Thursday, May 6, 2021

Epic v. Apple, Day 3

Adi Robertson (tweet):

Is an iPhone more like a PC or an Xbox?


Epic called up Microsoft’s Xbox business development head Lori Wright as a sympathetic witness. In response to a line of questioning, Wright divided computing devices into “special-purpose” and “general-purpose” devices — in a way that clearly defined iPhones as the latter.


It’s hard to call the iPhone anything but a general-purpose device under Wright’s definition. (She described a “special-purpose” Apple product as something like an iPod.) Intentionally or not, Wright also linked the distinction to one of Epic’s major talking points: profit.

Nick Statt:

“We sell the consoles at a loss,” Wright said. Asked why Microsoft would continue to do this, Wright elaborated that Xbox business model involves selling hardware at a loss and subsidizing it with game sales and subscription services, in this case to services such as Xbox Live Gold and Xbox Game Pass. The goal is to serve an “end-to-end consumer experience.” When asked if Microsoft has ever earned a profit on the sale of an Xbox device, Wright said no.

Adi Robertson:

Wright says Spotify has many songs and Netflix has many films. “Why could we not have a single app with many games?” Microsoft spent 3-4 months trying to “understand what this was.”

Microsoft decided the logistics didn’t work — if you wanted to push an update, for instance, every single game in the catalog would have to update. “All your apps would just be constantly spinning.”

If Microsoft took a game from the catalog, the way Netflix does, “there’d be a dead app on the phone. We thought this was a really inelegant way for players to experience this.”


Apple’s lawyer is not necessarily in the wrong here but is coming off as being pretty snide — asking next if Wright is aware the App Store had guidelines.

Of course, Apple didn’t change the guidelines to ban xCloud until after Microsoft had submitted it.


4 Comments RSS · Twitter

I am struggling to wrap my head around the Microsoft comments about “Why could we not have a single app with many games?”. Why would updating the app require updating all the games? If I update Microsoft Word, it doesn't require updating all my documents, even documents that have whatever that Microsoft code thing is in them. If a game is removed from the catalog, why would that mean it was removed from the customer’s device? And the licensing deals for games could presumably include perpetual access for any game that has been purchased by existing customers, so that doesn't make sense anyway (just like Movies or Music that has been *purchased* by customers should continue to be available regardless of any later removal of those Movies or Music from the store).

This whole line of reasoning seems disingenuous.

@Peter I think it does make sense. The games are not really running on device; they’re streaming from the cloud. Apple says that each game has to be a separate app, so each app would need a separate copy of the streaming engine. If they update that engine, every single app would need an update. Like other streaming services, the licensing deals are probably not perpetual. So games will get removed from the service. With Netflix, you don’t really see that, but with xCloud you would end up with a home screen icon that no longer works.

Yeah, xCloud works *exactly* like Netflix. You pay a subscription, and then you get access to streaming (not downloading and installing) a bunch of games. You don't run these games on your computer, you stream them in the same way you stream a Netflix movie. They run on a server.

Games get added and removed literally every single month; Dungeon of the Endless will be removed May 15th, for example, but five other games are being added in May. People who subscribe to xCloud don't purchase any of these games, they pay a subscription to access whichever games are on the service at any given moment.

What Apple is proposing truly is akin to asking Netflix to add an app for every individual movie.

Old Unix Geek

@Peter: In one word, friction. In other words, making easy things difficult and unpleasant for Microsoft's customers.

The friction for the user of downloading yet another bloody app, each time you want to play a new xCloud game. Updating 30 apps, when you could update one, which could lead Microsoft to avoid updating its streaming protocol (a competitive disadvantage).

It means users have to search for the game in the AppStore, and weed through the cognitive overload Apple throws at them to boost its advertising revenue.

It means broken apps on the user's homepage. So the user taps on a game, thinking he can play it, he discovers it isn't available, feels disappointed, and then has to screw around deleting it, finding another game in the above mentioned s#1t-show called the AppStore. By the time he's installed the new thing, he's probably given up. Most people who play games do so casually: a quick fix while waiting for the bus. The last thing they want to do at that point is yet another IT project.

Each time the game on the server is bug-fixed, it'll have to go through App-review. And we all know what a delightful experience that is. Some person whose qualification is "can breathe" gets to complain about something irrelevant, for "security" reasons, even though updating a game running on a server has no security implications. And that bugfix will take longer to reach impatient customers... for absolutely no good reason.

None of this is going to make Microsoft's customers happy... and unhappy customers don't renew their subscriptions.

Only monopolists can hinder others' businesses to this degree. That's why we're supposed to break them up. I would have thought Apple would realize this, and preserve its long term earning capacity, by not acting so brazenly. Instead, they seem to be betting that no one in government has the cojones to do something about it. They might be right. Microsoft was let off rather lightly in the days when they were misbehaving with Internet Explorer: a fine, rather than being broken up. Bad precedent.

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