Fortnite battle is the new TV blackout, Technology

Mon, Aug 17, 2020 – 5:50 AM

New York

THE more things change, the more they stay the same. Fortnite owner Epic Games is picking a fight with Apple and Alphabet over the lock they have on distribution. Like the spats between US cable companies and media networks, monopolistic-type dealings over carriage often lead to the content creators digging in. There, public battles can end with smalls wins for content. The video-game maker can expect the same.

Epic filed a federal lawsuit last Thursday after Apple and Alphabet’s Google kicked Fortnite out of its app stores. The technology firms said that Epic was violating their company’s policies: Fortnite was encouraging consumers to pay it directly to avoid their approximate 30 per cent cut from in-app purchases. Epic said it does not want money – just to challenge the rules based on antitrust.

The popular video game’s public relations campaign – a cheeky parody of Apple’s famous 1984 commercial – is about painting Big Tech as greedy monopolists. This tact has been tried with others, including Spotify Technology, which also got in a public feud with Apple. And it is not unlike satellite and cable distributors such as Dish Network and broadcasters like CBS that take it to the mat over carriage fees.

Often, the content creators – ViacomCBS’ SpongeBob SquarePants, say – can force a blackout where for a period a viewer cannot watch a certain network. Consumers complain directly to the cable company or, worse, quit it all together. The stronger the content, the stronger the hand. The outcome often hinges on public pressure.

The rise of streaming services from the likes of Walt Disney and others can hurt distributors, and Epic has options too. Gamers use Apple and Google to download Fortnite, but many of them play on consoles and pay Epic outright.

Epic still needs Apple to reach its millions that own iPhones just like media firms have a mutual though fraught dependence on cable companies. But it has an ace in the hole: US watchdogs are chomping at the bit to get at Big Tech.

Fortnite may be back in the app store but that does not mean Apple and Google will not feel the nips at their ankles.

Epic Games, the parent of Fortnite, filed a federal lawsuit against Apple and Alphabet on Aug 13 after the two tech firms pulled the popular game from their app stores.

Epic is not seeking money from the companies that take roughly a 15-30 per cent cut from apps sold in their stores. Rather, the lawsuit is challenging their rules on the grounds of antitrust.

Apple and Alphabet’s Google kicked Fortnite out of their stores because they alleged that Epic Games violated their internal policies. This followed Epic introducing a new payment method that avoided paying Apple and Alphabet a commission on in-app purchases. REUTERS

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