Despite the Epic v. Apple battle, Fortnite is officially back on the iPhone

Fortnite on Xbox Cloud Gaming.

In an about-face, Epic Games has made Fortnite available on Microsoft’s Xbox Cloud Gaming streaming service. Among other things, that means the massively popular game is officially available to play on the iPhone again for the first time since it was pulled in the midst of the recent legal battle between Epic and Apple.

A post on Microsoft’s Xbox blog specifies that all you need to play Fortnite on just about any device with a screen is a Microsoft account, Internet access, and the device.

Fortnite is a free-to-play game, and for the first time, Xbox Cloud Gaming is also free-to-play, so long as the game you want to play is Fortnite. The company’s cloud-gaming service is normally restricted to paying Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscribers, but Fortnite is receiving an exception and works in any web browser with nothing more than a free Xbox login. Microsoft writes that it plans to introduce more free-to-play cloud games that don’t require paid Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscriptions in the future.

Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#apple, #epic-games, #epic-v-apple, #epic-vs-apple, #fortnite, #ios, #iphone, #tech

Bandcamp says it can’t afford Google Play billing, Epic files injunction

Coins rain on a piggy bank labeled Epic Games.

Enlarge (credit: Aurich Lawson | Getty Images)

Epic and Google are gearing up for another legal battle. You might recall that Google has an in-app billing crackdown coming to the Play Store soon. The new rules require all apps selling digital goods to use Google Play Billing by March 31, so Google gets a cut of the sales. Any app in non-compliance has been unable to ship updates since March 31, but the real deadline is June 1, when these apps will be removed from the Play Store. Epic Games bought the popular independent music site Bandcamp in March, and it’s already taking Google to court over its newest acquisition. Bandcamp isn’t in compliance with the billing rules, so it’s due for a ban in June. As part of its antitrust case against Google, Epic is filing a motion for a preliminary injunction to block Bandcamp’s de-listing from the Play Store.

Epic has attacked Google and Apple over their app store rules and what Epic says are excessive fees. In March, there were a lot of questions surrounding why the creator of Fortnite and the Unreal Engine would buy an independent music site. One line of commentary from Music Business Worldwide founder Tim Ingham seems to have nailed Epic’s strategy. Ingham notes that Epic failed to get Apple to reduce its 30 percent app store cut, in part because the alternative model Epic could demonstrate to the court, the Epic Games Store and its 12 percent fee, wasn’t profitable. Apple’s lawyers argued the unprofitability of Epic’s Games Store justified Apple’s 30 percent fees.

Bandcamp is a profitable digital content business, though. Bandcamp has a searchable content store, and it hosts and delivers the content by charging artists a 10 to 15 percent commission. Ingham predicted Epic would hold up Bandcamp’s business model as a viable alternative to Apple and Google’s app store fees, and that Epic would use its new acquisition to attack app store owners. It looks like we’re seeing the first actions of that plan.

Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#bandcamp, #epic-games, #google, #google-play, #tech

Epic Games, Who’s Behind Fortnite, Buys Bandcamp

Epic Games is acquiring an online music platform that has been embraced by musicians for its eclectic offerings and a payment system that favors artists.

#bandcamp-inc, #computer-and-video-games, #epic-games, #fortnite-video-game, #mergers-acquisitions-and-divestitures, #music, #video-recordings-downloads-and-streaming

Epic Games begins to show it’s “more than games,” acquires Bandcamp

Well, we didn't see this one coming. But based on rumors that Ars Technica is familiar with, maybe we should have.

Enlarge / Well, we didn’t see this one coming. But based on rumors that Ars Technica is familiar with, maybe we should have. (credit: Aurich Lawson | Epic + Bandcamp)

At some point, Epic Games might need to drop the word “Games” from its moniker and admit what kind of company it wants to be.

Today the game maker’s moved to acquire Bandcamp, an online music-streaming service that revolves around DRM-free purchases of MP3s, FLACs, and other audio files. The news emerged via press releases from both Bandcamp and Epic on Wednesday. As of press time, neither side of the deal has clarified its financial terms.

The move follows increasingly aggressive steps by Epic to emerge as an entirely new kind of digital media company in the near future.

Read 11 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#bandcamp, #epic-games, #gaming-culture, #mergers-and-acquisitions, #unreal-engine

Rumbleverse adds a melee twist to the battle royale

Rumbleverse adds a melee twist to the battle royale

Enlarge

Any new battle royale title needs a hook: after all, we all know the formula, and Halo Infinite‘s popularity suggests that people may be tired of it. With that in mind, here’s the hook of Iron Galaxy’s new title, Rumbleverse: wrestling, and no guns.

The game was conceived back in October 2017, explains Adam Boyes, co-CEO of Iron Galaxy. “We were brainstorming, talking about different types of competitive games and Royale games, and our co-CEO, Chelsey Glasgow, was like, ‘We should do wrestling,'” he says. “And then the whole brainstorming session became what it would it feel like if you could chokeslam someone off of a 40-story building.”

(credit: Epic Games)

The demonstration kicks off with a character creation screen. Iron Galaxy emphasizes that customization is critical in the game, with a huge suite of body types, faces, costumes, and accessories available for players to create their own monstrous or beautiful identity.

Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#battle-royale, #epic-games, #gaming-culture, #rumbleverse

Apple Appeals App Store Ruling in Fight With Epic Games

At the heart of the legal battle is the power Apple wields over its lucrative App Store.

#apple-inc, #computer-and-video-games, #decisions-and-verdicts, #epic-games, #gonzalez-rogers-yvonne-1965, #mobile-applications

Ben Rubin, who founded Houseparty, Meerkat and Slashtalk, will peer into the future of social at Disrupt

Ben Rubin understands where social is going. In fact, he understands it so well, he’s always there early.

Rubin is the current CEO and co-founder of Slashtalk and an angel investor who scouts for Sequoia Capital. He previously founded Houseparty and Meerkat — apps that pioneered group video chat and mobile livestreaming, respectively — shaping massive social trends in their earliest stages.

In 2015, Meerkat took SXSW by storm. The app seemed to have captured lightning in a bottle, and entrenched players in social noticed. Twitter was early to the trend too, having bought Periscope earlier that year, and leveraged Meerkat’s momentum to attract people to its own product. Half a year later, Facebook vaulted into the space with Facebook Live.

Meerkat didn’t keep up, but it did transform. In 2016, the same team launched Houseparty, a group video chat app geared toward connecting established friends in casual virtual hangouts rather than streaming to the masses. Three years later, in a world not yet ravaged by the pandemic, it sold to Fortnite maker Epic Games.

With people driven indoors and away from IRL social interactions, Houseparty boomed. In a single month during the pandemic’s early phase, the app saw 50 million new signups and hit the top of the charts across the iOS App Store and Google Play. But Houseparty struggled to retain users, and by fall of 2021 Epic announced that it would unceremoniously wind down the project and pull Houseparty from app stores.

Only time will tell if Houseparty’s technology will play a role in Epic’s vision for the metaverse — an interconnected series of seamless virtual worlds for people to explore and socialize in. But regardless of the app’s eventual fate, Houseparty’s take on social spontaneity and casual group video was ahead of its time.

If anyone is well positioned to know where social networks are going in the near future, it’s probably Rubin. He’s now working on Slashtalk, “an anti-meeting tool for fast, decentralized conversations.” Slashtalk’s ethos echoes both Meerkat and Houseparty’s belief in social serendipity, but this time Rubin is focused on the workplace rather than consumer social.

Rubin will join us onstage at TechCrunch Disrupt 2021 to talk about his new company and the trends powering current upheavals in social networking, from decentralization and ownership to the future of a connected post-pandemic world.

#ben-rubin, #epic-games, #events, #facebook, #house-party, #houseparty, #ios-app-store, #meerkat, #periscope, #sequoia-capital, #slashtalk, #social, #social-networking, #social-networks, #tc, #tc-disrupt-2021

Epic Games appeals last week’s ruling in antitrust battle with Apple

Fortnite maker Epic Games is appealing last week’s ruling in its court battle with Apple, where a federal judge said Apple would no longer be allowed to block developers from adding links to alternative payment mechanisms, but stopped short of dubbing Apple a monopolist. The latter would have allowed Epic Games to argue for alternative means of serving its iOS user base, including perhaps, through third-party app stores or even sideloading capabilities built into Apple’s mobile operating system, similar to those on Google’s Android OS.

Apple immediately declared the court battle a victory, as the judge had agreed with its position that the company was “not in violation of antitrust law” and had also deemed Apple’s success in the app and gaming ecosystem as “not illegal.” Epic Games founder and CEO Tim Sweeney, meanwhile, said the ruling was not a win for either developers or consumers. On Twitter, he hinted that the company may appeal the decision when he said, “We will fight on.”

In a court filing published on Sunday (see below), Epic Games officially stated its attention to appeal U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers’ final judgment and “all orders leading to or producing that judgment.”

As part of the judge’s decision, Epic Games had been ordered to pay Apple the 30% of the $12 million it earned when it introduced its alternative payment system in Fortnite on iOS, which was then in breach of its legal contract with Apple.

The appellate court will revisit how Judge Gonzalez Rogers defined the market where Epic Games had argued Apple was acting as a monopolist. Contrary to both parties’ wishes, Gonzalez Rogers defined it as the market for “digital mobile gaming transactions” specifically. Though an appeal may or may not see the court shifting its opinion in Epic Games’ favor, a new ruling could potentially help to clarify the vague language used in the injunction to describe how Apple must now accommodate developers who want to point their customers to other payment mechanisms.

So far, the expectation floating around the developer community is that Apple will simply extend the “reader app” category exception to all non-reader apps (apps that provide access to purchased content). Apple recently settled with a Japanese regulator by agreeing to allow reader apps to point users to their own website where users could sign up and manage their accounts, which could include customers paying for subscriptions — like Netflix or Spotify subscriptions, for instance. Apple said this change would be global.

In briefings with reporters, Apple said the details of the injunction issued with the Epic Games ruling, however, would still need to be worked out. Given the recency of the decision, the company has not yet communicated with developers on how this change will impact them directly nor has it updated its App Store guidelines with new language.

Reached for comment, Epic Games said it does not have any further statements on its decision to appeal at this time.

#android, #app-store, #apple, #apple-inc, #apps, #ceo, #computing, #epic-games, #itunes, #judge, #mobile, #netflix, #operating-system, #software, #spotify, #technology, #tim-sweeney, #united-states

How Apple’s Changes to Its Store Could Benefit App Developers

After a judge opened up a way to avoid Apple’s commission on their sales, companies big and small are seeing dollar signs.

#antitrust-laws-and-competition-issues, #apple-inc, #computer-and-video-games, #computers-and-the-internet, #epic-games, #gonzalez-rogers-yvonne-1965, #google-inc, #iphone, #match-group-inc, #mobile-applications, #sweeney-tim-1970

In Epic vs. Apple Court Fight, a Win for App Developers

The decision could have major implications for thousands of businesses that pay Apple billions of dollars each year.

#antitrust-laws-and-competition-issues, #apple-inc, #computer-and-video-games, #computers-and-the-internet, #cook-timothy-d, #epic-games, #gonzalez-rogers-yvonne-1965, #mobile-applications, #mobile-commerce-and-payments, #software, #suits-and-litigation-civil, #sweeney-tim-1970

Epic Games asks Apple to reinstate Fortnite in South Korea after new law

Epic Games has asked Apple to rejoin its Fortnite developer account in South Korea as the U.S. game maker plans to re-release Fortnite on iOS in South Korea, offering both Epic and Apple payments side-by-side, said in a tweet on September 10.

This request comes after South Korea passed a bill, the updated Telecommunications Business Act, in late August that will force Apple and other tech giants to let developers use their third-party payment systems.

“Epic intends to re-release Fortnite on iOS in Korea offering both Epic payment and Apple payment side-by-side in compliance with the new Korea law,” according to the official Fortnite Twitter account.

“As we’ve said all along, we would welcome Epic’s return to the App Store if they agree to play by the same rules as everyone else. Epic has admitted to breach of contract and as of now, there’s no legitimate basis for the reinstatement of their developer account,” said a spokesperson at Apple.

Epic would also have to agree to comply with Apple’s App Store Review Guidelines regarding all apps, but Epic has not consistently abided by the Guidelines, and their request of Apple does not indicate any change in Epic’s position, added Apple’s statement.

Even if the South Korean legislation, which is not yet effective, were to become law in the country, it would impose no obligation on Apple to approve any developer program account application, which includes any requests for reinstatement of a developer program account terminated prior to the legislation’s effective date, based on Apple’s statement.

In August 2020, Apple kicked Fortnite off the App Store after Epic introduced a direct payment system in Fortnite that violated Apple’s in-app purchase requirement. The two companies have been embroiled in a legal dispute over the Apple Store’s payment system.

Apple is changing its app policy to allow developers to link to external websites and it also has reached a settlement with Japan for allowing developers of “reader” apps to link to their own websites.

An Epic Games spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

 

#anti-google-law, #apple, #epic-games, #fortnite, #in-app-purchase, #south-korea, #tc

Epic Games to shut down Houseparty in October, including the video chat ‘Fortnite Mode’ feature

Houseparty, the social video chat app acquired by Fortnite maker Epic Games for a reported $35 million back in 2019, is shutting down. The company says Houseparty will be discontinued in October when the app will stop functioning for its existing users; it will be pulled from the app stores today, however. Related to this move, Epic Games’ “Fortnite Mode” feature, which leveraged Houseparty to bring video chat to Fortnite gamers, will also be discontinued.

Founded in 2015, Houseparty offered a way for users to participate in group video chats with friends and even play games, like Uno, trivia, Heads Up and others. Last year, Epic Games integrated Houseparty with Fortnite, initially to allow gamers to see live feeds from friends while gaming, then later adding support to livestream gameplay directly into Houseparty. At the time, these integrations appeared to be the end goal that explained why Epic Games had bought the social startup in the first place.

Now, just over two years after the acquisition was announced, and less than half a year since support for livestreaming was added to the app, Houseparty is shutting down.

The company didn’t offer any solid insight into what, at first glance, feels like an admission of failure to capitalize on its acquisition. But the reality is that Epic Games may have something larger in store beyond just video chat. That said, all Epic Games would say today is that the Houseparty team could no longer give the app the attention it required — a statement that indicates an executive decision to shift the team’s focus to other matters.

While none of the Houseparty team members are being let go as a result of this move, we’re told, they will be joining other teams where they will work on new ways to allow for “social interactions” across the Epic Games family of products. The company’s announcement hinted that those social features would be designed and built at the “metaverse scale.”

The “metaverse” is an increasingly used buzzword that references a shared virtual environment, like those provided by large-scale online gaming platforms such as Fortnite, Roblox and others. Facebook, too, claims the metaverse is the next big gambit for social networking, with CEO Mark Zuckerberg having described it as an “embodied internet that you’re inside of rather than just looking at.”

To some extent, Fortnite has begun to embrace the metaverse by offering non-gaming experiences like online concerts you attend as your avatar, and other live events. Ahead of its shutdown, Houseparty also toyed with live events that users would co-watch and participate in alongside their friends.

An Epic Games spokesperson tells TechCrunch the Houseparty team has worked on (and continues to work on) a number of other projects that focus on social. But some of the “multiple, larger projects” Epic Games has in the works remain undisclosed, we’re told.

In terms of social products, Houseparty’s technology now underpins all of Fortnite voice chat and the features they built are widely available for free to developers through Epic Games Services. They also worked on building out new social experiences, which have ranged from the social RSVP functions for Fortnite’s global events, like the recent Ariana Grande concert, to the upcoming “Operation: Sky Fire” event for collaborating quests and other game mechanics. More social functionality and new experiences are also being built into Fortnite’s user-generated content platform, Create Mode.

While it may seem odd to close an app that only last year experienced a boost in usage due to the pandemic, it appears the COVID bump didn’t have staying power.

At the height of lockdowns, Houseparty had reported it had gained 50 million new sign-ups in a month’s time as users looked to video apps to connect with family and friends while the world was shut down. But as the pandemic wore on, other video chat experiences gained more ground. Zoom, which had established itself as an essential tool for remote work, became a tool for hanging out with friends after-hours, as well. Facebook also started to eat Houseparty’s lunch with its debut of drop-in video chat “Rooms” last year, which offered a similar group video experience. And bored users shifted to audio-based social networking on apps like Clubhouse or Twitter Spaces.

Image Credits: Apptopia

According to data from Apptopia, Houseparty has been continually declining since the pandemic bump. To date, its app has seen a total of 111 million downloads across iOS and Android, with the majority (63 million) on iOS. The U.S. was Houseparty’s largest market, accounting for 43.4% of downloads, followed by the U.K. (9.8%), then Germany (5.6%).

Epic Games, meanwhile, said the app served “tens of millions” of users worldwide. It insists the closure wasn’t decided lightly, nor was the decision to shutter “Fortnite Mode” made due to lack of adoption.

Houseparty will alert users to the shutdown via in-app notifications ahead of its final closure in October. At that point, Fortnite Mode will also no longer be available.

#android, #app-store, #apps, #computing, #epic-games, #exit, #facebook, #fortnite, #gaming, #houseparty, #mark-zuckerberg, #metaverse, #mobile, #online-games, #roblox, #social, #social-networking, #software, #uno, #video-gaming

Apple Settlement Gives App Developers a Way to Avoid Its Commission

It also will create a $100 million fund to pay them. A judge’s decision in a higher-profile fight with Epic Games, a leading video game maker, is still pending.

#apple-inc, #epic-games, #mobile-applications, #suits-and-litigation-civil

Apple lowers commissions on in-app purchases for news publishers who participate in Apple News

Apple today is launching a new program that will allow subscription news organizations that participate in the Apple News app and meet certain requirements to lower their commission rate to 15% on qualifying in-app purchases taking place inside their apps on the App Store. Typically, Apple’s model for subscription-based apps involves a standard 30% commission during their first year on the App Store which then drops to 15% in year two. But the new Apple News Partner Program, announced today, will now make 15% the commission rate for participants starting on day one.

There are a few caveats to this condition, and they benefit Apple. To qualify, the news publisher must maintain a presence on Apple News and they have to provide their content in the Apple News Format (ANF). The latter is the JavaScript Object Notation (JSON) format that’s used to create articles for Apple News which are optimized for Mac, iPhone and other Apple mobile devices. Typically, this involves a bit of setup to translate news articles from a publisher’s website or from their CMS (content management system) to the supported JSON format. For WordPress and other popular CMS’s, there are also plugins available to make this process easier.

Meanwhile, for publishers headquartered outside one of the four existing Apple News markets — the U.S., U.K., Australia, or Canada — they can instead satisfy the program’s obligations by providing Apple with an RSS feed.

On the App Store, the partner app qualifying for the 15% commission must be used to deliver “original, professionally authored” news content, and they must offer their auto-renewable subscriptions using Apple’s in-app purchase system.

While there is some initial work involved in establishing the publisher’s connection to Apple News, it’s worth noting that most major publishers already participate on Apple’s platform. That means they won’t have to do any additional work beyond what they’re already doing in order to transition over to the reduced commission for their apps. However, the program also serves as a way to push news organizations to continue to participate in the Apple News ecosystem, as it will make more financial sense to do so across their broader business.

That will likely be an area of contention for publishers, who would probably prefer that the reduced App Store commission didn’t come with strings attached.

Some publishers already worry that they’re giving up too much control over their business by tying themselves to the Apple News ecosystem. Last year, for example, The New York Times announced it would exit its partnership with Apple News, saying that Apple didn’t allow it to have as direct a relationship with readers as it wanted, and it would rather drive readers to its own app and website.

Apple, however, would argue that it doesn’t stand in the way of publishers’ businesses — it lets them paywall their content and keep 100% of the ad revenue from the ads they sell. (If they can’t sell it all or would prefer Apple to do so on their behalf, they then split the commission with Apple, keeping 70% of revenues instead.) In addition, for the company’s Apple News+ subscription service — where the subscription revenue split is much higher — it could be argued that it’s “found money.” That is, Apple markets the service to customers the publisher hadn’t been able to attract on its own anyway.

The launch of the new Apple News Partner program comes amid regulatory scrutiny over how Apple manages its App Store business and more recently, proposed legislation aiming to address alleged anticompetitive issues both in the U.S. and in major App Store markets, like South Korea.

Sensing this shift in the market, Apple had already been working to provide itself cover from antitrust complaints and lawsuits — like the one underway now with Epic Games — by adjusting its App Store commissions. Last year, it launched the App Store Small Business Program, which also lowered commissions on in-app purchases from 30% to 15% — but only for developers earning up to $1 million in revenues.

This program may have helped smaller publishers, but it was clear some major publishers still weren’t satisfied. After the reduced commissions for small businesses were announced in November, the publisher trade organization Digital Content Next (DCN) — a representative for the AP, The New York Times, NPR, ESPN, Vox, The Washington Post, Meredith, Bloomberg, NBCU, The Financial Times, and others — joined the advocacy group and lobbying organization the Coalition for App Fairness (CAF) the very next month.

These publishers, who had previously written to Apple CEO Tim Cook to demand lower commissions — had other complaints about the revenue share beyond just the size of the split. They also didn’t want to be required to use Apple’s services for in-app purchases for their subscriptions, saying this “Apple tax” forces them to raise their prices for consumers.

It remains to be seen how these publishers will now react to the launch of the Apple News Partner program.

While it gives them a way to lower their App Store fees, it doesn’t address their broader complaints against Apple’s platform and its rules. If anything, it ties the lower fees to a program that locks them in further to the Apple ecosystem.

Apple, in a gesture of goodwill, also said today it would recommit support to three leading media non-profits, Common Sense Media, the News Literacy Project, and Osservatorio Permanente Giovani-Editori. These non-profits offer nonpartisan, independent media literacy programs, which Apple views as key to its larger mission to empower people to become smart and active news readers. Apple also said it would later announce further media literacy projects from other organizations. The company would not disclose the size of its commitment from a financial standpoint however, or discuss how much it has sent such organizations in the past.

“Providing Apple News customers with access to trusted information from our publishing partners has been our priority from day one,” said Eddy Cue, Apple’s senior vice president of Services, in a statement. “For more than a decade, Apple has offered our customers many ways to access and enjoy news content across our products and services. We have hundreds of news apps from dozens of countries around the world available in the App Store, and created Apple News Format to offer publishers a tool to showcase their content and provide a great experience for millions of Apple News users,” he added.

More details about the program and the application form will be available at the News Partner Program website.

#advocacy, #app-store, #apple, #apple-inc, #apple-news, #apps, #australia, #canada, #ceo, #coalition-for-app-fairness, #common-sense, #common-sense-media, #computing, #content-management-system, #eddy-cue, #epic-games, #ios, #iphone, #itunes, #javascript, #json, #major, #media, #mobile-devices, #software, #south-korea, #the-financial-times, #the-new-york-times, #the-washington-post, #tim-cook, #united-kingdom, #united-states

Fortnite’s Ariana Grande concert offers a taste of music in the metaverse

Ariana Grande strutted and soared around a candy-colored series of Fortnite sets in Epic’s latest major in-game live music event. The multi-day “tour” offered gamers and Grande fans alike plenty to enjoy while showcasing Epic’s impressively smooth and visually inventive vision for live events that millions of people can enjoy simultaneously.

Fortnite players have known an Ariana Grande event was in the works for a while, and the concert followed previous in-game events featuring rapper Travis Scott and Marshmello. Scott’s in-game performance saw 12.3 million live viewers, a number that the Ariana Grande event is likely to top given that it ran over multiple days.

Epic put up a video of the concert that’s well worth checking out, if only to marvel at the kind of stuff that’s possible in gaming worlds these days. Experiencing the event live in the game is obviously ideal, but the video captures the experience pretty well, minus the sense of presence from having an avatar zooming around the space with grande Grande.

This time around, the show featured a handful of mini-games that gave players more to do than just flying around while a gigantic virtual pop star does her thing. The sequence kicked off with players surfing a rainbow racetrack, hitting power ups in a cross between Mario Kart and Splatoon to “Come & Go” by Juice WRLD and Marshmello. The racetrack sequence was followed by bouncing players through a Dr. Seuss style landscape with candy-pink trees and giant floating eyeballs before dropping them into a mini-game shooting down the game’s Storm King boss to Wolfmother’s “Victorious.”

Grande made her Fortnite debut a few songs in to the 2019 hit “7 Rings,” streaking across the sky and materializing on top of a planet suspended in a sea of stars. Later she soared through the clouds with angelic wings as players followed, suspended in rainbow bubbles. In the coolest portion, a skyscraper-high Grande ascended a series of Escher-esque staircases with a giant diamond mallet before slinging it to shatter the sky, shotput-style.

Fortnite’s latest event didn’t have any huge surprises, but that’s only because Epic sets the bar so high. Getting dressed up in your favorite skin to sail around a skyscraper-tall pop star along with millions of people around the world might not be everyone’s vision for the metaverse, but Fortnite’s wildly imaginative live events are a taste of the future that here’s right now.

#ariana-grande, #epic, #epic-games, #fortnite, #gaming, #mario-kart, #marshmello, #metaverse, #mmo, #musicians, #social, #tc, #travis-scott, #virtual-concert

Elon Musk calls Apple’s App Store fees ‘a de facto global tax on the Internet’

Elon Musk is siding with Epic Games in the App Store monopoly case, with the Tesla CEO firing off a tweet Friday morning that called Apple’s Store fees “a de facto global tax on the Internet,” also adding that “Epic is right.”

Epic Games legal battle with Apple is sure to last years and the Fortnite maker has hardly been secretive about its aims to win the battle for popular opinion as well. Musk’s vote of confidence could hold sway with consumers who have yet to develop a clear opinion on the topic.

Apple has argued publicly that dissatisfied developers can take their products to Android or mobile web on iOS, but Epic Games and others have argued that Apple’s stranglehold on apps is nothing short of a monopoly.

What’s less clear is why Musk is taking up this issue right now. While Musk is rarely one to pass up offering an outside opinion on a contentious issue that doesn’t involve him, none of Musk’s current companies seem to be deeply affected by the fees from the App Store, though there certainly could be action happening behind the scenes.

#app-store, #corporate-governance, #elon-musk, #epic-games, #hyperloop, #tc, #tesla

Fortnite’s new ‘superstar’ virtual music tour kicks off next week

Epic Games is teasing the biggest in-game event since Travis Scott psychedelically stomped through Fortnite’s virtual meadows.

The mysterious new event, which Fortnite-maker Epic is calling the “Rift Tour,” will kick off on Friday, August 6 and run through Sunday, August 8. In the teaser announcement, Epic invites players to “take a musical journey into magical new realities where Fortnite and a record-breaking superstar collide.”

In-game events building up to the mystery show series will run from July 29 through August 8, so players can hop into Fortnite to check out new Rift Tour-themed quests and rewards now. The cotton-candy-colored event will offer a custom loading screen and a fluffy cloud kitty emoticon, among other digital prizes.

The Rift Tour isn’t a one-and-done event. Like the Travis Scott event, Fortnite will host five different show times across three days to make it easier for players to catch. Epic says they’ll have more details to share on Monday, August 2, so Fortnite players will have to wait for more hints or an official announcement about who’s performing.

So … who’s performing? So far, all signs point to Ariana Grande. Leakers have been saying as much for more than a week, and the documents revealed through Epic’s court battle with Apple also detailed plans for in-game events with both Grande and Lady Gaga.

Fortnite Rift Tour

Image Credits: Epic Games

At Forbes, Paul Tassi also connected the dots on how recent leaks point to Grande, including some visual themes from her music videos and a reference to her pet pig Piggy Smalls.

Since Epic is calling its latest virtual event a tour, that suggests Grande won’t be alone, if she is indeed the mystery superstar. A Lady Gaga appearance could also be in the cards, since Epic apparently had plans for Gaga to appear in a December 2020 concert that never materialized. Kanye West is also releasing his newest album on August 6, but it seems less likely that Epic would be willing to partner with West given his myriad recent controversies. And “Donda,” West’s latest album, was originally scheduled for a different date before being delayed.

Whoever it winds up being, we’ll likely know more on Monday. Even if you’re not a Grande fan or a regular gamer, Fortnite’s in-game concerts are some of the most creative and visually exciting virtual events to date.

Everyone should fall through the metaverse with their friends while a skyscraper-sized virtual rapper shoots neon lightning bolts at least once.

#epic, #epic-games, #fortnite, #fortnite-battle-royale, #kanye-west, #metaverse, #music, #social, #tc, #travis-scott, #video-games, #video-gaming

Epic Games acquires Sketchfab, a 3D model sharing platform

New York-based startup Sketchfab has been acquired by Epic Games, the company behind Fortnite and Unreal Engine. Sketchfab has been building a platform to upload, download, view, share, sell and buy 3D assets. Essentially, it is the leading repository for 3D files on the web.

Epic Games isn’t disclosing the terms of the deal. Sketchfab will still operate as a separate brand and offering. Epic Games also says that all integrations with third-party tools will remain available, including with Unity.

The deal makes a ton of sense as Epic Games has been developing — and acquiring — some of the most popular creation tools. Unreal Engine has been one of the most popular video game engines of the past couple of decades.

More recently, Unreal Engine has been used for different use cases beyond video games, such as special effects, 3D explorations of virtual worlds, mixed reality projects and more.

But an engine without assets is pretty useless. That’s why creators either design their own 2D and 3D assets, outsource this process or buy assets directly. It led to the creation of an entire ecosystem of assets and creators.

Epic Games has its own Unreal Engine marketplace, but Sketchfab has been working on building the definitive 3D marketplace for many years with three important pillars — technology, reach and collaboration.

On the technology front, Sketchfab lets you view 3D models on any platform. The Sketchfab viewer works with all major browsers on both desktop and mobile — you can see an example on Sketchfab. It also works with VR headsets. You can upload 3D models from your favorite 3D modeling app, such as Blender, 3ds Max, Maya, Cinema 4D and Substance Painter.

Sketchfab can also convert any format into glTF and USDZ file formats. Those formats work particularly well on Android and iOS.

When it comes to reach, Sketchfab has grown tremendously over the years. In 2018, the company shared some metrics — 1 billion views, 2 million members and 3 million 3D models. Around the same time, the company launched a store so that creators can buy and sell assets directly on the platform.

Finally, Sketchfab launched an interesting feature for companies that work with 3D models all the time — Sketchfab for Teams. It’s a software-as-a-service play that lets you share a Sketchfab account with the rest of the team. Essentially, it works a bit like a shared Google Drive folder — but for 3D models.

With today’s acquisition, Epic Games is making some immediate changes. Starting today, store fees have been reduced from 30% to 12% — just like on the Epic Games Store. The company lowered commissions on ArtStation immediately after acquiring ArtStation as well.

As for Sketchfab users paying a monthly subscription fee, everything is a bit cheaper now. All features in the Plus plan are now available for free, all features in the Pro plan are available to Plus subscribers, etc.

“We built Sketchfab with a mission to empower a new era of creativity and provide a service for creators to showcase their work online and make 3D content accessible,” Sketchfab co-founder and CEO Alban Denoyel said in the announcement. “Joining Epic will enable us to accelerate the development of Sketchfab and our powerful online toolset, all while providing an even greater experience for creators. We are proud to work alongside Epic to build the Metaverse and enable creators to take their work even further.”

With the acquisitions of ArtStation and Capturing Reality, Epic Games has been on an acquisition spree. It’s clear that the company wants to build an end-to-end developer suite for the gaming industry.

#3d, #3d-model, #epic-games, #fundings-exits, #gaming, #sketchfab, #startups

Google faces a major multi-state antitrust lawsuit over Google Play fees

A group of 37 attorneys general filed a second major multi-state antitrust lawsuit against Google Wednesday, accusing the company of abusing its market power to stifle competitors and forcing consumers into in-app payments that grant the company a hefty cut.

New York Attorney General Letitia James is co-leading the suit alongside with the Tennessee, North Carolina and Utah attorneys general. The bipartisan coalition represents 36 U.S. states, including California, Florida, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Hampshire, Colorado and Washington, as well as the District of Columbia.

“Through its illegal conduct, the company has ensured that hundreds of millions of Android users turn to Google, and only Google, for the millions of applications they may choose to download to their phones and tablets,” James said in a press release. “Worse yet, Google is squeezing the lifeblood out of millions of small businesses that are only seeking to compete.”

In December, 35 states filed a separate antitrust suit against Google, alleging that the company engaged in illegal behavior to maintain a monopoly on the search business. The Justice Department filed its own antitrust case focused on search last October.

In the new lawsuit, embedded below, the bipartisan coalition of states allege that Google uses “misleading” security warnings to keep consumers and developers within its walled app garden, the Google Play store. But the fees that Google collects from Android app developers are likely the meat of the case.

“Not only has Google acted unlawfully to block potential rivals from competing with its Google Play Store, it has profited by improperly locking app developers and consumers into its own payment processing system and then charging high fees,” District of Columbia Attorney General Karl Racine said.

Like Apple, Google herds all app payment processing into its own service, Google Play Billing, and reaps the rewards: a 30 percent cut of all payments. Much of the criticism here is a case that could — and likely will — be made against Apple, which exerts even more control over its own app ecosystem. Google doesn’t have an iMessage equivalent exclusive app that keeps users locked in in quite the same way.

While the lawsuit discusses Google’s “monopoly power” in the app marketplace, the elephant in the room is Apple — Google’s thriving direct competitor in the mobile software space. The lawsuit argues that consumers face pressure to stay locked into the Android ecosystem, but on the Android side at least, much of that is ultimately familiarity and sunk costs. The argument on the Apple side of the equation here is likely much stronger.

The din over tech giants squeezing app developers with high mobile payment fees is just getting louder. The new multi-state lawsuit is the latest beat, but the topic has been white hot since Epic took Apple to court over its desire to bypass Apple’s fees by accepting mobile payments outside the App Store. When Epic set up a workaround, Apple kicked it out of the App Store and Epic Games v. Apple was born.

The Justice Department is reportedly already interested in Apple’s own app store practices, along with many state AGs who could launch a separate suit against the company at any time.

#android, #app-store, #apple, #apple-inc, #attorney-general, #california, #colorado, #companies, #computing, #department-of-justice, #epic-games, #florida, #fortnite, #google, #google-play, #google-play-billing, #google-play-store, #letitia-james, #massachusetts, #new-hampshire, #new-jersey, #new-york, #north-carolina, #search, #social, #tc, #technology, #tennessee, #the-battle-over-big-tech, #united-states, #utah, #washington

Shopify drops its App Store commissions to 0% on developers’ first million in revenue

Following similar moves by Apple, Google, and more recently Amazon, among others, e-commerce platform Shopify announced today it’s also lowering its cut of developer revenue across its app marketplace, the Shopify App Store, as well as the new Shopify Theme Store. The news was announced today alongside a host of other developer-related news and updates for the Shopify platform at the company’s Unite 2021 Conference, including updates to Checkout, APIs, developer tooling and frameworks, among other things.

Shopify says its app developer partners earned $233 million in 2020 alone, more than 2018 and 2019 combined — an increase that can likely be attributed, in part, to the COVID-19 pandemic and the rapid shift to e-commerce that resulted. Today, there are over 6,000 publicly available apps across the Shopify App Store, and on average, a merchant will use around six apps to run their business.

Now, Shopify says it will drop its commissions on app developer revenue to 0%, down from 20%, for developers who make less than $1 million annually on its platform. This benchmark will also reset annually, giving developers — and, particularly those on the cusp of $1 million — more earning potential. And when Shopify’s revenue share kicks in, it will now only be 15% of “marginal” revenue. That means developers will pay 15% only on revenue they make that’s over the $1 million mark.

The same business model will apply to Shopify’s Theme Store, which opens to developer submissions July 15.

As the two stores are separate entities, the $1 million revenue share metric applies to each store individually. The new business model will begin on August 1, 2021 and will be made available to developers who register by providing their account details in their partner dashboard.

Shopify says the more developer-friendly business model will mean a drop in company revenue, but says it doesn’t expect this impact “to be material” because it will encourage greater innovation and development.

The changes to Shopify’s App Store follow a shift in the broader app store market around developer commissions.

Last year, amid increased regulatory scrutiny over how it runs its App Store, Apple announced it would reduce the App Store commissions for smaller businesses under a new program where developers earning up to $1 million per year would only have to pay a 15% commission on in-app purchases. Google and Amazon have since followed suit, each with their own particular spin on the concept. For example, in Google’s case, the fee is 15% on the first million the developer earns. Amazon is still charging a higher percentage at 20%, but is tacking on AWS credits as a perk.

Apple and Google, in particular, hope these changes can help shield them from antitrust investigations over their alleged app store monopolies, while also giving developers a better reason to participate in their own slice of the app economy.

Outside of mobile, Microsoft this year agreed to match the 12% cut on game sales that Epic Games takes on its Windows Store, as a means of increasing the pressure on its rivals. With the larger update to the new Windows 11 Store, it will allow developers to use their own payment platforms, while keeping its commission at 15% on apps.

To date, much of the momentum in the market has been focused on lowering the cut of app and games sales. Shopify’s app platform is different — it’s about apps that are used to enhance an e-commerce business, like those that help with shipping and delivery, marketing, merchandising, store design, customer service and more. These are not consumer-facing apps, but they are still marketed in an app store environment.

While the changes to developers’ businesses is the big news today from Unite 2021, that’s not to diminish from the host of updates Shopify announced related to its larger platform.

Among the updates are: the debut of Online Store 2.0, a more flexible and customizable update to Shopify’s Liquid platform (its templating language), which Netflix was the first to test; investments in custom storefronts for faster response times; a new React framework for building custom storefronts called Hydrogen; a way to host Hydrogen storefronts on Shopify called Oxygen; support for more Metafields for products and product variants and custom content that’s built on top; speedier Spotify Checkout; Checkout Extensions (customizations built by developers); easier and more powerful Shopify Scripts; a Payments Platform for integrating third-party payment gateways into Checkout; updates to its Storefront API; and more.

The company today also shared a few more business metrics, noting, for instance, that last year over 450 million people checked out on Shopify, totaling $120 billion in gross merchandise volume. It said its Shopify partners — which include app developers, theme builders, designers, agencies and experts — earned $12.5 billion in revenue in 2020, up 84% year-over-year, and 4x the revenue of Shopify’s own platform.

#amazon, #api, #app-store, #apple, #apps, #aws, #computing, #developer, #e-commerce, #ecommerce, #epic-games, #google, #itunes, #microsoft, #microsoft-store, #microsoft-windows, #shopify, #software, #spotify, #windows-store

Apple’s new App Store Guidelines aim to crack down on fraud and scams

Apple today is releasing a new version of its App Store Review Guidelines, its lengthy document which dictates the rules which apps must abide by in order to be published to its App Store. Among the more notable changes rolling out today are several sections that will see Apple taking a harder stance on App Store fraud, scams and developer misconduct, including a new process that aims to empower other developers to hold bad actors accountable.

One of the key updates on this front involves a change to Apple’s Developer Code of Conduct (Section 5.6 and 5.6.1-5.6.4 of the Review Guidelines).

This section has been significantly expanded to include guidance stating that repeated manipulative or misleading behavior or other fraudulent conduct will lead to the developer’s removal from the Apple Developer Program. This is something Apple has done for repeated violations, it claims, but wanted to now ensure was clearly spelled out in the guidelines.

In an entirely new third paragraph in this section, Apple says that if a developer engages in activities or actions that are not in accordance with the developer code of conduct, they will have their Apple Developer account terminated.

It also details what, specifically, must be done to restore the account, which includes providing Apple with a written statement detailing the improvements they’ve made, which will have to be approved by Apple. If Apple is able to confirm the changes has been made, it may then restore the developer’s account.

Apple explained in a press briefing that this change was meant to prevent a sort of catch and release scenario where a developer gets caught by Apple, but then later reverts their changes to continue their bad behavior.

As part of this update, Apple added a new section about developer identity (5.6.2). This is meant to ensure the contact information for developers provided to Apple and customers is accurate and functional, and that the developer isn’t impersonating other, legitimate developers on the App Store. This was a particular issue in a high-profile incident of App Store fraud which involved a crypto wallet app that scammed a user out of his life savings (~$600,000) in Bitcoin. The scam victim had been deceived because the app was using the same name and icon as a different company that made a hardware crypto device, and because the scan app was rated 5 stars. (Illegitimately, that is).

Related to this, Apple clarified the language around App Store discovery fraud (5.6.3) to more specifically call out any type of manipulations of App Store charts, search, reviews and referrals. The former would mean to crack down on the clearly booming industry of fake App Store ratings and reviews, which can send scam app up higher in charts and search.

Meanwhile, the referral crackdown would address consumers being shown incorrect pricing outside the App Store in an effort to boost installs.

Another section (5.6.4) addresses issues that come up after an app is published, including negative customer reports and concerns and excessive refund rates, for example. If Apple notices this behavior, it will investigate the app for violations, it says.

Of course, the question here is: will Apple actually notice the potential scammers? In recent months, a growing number of developers believe Apple is allowing far too many scammers to fall through the cracks of App Review.

One particular thorn in Apple’s side has been Fleksy keyboard app founder Kosta Eleftheriou, who is not only suing Apple for the revenue he’s personally lost to scammers, but also formed a sort of one-man bunco squad to expose some of the more egregious scams to date. This has included the above-mentioned crypto scam; a kids game that actually contained a hidden online casino; and a VPN app scamming users out of $5 million per year, among many others.

The rampant fraud taking place on the App Store was also brought up during Apple’s antitrust hearing, when Georgia’s Senator Jon Ossoff asked Apple’s Chief Compliance Officer Kyle Andeer why Apple was not able to locate scams, given they’re “trivially easy” to identify.

Apple downplayed the concerns then, and continues to do so through press releases like this one which noted how the App Store stopped over $1.5 billion in fraudulent transactions in 2020.

But a new update to these Guidelines seems to be an admission that Apple may need a little help on this front. It says developers can now directly report possible violations they find in other developers’ apps. Through a new form that standardizes this sort of complaint, developers can point to guideline violations and any other trust and safety issues they discover. Often, developers notice the scammers whose apps are impacting their own business and revenue, so they’ll likely turn to this form now as a first step in getting the scammer dealt with.

Another change will allow developers to appeal a rejection if they think there was unfair treatment of any kind, including political bias. Previously, Apple had allowed developers to appeal App Store decisions and suggest changes to guidelines.

Apple told us it has 500 app reviewers covering 81 languages who see new scenarios daily that have to be accounted for in updated guidelines and policies. Apple says it takes what it learns from these individual issues it encounters to invest in its systems, algorithms and training so it can prevent similar issues in the future. The company believes the new Code of Conduct rules, in particular, will give it the tools needed to better crack down on App Store fraud.

The rules about scams are only a handful of the many changes rolling out with today’s updated App Store Review Guidelines.

There are a few others, however, also worth highlighting:

  • Apple clarified rules around “hookup” apps to ensure developers understand porn and prostitution are not allowed on the App Store — often an issue with the fly-by-night hookup apps, which bait and switch users.
  • Creator content apps are instructed that they must follow rules for user-generated content, when applicable, meaning they must have content blocking, reporting and robust moderation.
  • Apple added the ability for licensed pharmacies and licensed cannabis dispensaries to facilitate purchasing provided they’re legal and geogated.
  • Apps that report criminal activity require the developers to work with local law enforcement. (Citizen is a recent example of an app gone awry when users hunted down the wrong person. That level of carelessness may be coming to an end now.)
  • Bait-and-switch marketing and ads about app pricing isn’t allowed.
  • Cellular carrier apps can now include other kinds of subscription apps besides music and video services.
  • Apple clarifies that developers can communicate on email with anyone, but says they can’t target customers acquired through the App Store with messages about how to make purchases outside of the App Store.
  • Apple has enough drinking game apps. Stop sending them in.
  • Apps that offer account creation also have to offer account deletion.
  • Other clarity was added around in-app purchases for gift cards, app metadata, bug fix submissions, and more. But these were not major changes.

read more about Apple's WWDC 2021 on TechCrunch

#app-store, #apple, #apple-inc, #apple-news, #apps, #computing, #epic-games, #georgia, #itunes, #kosta-eleftheriou, #tc, #technology, #video-services, #vpn, #wwdc-2021

Facebook buys studio behind Roblox-like Crayta gaming platform

Facebook has been making plenty of one-off virtual reality studio acquisitions lately, but today the company announced that they’re buying something with wider ambitions — a Roblox-like game creation platform.

Facebook shared that they’re buying Unit 2 Games, which builds a platform called Crayta. Like some other platforms out there it builds on top of the Unreal Engine and gives users a more simple creation interface teamed with discovery and community features. Crayta has cornered its own niche pushing monetization paths like Battle Pass seasons giving the platform a more Fortnite-like vibe as well.

Unit 2 has been around for just over 3 years and Crayta launched just last July. Its audience has likely been limited by the studio’s deal to exclusively launch on Google’s cloud-streaming platform Stadia though it’s also available on the Epic Games Store as of March.

The title feels designed for the lightweight nature of cloud-gaming platforms with users able to share access to games just by linking other users and Facebook seems keen to use Crayta to push forward their own efforts in the gaming sphere.

“Crayta has maximized current cloud-streaming technology to make game creation more accessible and easy to use. We plan to integrate Crayta’s creation toolset into Facebook Gaming’s cloud platform to instantly deliver new experiences on Facebook,” Facebook Gaming VP Vivek Sharma wrote in an announcement post.

The entire team will be coming on as part of the acquisition, though financial terms of the deal weren’t shared.

#computing, #epic-games, #epic-games-store, #facebook, #fortnite, #google-stadia, #online-games, #roblox, #software, #stadia, #tc, #tencent, #video-gaming, #virtual-reality, #vp

This one email explains Apple

An email has been going around the internet as a part of a release of documents related to Apple’s App Store based suit brought by Epic Games. I love this email for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is that you can extrapolate from it the very reasons Apple has remained such a vital force in the industry for the past decade. 

The gist of it is that SVP of Software Engineering, Bertrand Serlet, sent an email in October of 2007, just three months after the iPhone was launched. In the email, Serlet outlines essentially every core feature of Apple’s App Store — a business that brought in an estimated $64B in 2020. And that, more importantly, allowed the launch of countless titanic internet startups and businesses built on and taking advantage of native apps on iPhone.

Forty five minutes after the email, Steve Jobs replies to Serlet and iPhone lead Scott Forstall, from his iPhone, “Sure, as long as we can roll it all out at Macworld on Jan 15, 2008.”

Apple University should have a course dedicated to this email. 

Here it is, shared by an account I enjoy, Internal Tech Emails, on Twitter. If you run the account let me know, happy to credit you further here if you wish:

First, we have Serlet’s outline. It’s seven sentences that outline the key tenets of the App Store. User protection, network protection, an owned developer platform and a sustainable API approach. There is a direct ask for resources — whoever we need in software engineering — to get it shipped ASAP. 

It also has a clear ask at the bottom, ‘do you agree with these goals?’

Enough detail is included in the parentheticals to allow an informed reader to infer scope and work hours. And at no point during this email does Serlet include an ounce of justification for these choices. These are the obvious and necessary framework, in his mind, for accomplishing the rollout of an SDK for iPhone developers. 

There is no extensive rationale provided for each item, something that is often unnecessary in an informed context and can often act as psychic baggage that telegraphs one of two things:

  1. You don’t believe the leader you’re outlining the project to knows what the hell they’re talking about.
  2. You don’t believe it and you’re still trying to convince yourself. 

Neither one of those is the wisest way to provide an initial scope of work. There is plenty of time down the line to flesh out rationale to those who have less command of the larger context. 

If you’re a historian of iPhone software development, you’ll know that developer Nullriver had released Installer, a third-party installer that allowed apps to be natively loaded onto iPhone, in the summer of 2007. Early September, I believe. It was followed in 2008 by the eventually far more popular Cydia. And there were developers that August and September already experimenting with this completely unofficial way of getting apps on the store, like the venerable Twitterific by Craig Hockenberry and Lights Off by Lucas Newman and Adam Betts.

Though there has been plenty of established documentation of Steve being reluctant about allowing third-party apps on iPhone, this email establishes an official timeline for when the decision was not only made but essentially fully formed. And it’s much earlier than the apocryphal discussion about when the call was made. This is just weeks after the first hacky third-party attempts had made their way to iPhone and just under two months since the first iPhone jailbreak toolchain appeared. 

There is no need or desire shown here for Steve to ‘make sure’ that his touch is felt on this framework. All too often I see leaders that are obsessed with making sure that they give feedback and input at every turn. Why did you hire those people in the first place? Was it for their skill and acumen? Their attention to detail? Their obsessive desire to get things right?

Then let them do their job. 

Serlet’s email is well written and has the exact right scope, yes. But the response is just as important. A demand of what is likely too short a timeline (the App Store was eventually announced in March of 2008 and shipped in July of that year) sets the bar high — matching the urgency of the request for all teams to work together on this project. This is not a side alley, it’s the foundation of a main thoroughfare. It must get built before anything goes on top. 

This efficacy is at the core of what makes Apple good when it is good. It’s not always good, but nothing ever is 100% of the time and the hit record is incredibly strong across a decade’s worth of shipped software and hardware. Crisp, lean communication that does not coddle or equivocate, coupled with a leader that is confident in their own ability and the ability of those that they hired means that there is no need to bog down the process in order to establish a record of involvement. 

One cannot exist without the other. A clear, well argued RFP or project outline that is sent up to insecure or ineffective management just becomes fodder for territorial games or endless rounds of requests for clarification. And no matter how effective leadership is and how talented their employees, if they do not establish an environment in which clarity of thought is welcomed and rewarded then they will never get the kind of bold, declarative product development that they wish. 

All in all, this exchange is a wildly important bit of ephemera that underpins the entire app ecosystem era and an explosive growth phase for Internet technology. And it’s also an encapsulation of the kind of environment that has made Apple an effective and brutally efficient company for so many years. 

Can it be learned from and emulated? Probably, but only if all involved are willing to create the environment necessary to foster the necessary elements above. Nine times out of ten you get moribund management, an environment that discourages blunt position taking and a muddy route to the exit. The tenth time, though, you get magic.

And, hey, maybe we can take this opportunity to make that next meeting an email?

#api, #app-store, #apple, #apple-inc, #apple-university, #bertrand-serlet, #crisp, #epic-games, #ios, #iphone, #mobile-app, #mobile-phones, #science-and-technology, #scott-forstall, #software-development, #software-engineering, #steve-jobs, #svp, #tc, #technology

Apple’s Fortnite Trial Ends With Pointed Questions and a Toast to Popeyes

A decision over the antitrust suit filed by Epic Games, and the future of the $100 billion market for iPhone apps, is now in the hands of a federal judge.

#antitrust-laws-and-competition-issues, #apple-inc, #computer-and-video-games, #cook-timothy-d, #decisions-and-verdicts, #epic-games, #games, #gonzalez-rogers-yvonne-1965, #iphone, #mobile-applications, #prices-fares-fees-and-rates, #regulation-and-deregulation-of-industry, #sweeney-tim-1970

Equity Monday: Crypto’s awful weekend, Apple v. Epic, and funding rounds galore

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

This is Equity Monday, our weekly kickoff that tracks the latest private market news, talks about the coming week, digs into some recent funding rounds and mulls over a larger theme or narrative from the private markets. You can follow the show on Twitter here and myself here.

After a somewhat quiet weekend, things are kicking off in rapid-fire fashion this week. Here’s what you need to know:

  • The cryptocurrency selloff that was in full-swing on Friday continued over the weekend. Though bitcoin and ether managed to recoup some of their losses since they set new local minima, the value of popular cryptos is vastly depressed compared to recent highs.
  • Looking ahead, it’s the final day of arguments at the Epic Games vs. Apple trial. And we’re seeing a smaller company try to crack some of the hold that a major tech incumbent enjoys over a huge piece of the digital economy. So, if you like startups, you might want to put aside your Apple fandom for a minute.
  • More than a few funding rounds are cracking off this morning, including neat rounds from African fintech Mono, India-and-UAE-based Zeta, Emitwise raising $3.2 million, and Aurora Solar raising $250 million.

With a busy funding market and a yet-busy IPO cycle, it should be yet another busy week. Strap in!

Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 a.m. PST, Wednesday, and Friday at 6:00 AM PST, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts!

#africa, #apple, #aurora-solar, #bitcoin, #coinbase, #crypto, #cryptocurrency, #emitwise, #epic-games, #equity, #equity-podcast, #ethereum, #fundings-exits, #india, #mono, #startups, #trial, #uae, #zeta

If 12% is the new 30%, 4% is the new 12%

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast, where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

The whole team was aboard for this recording, with Grace and Chris behind the scenes, and Danny, Alex, and Natasha on the mics. We had to cut more than we included this week, which should give you a good idea of how busy the startup and VC worlds are of late.

Make sure that you are following the podcast on Twitter, where we post all sorts of memes and cuts and, perhaps, the occasional video here and there. That aside, here’s the rundown:

  • Investing legend David Swenson passed away.
  • Twitter is buying Scroll (neat, very cool) as part of its subscription push, but also killing Nuzzel in the process (bad, very uncool). Natasha and Danny fill us in on why Nuzzel will be missed. Alex has thoughts on why Twitter-Scroll is good.
  • Epic bought ArtStation and cut its marketplace take rate. This is the future, says Danny, who throws his own estimates in, too.
  • Sony and Discord are tying up after the Microsoft-Discord deal fell apart.
  • Edtech is doing the edtech thing in which it raises money and consolidates, as shown by Kahoot’s latest scoop.
  • A friend of the pod, Jomayra Herrera, is joining Reach Capital as its first ever outside-partner hire.
  • Uber is teaming up with Arrival for ride-hailing designed electric vehicles. We’re pretty bullish on the idea. Also Alex likes to say “microfactories.”
  • IVF startups are raising venture capital, and this time its Alife Health that we’re talking about. 
  • WorkBoard raised again. Alex once again made us talk about OKR-focused startups. He needs to get a life, and so does the rest of the Equity team which fought to do the transition into this segment.
  • To end, we spoke about Leda Health, a new startup focused on at-home rape kits for sexual assault survivors. It’s a controversial company, and we discuss critiques and opportunities,

And that’s our show! No private equity deal can slow the Equity team down, so we’ll see you Monday!

Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 a.m. PST, Wednesday, and Friday at 6:00 AM PST, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts!

#alife-health, #arrival, #clever, #discord, #early-stage, #edtech, #electric-vehicles, #epic, #epic-games, #equity, #equity-podcast, #ev, #kahoot, #leda-health, #microsoft, #nuzzel, #okr, #reach-capital, #scroll, #sony, #tc, #twitter, #uber, #venture-capital, #workboard

Apple and Epic Trial Opens With a Tour of the Fortnite ‘Metaverse’

Epic has accused Apple of unfairly using its App Store’s power to take an undeserved cut of the money made in Fortnite, a popular online game.

#antitrust-laws-and-competition-issues, #apple-inc, #computers-and-the-internet, #e-commerce, #epic-games, #forrest-katherine-b, #google-inc, #iphone, #mobile-applications, #suits-and-litigation-civil, #sweeney-tim-1970

Epic Games buys artist community ArtStation, drops commissions to 12%

One the same day as Fortnite maker Epic Games goes to trial with one of the biggest legal challenges to the App Store’s business model to date, it has simultaneously announced the acquisition of the artist portfolio community ArtStation — and immediately lowered the commissions on sales. Now standard creators on ArtStation will see the same 12% commission rate found in Epic’s own Games Store for PCs, instead of the 30% it was before. This reduced rate is meant to serve as an example the wider community as to what a “reasonable” commission should look like. This could become a point of comparison with the Apple App Store’s 30% commission for larger developers like Epic as the court case proceeds.

ArtStation today offers a place for creators across gaming, media, and entertainment to showcase their work and find new jobs. The company has had a long relationship with Epic Games, as many ArtStation creators work with Epic’s Unreal Engine. However, ArtStation has also been a home to 2D and 3D creators across verticals, including those who don’t work with Unreal Engine.

The acquisition won’t change that, the team says in its announcement. Instead, the deal will expand the opportunities for creators to monetize their work. Most notably, that involves the commission drop. For standard creators, the fees will drop from 30% to 12%. For Pro members (who pay $9.95/mo for a subscription), the commission goes even lower — from 20% to 8%. And for self-promoted sales, the fees will be just 5%. ArtEngine’s streaming video service, ArtStation Learning, will also be free for the rest of 2021, the company notes.

The slashed commission, however, is perhaps the most important change Epic is making to ArtStation because it gives Epic a specific example as to how it treats its own creator communities. It will likely reference the acquisition and the commission changes during its trial with Apple, along with its own Epic Games Store and its similarly low rate. Already, Epic’s move had prompted Microsoft to lower its cut on game sales, too, having recently announced a similar 30% to 12% drop.

In the trial, Epic Games will try to argue that Apple has a monopoly on the iOS app ecosystem and it abuses its market power to force developers to use Apple’s payment systems and pay it commissions on the sales and in-app purchases that flow through those systems. Epic Games, like several other larger app makers, would rather use its own payment systems to avoid the commission — or at the very least, be able to point users to a website where they can pay directly. But Apple doesn’t allow this, per its App Store guidelines.

Last year, Epic Games triggered Fortnite’s App Store expulsion by introducing a new direct way to pay on mobile devices which offered a steep discount. It was a calculated move. Both Apple and Google immediately banned the game for violating their respective app store policies, as a result. And then Epic sued.

While Epic’s fight is technically with both Apple and Google, it has focused more of its energy on the former because Android devices allow sideloading of apps (a means of installing apps directly), and Apple does not.

Meanwhile, Apple’s argument is that Epic Games agreed to Apple’s terms and guidelines and then purposefully violated them in an effort to get a special deal. But Apple says the guidelines apply to all developers equally, and Epic doesn’t get an exception here.

However, throughout the course of the U.S. antitrust investigations into big tech, it was discovered that Apple did, in fact, make special deals in the past. Emails shared by the House Judiciary Committee as a part of an investigation revealed that Apple had agreed to a 15% commission for Amazon’s Prime Video app at the start, when typically subscription video apps are 30% in year one, then 15% in year two and beyond. (Apple says Amazon simply qualified for a new program.) Plus, other older emails revealed Apple had several discussions about raising commissions even higher than 30%, indicating that Apple believed its commission rate had some flex.

Ahead of today’s acquisition by Epic Games, ArtStation received a “Megagrant” from Epic during the height of the pandemic to help it through an uncertain period. This could may have pushed the two companies to further discuss deeper ties going forward.

“Over the last seven years, we’ve worked hard to enable creators to showcase their work, connect with opportunities and make a living doing what they love,” said Leonard Teo, CEO and co-founder of ArtStation, in a statement. “As part of Epic, we will be able to advance this mission and give back to the community in ways that we weren’t able to on our own, while retaining the ArtStation name and spirit.”

#android, #app-store, #apple, #apple-inc, #apps, #artist, #computing, #energy, #epic-games, #epic-games-store, #gaming, #google, #ma, #mobile-devices, #software, #streaming-video, #united-states, #unreal-engine

Europe charges Apple with antitrust breach, citing Spotify App Store complaint

The European Commission has announced that it’s issued formal antitrust charges against Apple, saying today that its preliminary view is Apple’s app store rules distort competition in the market for music streaming services by raising the costs of competing music streaming app developers.

The Commission begun investigating competition concerns related to iOS App Store (and also Apple Pay) last summer.

“The Commission takes issue with the mandatory use of Apple’s own in-app purchase mechanism imposed on music streaming app developers to distribute their apps via Apple’s App Store,” it wrote today. “The Commission is also concerned that Apple applies certain restrictions on app developers preventing them from informing iPhone and iPad users of alternative, cheaper purchasing possibilities.”

The statement of objections focuses on two rules that Apple imposes in its agreements with music streaming app developers: Namely the mandatory requirement to use its proprietary in-app purchase system (IAP) to distribute paid digital content (with the Commission noting that it charges a 30% commission fee on all such subscriptions bought via IAP); and ‘anti-steering provisions’ which limit the ability of developers to inform users of alternative purchasing options.

“The Commission’s investigation showed that most streaming providers passed this fee [Apple’s 30% cut] on to end users by raising prices,” it wrote, adding: “While Apple allows users to use music subscriptions purchased elsewhere, its rules prevent developers from informing users about such purchasing possibilities, which are usually cheaper. The Commission is concerned that users of Apple devices pay significantly higher prices for their music subscription services or they are prevented from buying certain subscriptions directly in their apps.”

Commenting in a statement, EVP and competition chief Margrethe Vestager, added: “App stores play a central role in today’s digital economy. We can now do our shopping, access news, music or movies via apps instead of visiting websites. Our preliminary finding is that Apple is a gatekeeper to users of iPhones and iPads via the App Store. With Apple Music, Apple also competes with music streaming providers. By setting strict rules on the App store that disadvantage competing music streaming services, Apple deprives users of cheaper music streaming choices and distorts competition. This is done by charging high commission fees on each transaction in the App store for rivals and by forbidding them from informing their customers of alternative subscription options.”

Apple sent us this statement in response:

“Spotify has become the largest music subscription service in the world, and we’re proud for the role we played in that. Spotify does not pay Apple any commission on over 99% of their subscribers, and only pays a 15% commission on those remaining subscribers that they acquired through the App Store. At the core of this case is Spotify’s demand they should be able to advertise alternative deals on their iOS app, a practice that no store in the world allows. Once again, they want all the benefits of the App Store but don’t think they should have to pay anything for that. The Commission’s argument on Spotify’s behalf is the opposite of fair competition.”

Spotify’s founder, Daniel Ek, has also responded to the news of the Commission’s charges against Apple with a jubilant tweet — writing: “Today is a big day. Fairness is the key to competition… we are one step closer to creating a level playing field, which is so important for the entire ecosystem of European developers.”

Vestager is due to hold a press conference shortly — so stay tuned for updates.

This story is developing… 

A number of complaints against Apple’s practices have been lodged with the EU’s competition division in recent years — including by music streaming service Spotify; video games maker Epic Games; and messaging platform Telegram, to name a few of the complainants who have gone public (and been among the most vocal).

The main objection is over the (up to 30%) cut Apple takes on sales made through third parties’ apps — which critics rail against as an ‘Apple tax’ — as well as how it can mandate that developers do not inform users how to circumvent its in-app payment infrastructure, i.e. by signing up for subscriptions via their own website instead of through the App Store. Other complaints include that Apple does not allow third party app stores on iOS.

Apple, meanwhile, has argued that its App Store does not constitute a monopoly. iOS’ global market share of mobile devices is a little over 10% vs Google’s rival Android OS — which is running on the lion’s share of the world’s mobile hardware. But monopoly status depends on how a market is defined by regulators (and if you’re looking at the market for iOS apps then Apple has no competitors).

The iPhone maker also likes to point out that the vast majority of third party apps pay it no commission (as they don’t monetize via in-app payments). While it argues that restrictions on native apps are necessary to protect iOS users from threats to their security and privacy.

Last summer the European Commission said its App Store probe was focused on Apple’s mandatory requirement that app developers use its proprietary in-app purchase system, as well as restrictions applied on the ability of developers to inform iPhone and iPad users of alternative cheaper purchasing possibilities outside of apps.

It also said it was investigating Apple Pay: Looking at the T&Cs and other conditions Apple imposes for integrating its payment solution into others’ apps and websites on iPhones and iPads, and also on limitations it imposes on others’ access to the NFC (contactless payment) functionality on iPhones for payments in stores.

The EU’s antitrust regulator also said then that it was probing allegations of “refusals of access” to Apple Pay.

In March this year the UK also joined the Apple App Store antitrust investigation fray — announcing a formal investigation into whether it has a dominant position and if it imposes unfair or anti-competitive terms on developers using its app store.

US lawmakers have, meanwhile, also been dialling up attention on app stores, plural — and on competition in digital markets more generally — calling in both Apple and Google for questioning over how they operate their respective mobile app marketplaces in recent years.

Last month, for example, the two tech giants’ representatives were pressed on whether their app stores share data with their product development teams — with lawmakers digging into complaints against Apple especially that Cupertino frequently copies others’ apps, ‘sherlocking’ their businesses by releasing native copycats (as the practice has been nicknamed).

Back in July 2020 the House Antitrust Subcommittee took testimony from Apple CEO Tim Cook himself — and went on, in a hefty report on competition in digital markets, to accuse Apple of leveraging its control of iOS and the App Store to “create and enforce barriers to competition and discriminate against and exclude rivals while preferencing its own offerings”.

“Apple also uses its power to exploit app developers through misappropriation of competitively sensitive information and to charge app developers supra-competitive prices within the App Store,” the report went on. “Apple has maintained its dominance due to the presence of network effects, high barriers to entry, and high switching costs in the mobile operating system market.”

The report did not single Apple out — also blasting Google-owner Alphabet, Amazon and Facebook for abusing their market power. And the Justice Department went on to file suit against Google later the same month. So, over in the U.S., the stage is being set for further actions against big tech. Although what, if any, federal charges Apple could face remains to be seen.

At the same time, a number of state-level tech regulation efforts are brewing around big tech and antitrust — including a push in Arizona to relieve developers from Apple and Google’s hefty cut of app store profits.

While an antitrust bill introduced by Republican Josh Hawley earlier this month takes aim at acquisitions, proposing an outright block on big tech’s ability to carry out mergers and acquisitions. Although that bill looks unlikely to succeed, a flurry of antitrust reform bills are set to introduced as U.S. lawmakers on both sides of the aisle grapple with how to cut big tech down to a competition-friendly size.

In Europe lawmakers are already putting down draft laws with the same overarching goal.

In the EU, the Commission recently proposed an ex ante regime to prevent big tech from abusing its market power. The Digital Markets Act is set to impose conditions on intermediating platforms who are considered ‘gatekeepers’ to others’ market access.

While over in the UK, which now sits outside the bloc, the government is also drafting new laws in response to tech giants’ market power. It has said it intends to create a ‘pro-competition’ regime that will apply to platforms with so-called  ‘strategic market status’ — but instead of a set list of requirements it wants to target specific measures per platform.

#alphabet, #android, #antitrust, #app-store, #apple, #apple-inc, #apple-pay, #competition, #digital-markets, #epic-games, #europe, #european-commission, #european-union, #google, #ios, #ios-app-store, #ipad, #iphone, #lawsuit, #margrethe-vestager, #mobile-devices, #operating-system, #policy, #spotify, #tc, #tim-cook

Fortnite-maker Epic completes $1B funding round

How much is Epic Games worth? Well, we’ve long ago surpasses the realm of dollar figures regular humans can contextualize. With its latest round, the gamer hits an equity valuation of $28.7 billion. Yes, “b” for “billion.” That’s a lot of micro-transactions.

Time to start talking metaverse!

Best known for the wildly successful battle royale title, Fortnite, Epic just announced another $1 billion funding round, featuring a $200 million Sony Group Corporation investment. The rest of the list is, predictably, a long one, including [deep breath], Appaloosa, Baillie Gifford, Fidelity Management & Research Company LLC, GIC, T. Rowe Price Associates-managed accounts, Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan Board, BlackRock managed accounts, Park West, KKR, AllianceBernstein, Altimeter, Franklin Templeton and Luxor Capital.

“We are grateful to our new and existing investors who support our vision for Epic and the Metaverse,” CEO and founder Tim Sweeney said in a statement tied to the news. “Their investment will help accelerate our work around building connected social experiences in Fortnite, Rocket League and Fall Guys, while empowering game developers and creators with Unreal Engine, Epic Online Services and the Epic Games Store.”

Sweeney has plenty of reason to be grateful, as the controlling shareholder.

Developing…

#epic, #epic-games, #fortnite, #funding, #gaming, #sony

Apple, Epic Games lay out detailed arguments for upcoming legal battle

<em>Fortnite</em> seen in the App Store on an iPhone on May 10, 2018.

Enlarge / Fortnite seen in the App Store on an iPhone on May 10, 2018. (credit: Andrew Harrer | Bloomberg | Getty Images)

With Epic Games and Apple set to face off before a judge in their high-profile trial in just a few weeks, new court filings from both companies outline the evidence and arguments each intends to make in detail.

Unsurprisingly, each document paints a radically different picture of Apple’s App Store and its role in the gaming and technology industry.

The disagreement between the two companies escalated publicly when Epic attempted to implement its own in-app payments system in Fortnite, one of the most popular games on Apple’s App Store. This set into motion a series of events that led to Apple removing Fortnite from the App Store as Epic ran a social media campaign around the hashtag “#SaveFortnite,” leveraging angry gamers against the tech giant.

Read 22 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#antitrust, #app-store, #apple, #apple-app-store, #epic-games, #fortnite, #ios, #tech

Epic cries monopoly as Apple details secret ‘Project Liberty’ effort to provoke ‘Fortnite’ ban

The Epic v. Apple lawsuit alleging monopolistic practices by the latter will begin next month, and today the main arguments of each company were published, having been trimmed down somewhat at the court’s discretion. With the basic facts agreed upon, the two companies will go to battle over what they mean, and their CEOs will likely take the (virtual) stand to do so.

As we’ve covered in previous months, the thrust of Epic’s argument is that Apple’s hold over the app market and 30 percent standard fee amount to anti-competitive behavior that must be regulated by antitrust law. It rebelled against what it describes as an unlawful practice by slipping its own in-game currency store into the popular game Fortnite, circumventing Apple payment methods. (CEO Tim Sweeney would later, and unadvisedly, compare this to resisting unjust laws in the civil rights movement.)

Apple denies the charge of monopoly, pointing out it faces enormous competition all over the market, just not within its own App Store. And as for the size of the fees — well, perhaps it’s a matter that could stand some adjustment (the company dropped its take to 15% for any developer’s first million following criticism throughout 2020), but it hardly amounts to unlawfulness.

For its part, Apple contends that the whole antitrust allegation and associated dust-kicking is little more than a PR stunt, and it has something in the way of receipts.

Epic did, after all, have a whole PR strategy ready to go when it filed the lawsuit, and the filings describe “Project Liberty,” a long-term program within the company to, in Apple’s opinion, shore up sagging revenues from Fortnite. Epic does seem to have paid a PR firm some $300K to advise on the “two-phase communications plan,” involving a multi-company complaint campaign against Apple and google via the “Coalition for App Fairness.”

Project Liberty makes up a whole section in Apple’s filing, detailing how the company and Sweeney planned to “draw Google into a legal battle over anti-trust,” (and presumably Apple) according to internal emails, by getting banned by the companies’ app stores for circumventing their payment systems. Epic only mentions Project Liberty in one paragraph, explaining that it kept the program secret because “Epic could not have disclosed it without causing Apple to reject Version 13.40 of Fortnite,” viz. the one with the offending payment system built in. It’s not much of a defense.

Whether Apple’s fees are too high, and whether Epic is doing this to extend Fortnite’s profitable days, the case itself will be determined on the basis of antitrust law and doctrine, and on this front things do not look particularly dire for Apple.

Although the legal arguments and summaries of fact run to hundreds of pages from both sides, the whole thing is summed up pretty well in the very first sentence of Epic’s filing: “This case is about Apple’s conduct to monopolize two markets within its iOS ecosystem.”

To be specific, it is about whether Apple can be said to be a monopolist over an ecosystem it created and administrated from the very beginning, and one that is provably assailed on all sides by competitors in the digital distribution and gaming space. This is a novel application of antitrust law and one that would carry a heavy burden of proof for Epic — and that an (admittedly amateur) review of the arguments doesn’t suggest there’s much chance of success.

But the opinion of a random reporter is not much in the accounting of things; there will have to be a trial, and one is scheduled to occur next month. There’s a lot of ground to cover, as Epic’s presentation of its arguments will need to be as meticulous as Apple’s dismantling of them. To that end we can expect live testimony from Apple CEO Tim Cook, Epic CEO Tim Sweeney, Apple’s former head of marketing and familiar face Phil Schiller, among others.

The timing and nature of that testimony or questioning will not be known until later, but it’s likely there will be some interesting interactions worth hearing about. The trial is scheduled to begin May 3 and last for about 3 weeks.

Notably there are a handful of other lawsuits hovering about relating to this, such as Apple’s countersuit against Epic alleging breach of contract. Many of these will depend entirely on the outcome of the main case — e.g. if Apple’s terms were found to be unlawful, there was no contract to break, or if not, Epic pretty much admitted to breaking the rules so the case is practically over already.

You can read the full “proposed findings of fact” documents from each party on the invaluable RECAP; the case number is 4:20-cv-05640.

#apple, #apple-v-epic, #epic, #epic-games, #epic-v-apple, #fortnite, #tc

Arizona lawmaker: Big Tech “hired almost every lobbyist” to kill app store bill

Arizona lawmaker: Big Tech “hired almost every lobbyist” to kill app store bill

Enlarge (credit: Siriporn Kaenseeya / EyeEm / Getty)

An Arizona bill to expand payment options in Apple’s and Google’s app stores has failed in the state Senate, the law’s sponsor has told the Verge. The legislation narrowly passed the Arizona House last month.

Rep. Regina Cobb, a Republican, told the Verge that she thought she had the votes to pass the legislation in the Senate. But then, according to Cobb, Apple and Google “hired almost every lobbyist in town” to kill the legislation.

“We thought we had the votes before we went to the committee,” Cobb told the Verge. “And then we heard that the votes weren’t there and they weren’t going to take the time to put it up.”

Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#app-store, #apple, #arizona, #epic-games, #google, #policy, #spotify