- Epic Games, Apple, and Google have been engaging in their own battle royale to see if the tech giants are indeed monopolies.
- Epic Games claims that both companies, through their associated app stores, restrict what users can access and force fees that amount to an unnecessary tax.
- Additionally, Epic Games accuses the platforms of forcing this to be the case by not allowing, or heavily restricting, how apps can be accessed outside of the approved play stores.
- Apple and Google both claim that the stores are for user data safety, and that their pricing models are in-line with industry standards.
Epic Games announced on August 17 that Apple has threatened to block access to developer tools, increasing the stakes of Epic Games’ recent decision to sue Apple.
The situation started last week, when Epic Games, the creator of the popular game Fortnite, was booted off the App Store for not paying Apple its 30% cut on in-App purchases within the Fortnite app. In response, Fortnite released a video that riffed on an old Apple ad and suggested the company was leading society to an Orwellian future.
This video coincided with Epic Games serving Apple an antitrust lawsuit. Almost right after all of this happened, Apple received an unexpected ally; Google. The other tech giant decided to also remove Fortnite from the Google Play story for essentially the same reason, leading Epic Games to file a lawsuit against it as well.
For longtime observers of the situation, none of this is particularly surprising. Tim Sweeny, the CEO of Epic Games, has been extremely vocal about his distaste for both Apple and Android. In fact, in response to a June 2020 change to the App Stores policies, he wrote on Twitter, “Here Apple speaks of a level playing field. To me, this means: All iOS developers are free to process payments directly, all users are free to install software from any source.”
However, the largest criticism from the CEO has been about the possible monopolies Apple and Google have with their app distribution platforms, and how that allows them to force developers to pay exuberant fees.
The fees cover 30% of both the purchasing of apps and in-app purchases. Sweeny says that having other app distribution platforms would mean that users could receive a substantial savings. To this effect, Epic Games put out a statement between suing Apple and Google that said, “Epic believes that you have a right to save money thanks to using more efficient, new purchase options. Apple’s rules add a 30% tax on all of your purchases, and they punish game developers like us who offer direct payment options.”
Lawsuit Arguments and Issues
In their various lawsuits, Epic Games lays out the same arguments, saying that the restrictive nature of the app stores means that Google and Apple arguably have monopolies. Yet, in the case of Google, Epic might face the argument that Google Play technically isn’t the only app store or way to get apps on Android.
Other app stores do exist, with the largest competitor being the Galaxy Store for Samsung Devices. Additionally, users can download apps directly from developers, something Epic Games offers on their Fortnite App.
It could be noted that Google Play is such a big platform and so heavily promoted on Android that most users don’t even realize there are other ways to get apps. Additionally, Google gives their store other advantages, like rolling out updates that restrict what type of location data can be accessed by non-Google Play apps, although there hasn’t been any limitations on in-app payments for those apps.
However the arguments against monopolization of the app ecosystem holds more water against Apple. The company’s platforms are a notoriously closed ecosystem, which is why Epic Games had originally focused their criticisms and efforts on Apple.
Easy Fix, Just Concede
For their parts, both Apple and Google have told various outlets that they want to work with Epic Games to have them on their app stores, but neither seem willing to concede on their guidelines, including the 30% cut. For example, Apple told The Verge that “The problem Epic has created for itself is one that can easily be remedied if they submit an update of their app that reverts it to comply with the guidelines they agreed to and which apply to all developers.”
Google largely has the same argument: that these rules are equally enforced on everyone and that Epic Games won’t get an exception. Regarding why the guidelines are even necessary, both companies have similar justifications.
The companies argue that by requiring apps to be on their app stores allows for a safer and cleaner experience for the user, additionally that having the same rules for everyone means that no one can claim they were treated unfairly.
However, that still leaves the elephant in the room and the big issue for everyone involved: the 30% commission, something that Apple and Google aren’t unique in having. Apple commissioned a study that found the 30% price tag is nearly ubiquitous among Apple and its peers. Notably a direct competitor to Epic Games, Steam, also charges 30%.
Notably though, Epic Games only charges a 12% fee for games on its platforms.
Epic Games isn’t alone in their frustration over the imposed prices. One of the biggest app developers out there, Tinder, has been extremely vocal about the issue, while Spotify launched a complaint with the European Commission about the fee.
The EU launched two investigations into the matter and have said:“It appears that Apple obtained a ‘gatekeeper’ role when it comes to the distribution of apps and content to users of Apple’s popular devices. We need to ensure that Apple’s rules do not distort competition in markets where Apple is competing with other app developers, for example with its music streaming service Apple Music or with Apple Books.”
In the U.S., lawmakers have increasingly applied pressure within the last year for both companies to explain the 30% cut.
This situation has culminated in Apple’s threat to restrict Epic Games from accessing Apple Developer Tools. Epic Games claims they were told they until August 28 to fix the issues their apps had with the App Store or face losing their developer tools access.
Apple didn’t just cite the issue of cutting Apple out of their 30% fee. It also said Epic’s update descriptions were too vague. Either way, this could be a massive problem for Epic because without access to the developers tools, they’re barred from working on anything that goes onto the App Store.
Obviously that means no more Fortnite for iOS or Mac users, but that’s hardly the only thing Epic does on the App Store. The biggest casualty will be the Unreal Engine.
Gamers will recognize that name, but it’s one of the most accessible ways for developers to make games, and Epic owns it. The engine is used for more than just video games, but even film and television projects like “The Mandalorian” use it. It’s a mainstay in the entertainment industry.
No access to developer tools means no more updates for the Unreal Engine, and that means developers who rely on the Unreal Engine will be stuck using the same version, or possibly not even allowed to use the Engine at all on iOS and Mac devices.
This has put Epic in a hard spot, and so they went to the courts again. This time they’re asking for an injunction against Apple’s recent move, writing, “Apple’s actions will irreparably damage Epic’s reputation among Fortnite users and be catastrophic for the future of the separate Unreal Engine business.”
The company also added that without an injunction, there would be irreparable harm to itself, the Unreal Engine, and Fortnite.
Google Is Banning “Sugar Dating” Apps as Part of New Sexual Content Restrictions
The change essentially targets apps like Elite Millionaire Singles, SeekingArrangements, Spoil, and tons of other sugar dating platforms.
Sugar Dating Crackdown
Google has announced a series of policy changes to its Android Play Store that include a ban on sugar dating apps starting September 1.
The company’s Play Store policies already prohibit apps that promote “services that may be interpreted as providing sexual acts in exchange for compensation.”
Now, it has updated its wording to specifically include “compensated dating or sexual arrangements where one participant is expected or implied to provide money, gifts or financial support to another participant (‘sugar dating’).”
The change essentially targets apps like Elite Millionaire Singles, SeekingArrangements, Spoil, and tons of other sugar dating platforms currently available for download.
What Prompted the Change?
The company didn’t explain why it’s going after sugar dating apps, but some reports have noted that the move comes amid crackdowns of online sex work following the introduction of the FOSTA-SESTA legislation in 2018, which was meant to curb sex trafficking.
That’s because FOSTA-SESTA created an exception to Section 230 that means website publishers can be held liable if third parties are found to be promoting prostitution, including consensual sex work, on their platforms.
It’s worth noting that just because the apps will no longer be available on the Play Store doesn’t mean the sugar dating platforms themselves are going anywhere. Sugar daters will still be able to access them through their web browsers, or they can just sideload their apps from other places.
Still, the change is likely going to make the use of these sites a little less convenient.
See what others are saying: (The Verge)(Engadget)(Tech Times)
Activision Blizzard CEO Apologizes for “Tone Deaf” Response to Harassment Suit, Unsatisfied Employees Stage Walkout
Organizers of a Wednesday walkout say they “will not return to silence” and “will not be placated by the same processes that led us to this point.”
After a week of growing criticism against its workplace culture, the CEO of Activision Blizzard has finally apologized for how the company first responded to allegations of sexual harassment and assault in its offices.
“Our initial responses to the issues we face together, and to your concerns, were, quite frankly, tone deaf,” CEO Bobby Kotick said Tuesday in a letter to employees. “It is imperative that we acknowledge all perspectives and experiences and respect the feelings of those who have been mistreated in any way. I am sorry that we did not provide the right empathy and understanding.”
In its initial response, Activision Blizzard denounced the disturbing allegations brought forth in a lawsuit by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) as “irresponsible.” The company added that it came from “unaccountable State bureaucrats that are driving many of the State’s best businesses out of California.”
But many current and former employees soon disputed that claim. In fact, at the time, more than 2,500 had signed their name to an open letter condemning the company for its response, which they described as “abhorrent and insulting” to survivors.
In his letter, Kotick promised employees that Blizzard will take “swift action to be the compassionate, caring company you came to work for.”
As part of a series of new policies, he said the company will now offer additional employee support and listening sessions, as well as potential personnel changes to leadership.
“Anyone found to have impeded the integrity of our processes for evaluating claims and imposing appropriate consequences will be terminated,” he added.
Kotick also said Blizzard will add “compliance resources” to ensure that leadership is adhering to diverse hiring directives.
Lastly, he promised that the company will remove “inappropriate” in-game content. In a similar statement on Tuesday, Blizzard’s World of Warcraft team said it’s actively working to remove “references that are not appropriate for our world,” though it didn’t specify what those references were.
It now appears that many of the references being removed are of the game’s former Senior Creative Director, Alex Afrasiabi, who is cited in the lawsuit as someone who hit on and made unwanted advances at female employees. Moreover, the suit also directly accuses him of groping one woman.
“Afrasiabi was so known to engage in harassment of females that his suite” during company events “was nicknamed the “[Cosby] Suite” after alleged rapist Bill [Cosby],” the suit claims.
Organizers of a company-wide employee walkout, which was announced Tuesday and occurred Wednesday, still argue that Kotick’s latest message doesn’t address their larger concerns.
Among those are “the end of forced arbitration for all employees,” “worker participation in oversight of hiring and promotion policies,” “the need for greater pay transparency to ensure equality,” and “employee selection of a third party to audit HR and other company processes.”
“We will not return to silence; we will not be placated by the same processes that led us to this point.”
Ahead of the walkout, Blizzard reportedly encouraged its own employees to attend, saying those workers would face no repercussions and “can have paid time off” during the demonstration, according to The Verge.
Frito-Lay Workers End Nearly Three-Week Strike After Securing Higher Wages and a Guaranteed Day Off
Employees also negotiated an end to “suicide shifts,” which are two 12-hour shifts that are only eight hours apart.
Hundreds of Frito-Lay workers in Kansas have put an end to their nearly three-week strike over alleged mandatory overtime assignments that resulted in extremely long work weeks and so-called “suicide shifts.”
The term “suicide shift” refers to working two 12-hour shifts with only eight hours of rest in between. That can be especially hard on employees who claim to have worked up to 84 hours in a single week. For context, that’s 12 hours a day without a single day off.
One of the reasons workers have found themselves taking on more hours and days at plants is because consumer snacking has increased during the pandemic — so much so that Frito Lay’s recent net growth has exceeded every single one of its targets. That’s why at one point, the striking workers asked consumers to boycott Frito-Lay products in a show of solidarity.
The strikes began July 5 and concluded on July 23 following an agreement reached by union leaders and PepsiCo., Frito-Lay’s parent company. Under that deal, all employees will see a 4% wage increase over the next two years. They’ll also be guaranteed at least one day off a week, and the company will no longer schedule workers with only eight hours off between shifts.
Following the agreement, Anthony Shelton, the president of the union representing the workers, said that they’ve “shown the world that union working people can stand up against the largest food companies in the world and claim victory for themselves, their families and their communities.”
“We believe our approach to resolving this strike demonstrates how we listen to our employees, and when concerns are raised, they are taken seriously and addressed,” Frito-Lay said in a statement. “Looking ahead, we look forward to continuing to build on what we have accomplished together based on mutual trust and respect.”
The Long, Bitter Road to an Agreement
When the workers went on strike, they lobbed several very disturbing accusations against Frito-Lay.
In fact, the workers were pushed so hard that according to one employee who wrote in the Topeka Capital-Journal, “When a co-worker collapsed and died, you had us move the body and put in another co-worker to keep the line going.”
While Frito-Lay dismissed this account as “entirely false,” other employees continued to protest conditions in the plants. Many even argued the 90-degree temperatures they had to stand in to protest outside were preferable to the 100-degree-plus temperatures and smokey conditions in the factories.
During the strikes, PepsiCo. actively disputed that its employees are overworked, describing their claims as “grossly exaggerated” and saying, “Our records indicate 19 employees worked 84 hours in a given work week in 2021, with 16 of those as a result of employees volunteering for overtime and only 3 being required to work.”
It also said an initial concession more than met the striking employees’ terms, but the union backing those workers disagreed, and further negotiations were held until the final deal was reached.