apple is afraid that video-game-streaming services threaten the future of games in the App Store, I can relate—but if that’s truly the future of gaming, Apple won’t prevent it from coming true by banning the future from its store. It’ll just end up being behind the times.

Ben Thompson (Hacker News):

What is troubling about this [Amazon] example, which also applies to Netflix, Spotify, and other so-called “Reader” apps, is that Apple’s aggressive integration up the stack isn’t really helping anyone. Users are confused, these big developers get fewer customers than they might have otherwise, while Apple’s overall iPhone experience is degraded. The ones that really lose out, though, are smaller developers whose cost structures cannot support Apple’s 30% cut, yet don’t have the brand awareness to enable customers to find their websites. In this way Apple is actually making dominant companies even stronger (much like they are Facebook).


What was particularly disappointing about these shakedowns, though, is that Apple itself admitted in a press release that it had been holding up bug fixes in App Review “over guideline violations”, many of which were about driving usage of its own payment processor. This is truly an inversion of the win-win-win dynamic that characterized the company’s previous integration efforts: now users were being put at risk for bugs developers were liable for because of arbitrary reasons related to Apple’s drive for Services revenue.

See also: Accidental Tech Podcast, Core Intuition, Dithering.

15 Comments RSS · Twitter

Old Unix Geek

They also have a nice spoof on the Mac's 1984 ad, featuring a rotten "Tim Apple" with a worm of corruption protruding from his head.

Hopefully Apple's slide into authoritarianism will be brought to heel.

It would be great, if more companies would join in with Epic. A one company boycott, won't probably make much of an impression.

The talking point repetition, haphazard plural usage, and sloppy mistaken usage of the contractive "it's" in Apple's response speak to their being caught flatfooted by this.

Good. This is a very interesting, highly aggressive move by Epic and I hope change sparks from it.

Old Unix Geek

Seems Epic is also going after Google:

They both charge 30%. However on Android you can still install it directly from Epic.

As much as I don’t agree with many of Apple’s App Store policies, Epic agreed to them in order to publish only to proceed to blatantly violate them. Those are BS tactics.

The "unsafe" part bothers me the most. I have been paying for software online for 25+ years and not once have I had my credit card number stolen or any other type of nefarious transaction.

Besides, how would giving my payment info to Epic be anymore unsafe than Amazon, Uber, Spotify, Microsoft, or Google? I pay for various services of all kinds outside of the app store which are directly tied to apps on my iPhone. This argument has always been ridiculous.

Also Apple is rumored to be developing a fitness service, but they've recently tried to charge a gym service the 30% fees after classes were moved online (in-app) due to the coronavirus, using the BS distinction between payments for physical goods vs electronic services.

It's almost predictable after seeing Apple do it for a decade: A third party tries to add a feature to their app or service, Apple bans it... then some months later comes out with their own version of kinda mostly the same thing. Except now they're sleazier than ever. I really really hope the government knocks them on their ass.

Apple: stealing your 30% AND your ideas!

It is the “and make the store safe for all users” that gets me. Epic’s move clearly violates the rules, but in no way can it be said to make users less safe.

Well, color me surprised:
A game company, owned by Tencent (40% Stake), where's Tencent is also the Wechat developer, is now fighting Apple and Google (since Trumps executive order).

That's just some CCP politics/tactics over TikTok and Wechat...

Ps: You can still download and play the game on the Huawei app store.

Epic is just a puppet in all this.

Old Unix Geek

Apparently Google just got served:

@Torqueville: Enough with the China conspiracy theories! A 40% stake does not give anyone the power to tell a corporation what to do. I think the timing has a lot more to do with the Congressional investigation, the EU investigation, Microsoft giving up on its xCloud app, and Facebook giving up on their gaming app due to Apple's obstruction.

This is long past due. It shows how our government has degenerated since 2001. Back then, Microsoft was threatened with being broken up for its anticompetitive behaviour for merely shipping a web-browser with its Windows. Apple's behaviour is significantly worse: it forbids alternative browser-engines; it wants a 30% cut for doing nothing (you really believe a 10mn "app review" is worth 30% of the price, and years of development time and advertising are worth 70%?); it forbids installing any software of which it does not approve (If Epic wanted to sell the worm-head "Tim Apple" as a skin I have no doubt Apple would forbid it). So instead, a private company, Epic Games, has to do the corrupt government's job... that's really lame, but I'm grateful they're stepping up to the plate.

Fortnite is a highly addictive game, as many others are. What a shame humans spend their time on such stuff when there are are much more edifying stuff. The negative impact of games on global health (including lack of sleep and accidents of all kinds at work and on roads that kill) and productivity is shocking. Amazingly, nobody seems to care!

Epic enabled a feature in its app which was not reviewed or approved by Apple

It sounds like the enabled the feature without pushing an app update. I’m honestly surprised Apple doesn’t intervene with this more often. Twitter does A/B testing all the time, where they toggle features server-side. Not only does that gaslight users, but it also makes the App Review process rather moot.

>Those are BS tactics.

Violating stupid rules is a civic duty.

>Epic is just a puppet in all this.

This is consistent with long-standing Epic behavior, so I wouldn't be too eager to put on the tin-foil hats.

Good for Epic. Apple's policies are completely consumer unfriendly. There is no reason I should have to go to a web site ON THE PHONE to sign up. It should be done in the app. And Apple is the reason for that. Its dumb.

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