The Showmanship

The billionaires are fighting. But it’s not a Twitter slap fight between VC goons this time. Nope: The biggest company in the world is getting slapped with a lawsuit filed by an absolute goliath of the video game world. And because we’re all cooped up in our homes worrying about surviving the new school year and golden shower-loving despots and impending economic doom and making it to our next paychecks, we crave entertainment.

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But we can’t get it from TV, which largely killed production across the world back in March and will only supply us with a few more shows until 2021. We can’t get it from movies with theaters closed and the ones that are planning to open guaranteed to be flash points for covid-19 outbreaks. Comics are hard to read when one of the two largest publishers just saw itself decimated by an ill-advised merger with AT&T and that knowledge seems to hover around the frames of each page you read. Books provide solace. Blogs do, too—when they aren’t being savaged by that ad apocalypse.

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But games have provided comfort in these awful times, and today they provided a new sort of entertainment. Fortnite publisher Epic Games just pulled off a trick with the kind of pizazz you’d expect from P.T. Barnum instead of a massive company valued at more than $17 billion.

First, Epic baited Apple, which has been under increased pressure over its App Store policies after multiple allegations of antitrust behavior. Epic Games publishes a number of games on the iOS platform, including Fortnite, which allows you to purchase in-game currency with real-world money. The problem is that, until today, 30% of that real-world money went directly into Apple’s pockets as its cut of revenue for owning the app store and operating system that Fortnite appears on.

App developers agree to pay Apple 30% to get access to its millions of iOS users, but developers also have to agree not to offer alternative methods of payment that bypass Apple. The toll must be paid, because apparently Apple has spent the last 13 years transforming at least one element of its business into the troll under the bridge.

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Epic Games decided to say, in essence, “Fuck that,” and started offering Fortnite’s in-game currency, V Bucks, at a heavily discounted rate if purchased directly from Epic instead of Apple.

It was very clearly a threat toward one of the largest and most successful app stores in operation.

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Apple responded as Apple does, by swiftly removing Fortnite from its store and citing policy violation, though its official comment was a sharper rebuke than usual.

“Epic enabled a feature in its app which was not reviewed or approved by Apple,” the company said in a statement to the Verge, “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.”

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Apple was right, of course. Because while Eddy Cue or someone was showing Epic what’s what by removing the game from the App Store, Epic Games was arranging a massive new in-game event. And as Fortnite players gathered around giant screens looming in the virtual sky, an adaptation of a familiar commercial appeared.

You’re reading Gizmodo, so I think it is safe to assume you know all about Apple’s landmark 1983 Super Bowl commercial that let it take a stab at the cookiecutter IBM clones that dominated the ‘80s PC market while also showing its incredible acumen for showmanship and advertising. In the commercial, dull drones lifted straight from Fritz Lang’s Metropolis watch a screen with slack jaws until a woman runs into the room, swings a hammer, and shatters the screen—effectively freeing the masses.

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In Epic’s satirical take on the iconic commercial, slack-jawed Fortnite avatars watch a cartoonish rotten apple until a woman—the only character in color on screen—appears with an enormous hammer and shatters the screen.

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Text then scrolls up from the bottom:

Epic Games has defied the App Store Monopoly. In retaliation, Apple is blocking Fortnite from a billion devices. Join the fight to stop 2020 from becoming “1984.”

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Epic is not fucking around. There are no coy little asides. No effort to be political or try and maintain peace. Epic Games set Apple up to piss off millions of Fortnite players and then immediately directed all that wrath at Apple, and tacked on a #FreeFortnite hashtag too.

And just in case you weren’t sure what Epic’s plan was, the company timed the video with the drop of a lawsuit filed against Apple, and then released an FAQ that continued to lay the blame at Apple’s feet. It even included links to stories from the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Washington Post about Apple’s App Store guidelines and alleged antitrust behavior.

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I cannot recall any company—especially one the size of Epic Games—setting up a lawsuit so perfectly. The lawyers I’ve asked can’t recall a lawsuit filed with such flash. It is unprecedented, and I’m sure if Steve Jobs were alive, he would be utterly delighted—just before calling on his cabal to destroy Epic Games and salt the earth where it stood, of course. This is absolutely the entertainment we need in 2020, and the face that today’s developments might one day let developers eke out a better living making iOS apps ain’t so bad either.

Senior Consumer Tech Editor. Trained her dog to do fist bumps. Once wrote for Lifetime. Tips encouraged via Secure Drop, Proton Mail, or DM for Signal.

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DISCUSSION

Google has entered the fray as well, kicking them out of the Google Play store. So Epic picked a fight with not just one, but two Tech Titans.

Like most of these things, it will probably end with some kind of settlement, but it’s still amusing.