If you’ve ever wanted to watch a bunch of mumbling nerds struggle to define what a ‘game’ is, well Epic vs Apple the test for you!
What is the difference between an ‘app’ and a ‘game’? This sounds like a stoner question, but instead took up quite a bit of the morning in Epic v. Apple. Roblox, Apple’s marketing manager Trystan Kosmynka explained, was an app. See, games have a beginning, an end, and challenges. “There are experiences within Roblox that we did not consider a game,” said Kosmynka. We did determine that Minecraft is a game, so that’s nice for Microsoft.
Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers did not understand this distinction and neither did I. But here’s the problem for Apple: like Roblox is a game, then it is quite easy for Epic to compare Fortnite with it. If you look up Roblox in the App Store after Kosmynka testifies, it will also be categorized as a ‘game’.
Roblox is free with in-app purchases. Since apparently no one can define what a game is, I can’t say if it’s fair to say that Roblox is a platform with games on it, but it sure looks like this when I sign up. When I scroll through, there are a bunch of little squares where I can join a game, and each one seems to have different rules. (The app calls these ‘worlds’.)
And if Kosmynka doesn’t get the category right on Roblox, well. That is its own goal.
Regardless, Kosmynka noticeably shrank when Epic’s Lauren Moskowitz started asking questions about the redirect. Were Snapchat’s Rabbit Ear Filter Games? What about TikTok Challenges? (The way this question was asked convinced me that I was possibly the only person in the room on TikTok.) Things got worse for Kosmynka during a series of questions. Had he used Fortnite? Yes. Had he attended a concert there? No. “Fortnite is a virtual world where you build a character, right?”
‘I wouldn’t call Fortnite a world. I’ve always thought of Fortnite as a game, ”Kosmynka replied. Had he done Battle Royale? Yes. Party Generous? No. Creative mode? No. He knew Fortnite was hosting concerts, but not that movies were being streamed. In the context of ‘What’s a Game’, Kosmynka sounded like he didn’t know what he was talking about. It was a tense and rather devastating line of questions.
At one point, Judge Gonzalez Rogers said she didn’t understand why Minecraft was a game and Roblox wasn’t. (Again, according to the App Store: Roblox is Absolutely a game.) She asked Kosmynka for an industry definition for a game. Apparently there is none – though, notes my colleague Adi Robertson, game developers and academics are happy to tell you under the table about magic circles, meaningful choices, and Johan Huizinga’s work if you ask.
Later Matthew Weissinger, VP of marketing at Epic Games, explained that Fortnite is a metaverse. “It’s one of the remarkable things about Fortnite, we’re building something called the metaverse, a social place,” he muttered softly. (All the men we heard from today would benefit greatly from statements.) “One of the ways I’ve tried to explain it is by thinking about all of us in lockdown and how we try to stay socially connected. Some of the most meaningful experiences I’ve had was logging into Zoom and having our friends and parents and celebrating Grandpa’s birthday. “
We also find out that Roblox has a “battle royale” mode, just like Fortnite. To be honest, the question is not for me now Is Roblox a game but Is Roblox a metaverse.
Throughout this series of questions, it seemed like Epic was trying to establish that Apple is inconsistent – and passing the penny on. Kosmynka testified that developers are allowed to choose which category they belong to, not Apple, which makes his Roblox digression even weirder. The Roblox thing made Apple look shoddy, and the further testimonials on the App Store review didn’t help.
The process behind App Store review is incredibly boring unless you are a developer trying to pass the review. We went through it exhaustive detail. Apple gets 100,000 app store submissions per week, Kosmynka testified. But only 500 people do the “human assessment” – much of the rest of the work is automated. It’s impossible to judge how good an automated process is by listening to someone abstractly describing it in court. Kosmynka seemed confident when questioned by Apple’s attorney, but when Epic heard back to him, his voice got softer and softer.
We heard about apps that Apple had falsely allowed in the store: apps that contained malicious ad fraud code, apps that copied Headspace, a ‘school shooting game’, a game where guns are fired at protesters, several inappropriate apps (the funniest of which ‘Ganja Farm: Weed Empire ”) and more. In emails, Kosmynka said, “We are making critical mistakes.” Regarding the school shooting game, Kosmynka said he was “dumbfounded at how this could be missed.” These details were more scathing than the abstract walkthrough of the app review process.
At one point, Judge Gonzalez Rogers wondered if anyone was doing better than Apple in moderating the app store. Kosmynka fell for this answer. “One of the problems with restricting competition is you don’t get innovation,” said Judge Gonzalez Rogers. “One of my concerns is that if you don’t let parties compete on these topics, things won’t get better.” She then asked if Apple had hired outside reviewers. It does not.
There is an implied contrast here – the Epic Games Store. Steve Allison, VP and General Manager of the Epic Game Store, testified that there are no known instances of malware or illegal content in the Epic Game Store, although there has been any fraud. It was hard not to notice the contrast.
Apple’s attorney, who didn’t introduce herself, took us through an excruciating story from the Epic Games website as part of her intensely chaotic cross-examination of Allison. I understand there are many things to be told in court, but this was stupid. We found that there were a lot of games in the Epic Games Store. We also found that there were 25 games in the “top 20” games section, which felt a bit bitchy. The first non-game app, Spotify, hit stores in December 2020. Fine, but this didn’t seem to make Epic look bad? Or at least not as she hoped.
She lingered on Epic Game Store’s store-in-a-store: Itch.io, an indie game store that Epic added to its store in April. You can download the itch.io store from Epic. “Did you know that itch.io contains so-called adult games, like a game called” Sisterly Lust? ” Apple’s attorney asked. Some of the games on itch.io are “so offensive that we can’t talk about it here,” she snorted. This was a more successful argument – it essentially explained why Apple didn’t want stores in its own store .
The big contrast between the Apple App Store and the Epic Game Store was of course economical. The 30/70 split that Epic finds so objectionable started with retail – you had to buy games from Wal-Mart or GameStop or something, while they were physically packaged, Allison said softly. When retailers moved away from PC games in favor of console games, Valve created Steam, which mimicked the 30/70 split of traditional retail – but it was seen as an improvement among developers as they didn’t have to pay for discs and packaging and so on.
That is, until Minecraft published itself, according to Allison. Then someone taking 30 percent looked steep. In 2018, Epic launched the Epic Games Store, which cost just 12 percent. (To appease developers who would fear losing Steam revenue when they closed exclusive deals with Epic, Epic agreed to pay them a minimum guarantee.)
Significantly, developers don’t have to use the Epic in-app payment system – they can use their own, which means Epic can theoretically get No money on in-app purchases. Wizards of the Coast, the publisher of Magic the Gathering Arena, and Ubisoft, which has multiple titles, use their own payment systems.
Still, I find myself returning to the question that started the day: what is a game? I find it shocking that so many people who specialize in apps and games can’t really answer this question. But I think you can, in a sense, imagine the ordeal being one – it has a beginning, a middle, and an end. A lot of money is at stake. A winner and a loser. And if the verdict is appealed – as it will almost inevitably be – we’ll get a follow-up. Sure, Epic played well today, but you need more than one good turn to win.