May 27, 2022

Microsoft Backs Epic in Ongoing Battle with Apple


As a child I loved a good bit of WWF. In particular, I recall the Royal Rumbles as being enthralling above all else. I was still young enough for the blatant choreography to remain obscured behind grandiose performances of those absolute man-units. Scores of hot pant adorned macho-men duking it out in a sensational set pieces seemed almost too much for my sugar-riddled synapses to take. And so as Microsoft, the fourth billion dollar company throws its proverbial hat into this Epic saga of modern-day gaming monoliths, I feel strangely reminiscent of the original battle royal spectacles that so enraptured my youthful imagination.

For those playing catch-up, Fortnite developer Epic Games recently attempted to circumvent contractual revenue share obligations. These are imposed by both Apple and Google on developers hosting their games on their respective platforms. Both app platforms responded by banning Fortnite, where by Epic responded by filing a lawsuit against each. But with specific regard to Apple, the successful suit would prevent Apple from revoking access to development tools. This is necessary for Fortnite’s continued maintenance , but crucial in granting access to Epic’s own Unreal Engine. It’s this engine on which a vast array of 3rd party developers build their games.

Top Trumps

This is a powerful trump card played by the developer, a power move of epic (sorry not sorry) proportions. Love it or hate it, there is no question that the success of Fortnite has made Epic a household name. It is an unmitigated success story almost unrivalled in recent years. But a “One Trick Pony” Epic are most certainly not. The backbone of Epic’s success was derived by their proprietary “unreal engine”.

First revealed in 1998 in it’s debut shooter Unreal, later developed into the much loved Unreal Tournament franchise. It has since become extremely popular with developers, perhaps due its portability derived from utilising the malleable C++ programming language. Countless games use the Unreal Engine; free to download on GitHub, at last count Wikipedia listed over 308 games use Unreal Engine 4 under Epic’s guidance.

iPhones with Fortnite pre-installed have been appearing on Ebay since Apple’s decision

For the Many

With so many developers seemingly reliant on this tech, pulling access to the engine could be devastating. This move could significantly impede Apple’s ability to complete in an increasingly developer agnostic market. Unsurprising perhaps that Microsoft have come out so adamantly in favour of Epic’s move against Apple. They have themselves increasingly invested in their own market place via the Xbox Game Pass. Describing Unreal as “one of the most popular third party game engines available to game creators”, easy access to the engine is crucial for continued innovation seen from smaller studios.

In their almost endless 564 page love letter to Epic, Microsoft add,

“In Microsoft’s view there are very few other options available for creators to license with as many features and as much functionality as Unreal Engine across multiple platforms, including iOS.”

Unreal Engine looks set to continue dominance well into the next Gen

It goes on to warn that its own app strategy could be impacted by this move, affecting upcoming Forza Street if developers were unable to maintain the Unreal code.

The enemy of my enemy…

Epic vs Apple is hardly a story of David vs Goliath (although as of 19th of August Apple is now worth over a mind-bending $2trillion). But none the less, Microsoft could well be a crucial ally to Epic amid the Fortnite fisticuffs. The sceptics among us could be pardoned for assuming an ulterior motive of course. Microsoft have already criticised Apple for refusing their own game-streaming service access to the App Store. The company said [that Apple],

“Stands alone as the only general purpose platform to deny consumers from cloud gaming and game subscription services like Xbox Game Pass. [Apple] consistently treats gaming apps differently, applying more lenient rules to non-gaming apps even when they include interactive content,”

For now it seems that both Microsoft and Epic are aligned in their view of Apple’s mistreatment of its alleged app monopoly over the App Store; Epic’s Californian anti-trust lawsuit claims just that. As it stands, Apple has pledged to remove the revocation of access to Epic’s developer accounts by 28th of August, just 3 days from today. And whilst Apple’s claim that Epics wounds are “self-inflicted”, the stand the developer has chosen to take has done nothing if not raise debate on in-app pricing practices that have until now gone unchallenged.  

The future for Fortnite on iOS is uncertain

Get Ready to Rumble!

On reflection, perhaps a Royal Rumble is not quite the right analogy. Microsoft and Epic’s marriage of convenience is more akin to one of the more volatile allegiances common in those halcyon days of wrestling mania. Something like Hulk Hogan and Macho Man Randy Savage joining up to take down The Undertaker once and for all in a seminal virtuoso of Leg Drops and Flying Elbows. But let us not forget that we are older now, and the fragile curtain of innocence and naiveté has long since fallen. Like any good soap opera, WWE is there to entertain, and nothing beats betrayal as the ultimate crowd pleaser.

Whether Epic and Microsoft’s partnership prevails is yet to be seen. But for now at least they have a common enemy. Plus, with the threat of removing access to Unreal that partnership could be bolstered by many hundreds of 3rd party developers. The Californian courts are due to come back on Monday 31st of August regarding Epic’s request for an injunction to their current ban, but we are a long way from a conclusion to this particular battle. Either way, Apple has a real fight on their hands. Let’s hope their ready to rumble.

Source: Sky News

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