Corporate performance: Epic Games’ gambit

Epic Games, the creator of the hit video game Fortnite, is in trouble over yet another of its legal stunts. The company, which notably tried to sue a 14 year-old and banned a player for raising awareness about in-game cheating programs, is no stranger to controversy; however its latest actions cross a line that seems little too bold even considering its history. On Thursday, Aug. 13, Epic Games knowingly violated the developer guidelines of Apple’s App Store and Google’s Google Play by allowing players to bypass the 30 percent cut that the companies took from revenue generated by in-game purchases hosted on their respective platforms. Epic Games was subsequently banned from both platforms.

However, the truly egregious step for Epic Games comes next. A mere half hour after the initial removal of Epic’s App Store and Google Play developer account, it filed a lawsuit against both companies claiming that the delisting of its apps and the continued enforcement of the 30 percent cut was an abuse of each company’s monopoly power in mobile gaming. The lawsuit claims that Epic is fighting on behalf of the thousands of developers who had been negatively impacted by the anticompetitive nature of the fees. On principle, it sounds as if Epic is right about the oppressive nature of these fees. After all, these two companies make up almost the entirety of the international market for mobile games, and the fee they charge could be seen as extortion of smaller developers who have no choice but to publish on their platforms.

However, Epic, predictably, does not care for the livelihoods of small developers who see their profits dip into less-than-livable territory by these cuts. After all, Apple immediately retaliated by banning the Unreal Engine, an Epic product that many small developers use to program games. Epic did not respond to this by compensating developers harmed by the actions it took unilaterally, but rather by submitting another lengthy legal contention against Apple for trying to “crush” Epic’s business and reputation. Through this reckless legal maneuver, Epic has shown that it holds no concern for the actual well-being of its customers, since Epic clearly disregards the third party developers that rely on it to survive.

The finishing touch of Epic’s outrageous strategy was to release a video poking fun at Apple by parodying Apple’s “1984” commercial from when it first released its line of personal computers. In retrospect, the initial ad was ironic enough, with the destined monopolizer Apple dethroning the old monopolizer, IBM in a so-called “revolutionary” way. Epic’s rendition of it has surpassed even the bounds of this irony. By contending with Apple over its supposed monopolistic presence in the mobile gaming market in such a way, Epic shows that its intention is only to break up a monopoly for its own monopoly building. The speed at which Epic was able to pump out both the lawsuit and this parodic video is evidence of the preparation and commitment the company had taken in this stunt. A wanton disregard for the customers that depend on Epic’s products to survive is overshadowed by this bombastic media campaign, and the only saving grace is that Epic’s claim in court could potentially hold, even with its reckless and confrontational conduct.

What is apparent in this situation is that corporations have no obligation to avoid acting solely for their own shortsighted financial gain. Any kind of greater cause they appeal to should be seen as a cynical way to forward their own financial interests. There is nothing epic about Epic Games’ actions in this case, from their disregard of their customers to their bombastic advertising campaign. 

By Jason Wu, Opinion editor
Photo courtesy of pxfuel