Fortnite publisher Epic Games punched Apple quite strong in the jaw, when they made this video go viral online tonight with the hashtag #FreeFortnite :
For who is a bit into Apple culture and lore (yes, me…) this is a blast. The video is a mockup of the most famous Apple spot ever, the one broadcasted during Superbowl 1984 and directed by Ridley Scott. It was just a couple of years after Blade Runner, so it got a lot of attention. The spot explains why that year 1984 would not be like the book 1984. Because the newborn Macintosh would crush the brainwashing attempts and the single-thought about how to use computers. Back then, all we Apple users would clearly identify that Big Brother with the Big Blue, IBM, the almighty tech superpower of those days. The ones forcing the world to still use boring, text-only MS DOS programs on their PCs.
A few years later, Apple created the rethoric of Think Different that made them a reference brand for more liberal circuits. They were the ones selling “the computer for the rest of us” (another line from another famous Mac commercial). They positioned their brand as the one aiming for
the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes… the ones who see things differently — they’re not fond of rules (…)
because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.
Today Epic broke the rules and tried to change the world (of mobile apps economy). It is quite clear for whoever has eyes to see, that Apple itself became long ago that kind of almighty Big Brother from the commercial. Apple is currently ruling the mobile world, and keeping a strong control on its “walled garden” with the AppStore monopoly system.
The AppStore is the most valuable Apple asset
AppStore is the single most lucrative asset in Apple budget. And as you may know, the AppStore nowadays is still the only official and permitted way to get an app installed on iPhones and iPads – paying to Apple the 30% of that app revenues. You may be able to jail-break your device, but the procedure is not for everybody, and will anyway bring you to loose any possible guarantee. Not to mention that the jailbreak will be removed with next system updates.
As this PC Gamer post explains quite clearly, Epic Games, publisher of Fortnite and creator of the Epic Store, is frontally attacking the AppStore system. Epic claimed they will sell Fortnite v-bucks (the game internal coin system) to iOS devices users without passing trough the store (and paying 30% to Apple). Of course they are selling the story as a possible opportunity for saving money for all their dearest and most beloved users. They would also get more incomes in this way, but for some reason this is never mentioned 🙂
EDIT: another famous Defender of the poor people interests, Facebook, which has a long story of quarrelling with Apple, is backing Epic lawsuit according to Bloomberg, saying that AppStore policies failed small businesses during covid.
The (Apple) empire strikes back
Obviously Apple retaliated erasing Fortnite from their stores, as expected and clearly stated in their agreements with publishers. The point is, these agreements are questionable at least. And Epic decided to question them in a court, filing a lawsuit against Apple for monopolistic behavior, and meanwhile posting the video: so it was all planned from the beginning. Epic even created a big FAQ page to explain the situation to users.
Also the timing is perfect, as Apple and Google, with many other big tech brands, are now being inspected for monopolistic behavior by the EU. Someone at Epic really built up a strategy here.
good ol’days ?
While I am writing, online group of old-time Apple fans, as the ones dealing with vintage Macintosh models (btw, expect a post about this soon!) are boiling up: 50+ comments to the Fortnite 1984 video in a few minutes, many mixed feelings about the good ol’days (which do not exist, as a matter of fact, as this AppStore system has been set up by saint Steve Jobs in person…) and an emerging acknowledgement of the fact that the old Apple of Think Different nowadays is really, really comparable to that Big Brother of the old commercial.
At this point, of course I am interested in the lawsuit and in what will happen in court, as the system of AppStore etc shaped the mobile apps economy so far. Because I think that if something would change here, the change would be significant.
Look mummy, Google too!
Many online comments are really asking for (at least) allowing that iOS users could freely install apps also from other external sources, as it can happen on Android. But Fortnite has just been erased from Google Play store too, and they allow “sideloading” apps from external sources. The fact they sued Google too means that they want to question in court the requirements to lock all in-game purchases to stores, even when the apps do have been installed from the stores. And that’s even bigger!
But I am far more interested in the other battle, being fought on the plan of imagination. Epic is acting like the good guys, and they of course are not: they are just pushing an angry 12-years old fanbase towards Apple to secure their way to skip Apple shared payments system.
Apple is the bad guys. For the first time ever.
But the point is that Apple are the bad guys in here, and this is the first time they cannot control how they appear on media. Even more interesting, this is happening using their own (old) campaigns thrown in their face. In my old days of sound system culture, during a “soundclash” competition between different djs, we would have called this: counteraction tune!
I personally consider this the most relevant aspect of all this situation: fighting back against big corporations throwing their polished and engaging slogans in their face should not be something that only another big corporation, like Epic, can do – only to gain more credit (and money).
Defense against the dark arts
Once again there is something for us all here to learn: our imaginary has been colonized by superpowerful megacorps selling us dreams of freedom, often trough technology and the internet – and we should start thinking about using the same tools to fight back.
In Convergence Culture (again?!? 😀 ) Jenkins tells the story of a girl setting up a website as if it was Hogwarts’ school bullettin, and getting articles and contributions form all over the world, until… Warner Bros would sue her for copyright infringement. She then fought back, always using Harry Potter culture against the Harry Potter movies producers, and coordinated a (winning) worldwide campaign fom a website called… Defense against the dark arts.
To quote Gandhi, first they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win. This is exactly what happened in that case, and I think it could happen in the Epic case too. What I really care for, is that we should learn something here. We should start using convergence culture to fight back to de-colonize, clean up our imaginary, much more than we did so far.