Epic launched an all-out assault against Apple after it removed Fortnite from the App Store in August after the app implemented a direct payment method for in-app purchases. App Store policy requires all apps to use its own system for in-app purchases which gives Apple a 30% commission for all purchases made. Epic’s refusal to comply with the policy resulted in the app get kicked from the platform.
Sweeney says in his interview that Epic “spent months” developing and preparing its lawsuit against Apple, which was notably launched and announced publicly within hours of Fortnite’s removal from the App Store.
Internally, Epic calls the lawsuit “Project Liberty,” clearly echoing the idea that the lawsuit is meant to open up Apple’s platforms further for smaller developers, hence providing them “liberty”. Despite the focus of the lawsuit being the App Store’s 30% commission policy, Sweeney says it actually comes down to the idea that he believes open platforms are “the key to free markets and the future of computing”.
Developers have been questioning whether the 30% commission is a fair price for developers to pay back to Apple, given, for example, that Epic Games made $1.3 billion from Fortnite in-game purchases in 2020.
Epic Games had a valuation of $17.3 billion at the end of last year, and on the financial front, Sweeney says Epic has “the financial independence” to conduct its suit against Apple and Google, largely thanks to the fact that Epic Games is not a publicly listed company.
When pressed for specifics on how much its lawsuit against Apple was costing Epic, Sweeney refused to reply, simply saying it is consuming “lots and lots” of time from company leadership. It’s clear, however, that with millions of Apple users unable to play Fortnite on their devices, the company is likely experiencing some financial struggle given iOS users have generated more than $1.2 billion in revenue for Epic since it launched on the platform, according to Sensor Tower data cited by CNN Business.
All in all, however, Sweeney says the struggles are worth it due to the fear that the future of platforms such as the App Store will be completely dominated by platform owners like Apple, and have no other developers on them.
“[The companies] will just do that industry by industry and app category by app category until they’ve gobbled up everything that matters. And who will be left?” said Sweeney. “A million indie developers who collectively together make a small percentage of revenues on the app store because these businesses are too small to be attractive to steal.”
Lastly, Sweeney addresses controversial comments he made in November in which he stated that the fight for civil rights and Epic’s fight for platform “liberty” are similar. The comments caused widespread backlash, and in response, Sweeney says he believes “it’s perfectly healthy” to draw similarities between “vital causes in the history of the world” and the fight on app platforms.
“The point is if you really want to make a difference, you have to buck the system,” Sweeney said in response to the criticism. “I think there’s a lot we can learn from any of the past struggles in humanity and I think it’s perfectly healthy to apply struggles from vital causes in the history of the world to struggles over smaller issues like software platforms.”
Most recently, Epic Games filed a complaint against Apple in the UK, claiming that Apple’s removal of Fortnite from the App Store was “unlawful” and seeking for the app to be reinstated. The UK complaint followed in the footsteps of Epic’s agreements in the United State and Australia. In all countries, Epic says it’s not asking for damages from Apple and is simply seeking “fair access and competition that will benefit all consumers”. Both companies are preparing to face off in court in July of this year.