Sometimes I think about my life and wonder where I made the mistake so that I sit on a wooden bench in federal court looking at a Google search for Candy Crush Saga on the display monitor. This is a huge trial with major interests for technology companies. It’s also a crushing bore.
Standing in the stands is Lorin Hitt, a professor of operations, information and decisions at Wharton at the University of Pennsylvania, looking uncomfortably behind his face shield. During his direct questioning in the ongoing Epic vs Apple trial, Hitt testified that he didn’t think he needed to access an app like the Candy Crush through a browser instead of the app counted as “friction” for the user – and that it was certainly less friction than “real” alternatives, such as leaving a convenience store and then crossing the street to go to another supermarket.
The point of Hitt’s earlier testimony was that game developers were using multi-home games for PC and mobile. He’s Apple’s expert, and he’s here to convince the judge that getting blocked in the App Store isn’t a huge barrier to developers. Epic – Whose Game Fortnite has in fact been blocked from the store – has taken Apple to court to prove otherwise. And the picture that Hitt painted on his direct examination was largely disdainful of Epic’s concerns.
Epic attorney Yonatan Even, also in a face shield, is now doing his best to blow a hole in Hitt’s testimony. I am doing my Bit strikes me as a confusing spreadsheet of games that Hitt has promised for both PC and cell phones. In fact, it starts by pointing out that some of these games are in fact not available for PC. A game, Words Story, is listed as available on PC on the document, but does not say so on the developer’s website. In the Microsoft Store you will see a ‘Words StoryThe same art exists, but it is not the same developer. “Sir, this is not the same developer and not the same game, is it?” Even says. “It’s what is called a ‘fake game’.”
We go through this exhausting process for several games: Helix game, Crowd City, BitLife, Happy glass, Paper.io 2, and Mr. Bullet. I’ve never heard of these little potato games, which makes them kind of a weird point of comparison for the most popular game in the world. The app developer pages suggest they are not available on PC, despite Hitt’s document to the contrary. Things get controversial, and Hitt is starting to get a hang-dog ”Rick Moranis in Honey, I shrunk the kidsAppearance. Did Hitt double check the data to make sure it was the same developer in all stores? Can he swear to the court that a particular app is from the same developer?
“Can you make an affidavit to the court that you have seen with your own eyes that this game is also available on PC?” Even asks.
Hitt cannot guarantee that all games listed in the incomprehensible spreadsheet are from the same developer on all platforms, it turns out. He says his team of researchers did the analysis, and he trusts his team.
Hitt said earlier that he identified eight games that allowed people to buy things in the iOS web browser and then use them in iOS apps; these are identified in the spreadsheet. Epic has complained that this process is not good enough – and it is certainly not ubiquitous. Now Even ramps up the “frictionless” process Hitt had gleefully witnessed earlier in the day. Candy Crush Saga is the example that Even chooses. We go to the website and press “install”, where we are immediately sent to the App Store. We are going back to the website. The only possible way to play on the Internet is on a desktop. The Facebook option for Candy Crushis also desktop.
“That’s part of the frictionless process you envisioned?” Even asks, somewhat sarcastically.
We try a different game Clash Royaledeveloped by Supercell. We turn to Supercell’s FAQ, where it turns out that payment processes are only through Apple’s App Store or Google play. Supercell does not store any payment information itself. “And yet you believe that your team has managed to enter a website and buy legitimately Clash Royale money and go back to the app? Is that your testimony? “Even asks.
Then he turns the knife: the typical user of Clash Royale does not have a research team, even notes.
I’m terrified we’ll go through all eight apps, but luckily Even saves us the exhaustion. According to Even, there are three apps that support buying something on the web and then using it in an app: PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, Roblox and… Fortnite. (Fortnitehowever, has now been banned from iOS.) Does Hitt have any reason to dispute this?
Hitt says he trusts his team. I feel very bad for the team, which has been largely thrown under the bus here by Hitt.
When redirected, Apple’s Cynthia Richman tries to stop the bleeding. Sometimes developers license games to other developers – which could explain some cases where the developers don’t match. Hitt also tells us that Even’s rather brutal examples are not typical. Hitt has in person bought V-bucks on a mobile browser, he proudly tells us.
“It looked quite difficult given the examples you gave,” said Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers. What is the explanation for why we couldn’t do these things during the cross-examination? Well, says Hitt, there were other links in the spreadsheet.
That may very well be true. But the point of Even is: Most of us don’t have research teams. I wish I did – I could send them to trial in my place and blame them if the work was insufficient. Instead, I personally sit through excruciating expert testimony. Why am I specifically focusing on this? It’s the most interesting thing that happened all day.