The lawsuit filed by Epic Games against Apple opens Monday in a California court and will be closely watched by the entire technology industry as the publisher of the game phenomenon Fortnite tries to question the functioning of the dominant platforms, which control the huge economy of mobile applications.
Last summer, Epic Games threw a stone in the pond by offering its players to buy Fortnite’s virtual currency cheaper if they went directly through their payment system, and not through Apple’s, which charges a 30% commission on these transactions.
The apple brand immediately removed the game from the App Store, its application store, essential on iPhones and iPads for downloading apps. The followers of the title of “battle royale” (shooting and survival) who only have Apple mobile devices have not had access to updates since.
Epic Games has filed a complaint against the Californian group for abuse of a dominant position.
After months of legal and media back-and-forth, the case will be heard by Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers for three weeks in Oakland, a city near San Francisco.
The two companies have agreed to a trial without a jury. Tim Cook and Tim Sweeney, the two bosses, are scheduled to testify in person.
On the other hand, with a few exceptions, the teams of lawyers, the press and the public will attend the discussions by telephone or Zoom, as a health precaution.
– “Dog that barks but does not bite” –
Apple “has built an ecosystem to restrict the distribution of apps, exclude its rivals, harm competition and consumers,” Epic Games summed up in documents submitted to the court in early April.
The iPhone maker is widely regarded as judge and jury, as it sets the rules for entering this market of at least one billion people, and its commission on transactions, while also offering its own apps.
The App Store is an “economic miracle,” Tim Cook replied in an interview with a New York Times podcast in early April. “Apple has helped build an economy that brings in over $ 500 billion a year, and only gets a dab of that amount for all the innovation it has facilitated and the costs of operation,” he said. -he assures.
The tech group has argued for years that its 15 to 30% commission on sales made through the App Store is at a standard level, and is used to ensure the proper functioning and security of the platform.
“Epic will use its huge user base (around 350 million players registered on Fortnite worldwide, editor’s note), which has no equivalent, to generate support via social networks”, comments Dan Ives , analyst at Wedbush Securities.
But he notes that Apple’s defense is well established and has not failed for years.
“Wall Street sees in this threat a dog that barks but does not bite. When Apple wins, we believe it will strengthen the group’s grip on its App Store and payments. “
– “Future of mobile computing” –
With appeals and remedies, the battle could go on for years. But it could also influence the current debate on competition law.
Because Epic is not alone in this crusade. In the fall, it allied with a dozen companies, including music streaming services Deezer and Spotify, under the banner “Coalition for App Fairness”.
Various US antitrust regulators are investigating Apple’s practices, as is those of the online commerce platform Amazon.
And Friday, the European Union, seized of a complaint from Spotify, estimated that the manufacturer of the iPhone has “distorted the competition” to oust its rivals, in particular thanks to “very high” commissions including its own applications are de facto exempt.
On Android, Google’s system, which is largely dominant on smartphones, the store works in a similar way, with one major difference: other download platforms are allowed.
The lawsuit “concerns a specific contractual arrangement for in-app purchases, through the perspective of antitrust. But the real question, for me, is: do we really want an environment where all applications have to go through the same portal, which is controlled by the developer of the devices and the mobile operating system? », Asks Erik Stallman, professor of law at the University of Berkeley.
“The future of mobile computing is at stake.”