“V agency responded that it has cooperated to provide most of the data and information.”
Presumably everyone is still impressed by the business war between Apple and Epic last year.
In mid-August 2020, Epic added new payment channels to the iOS and Android versions of its popular game “Fortnite”, allowing users to bypass Apple and Google Mall and pay Epic directly to purchase in-game products, and The same goods can be purchased 20% cheaper through direct payment channels.
Not only is it to provide new payment channels, Epic also asks consumers “how do you want to pay?”
This obviously touched the inverse scale of Apple and Google.
Only a few hours after the launch of the new payment channel, “Fortnite” was taken off the shelves by the two major application markets. The difference is that even if it is removed from Google Play, Android phone users can still install and play games through other download channels; but if iPhone users have not installed the latest version of Fortnite through the App Store before, they can only temporarily Stop the mobile terminal.
Epic certainly came prepared.
After the app was removed by Apple, Epic immediately released a video titled “Nineteen Eighty-Fortnite”. The structure of this video reproduces the first Mac computer advertisement produced by Apple in 1984 almost as it is. The difference is that Apple, which represented the rebels, took the position of “Big Brother” and replaced it with the role of “Fortress Night” to overthrow its rule.
Epic obviously wants to use this video to satirize Apple’s attempt to monopolize the market, and it has indeed played a full inciting effect. The topic of “#FreeFortnite” once topped the social media global hot list.
At the same time, Epic announced that it launched an antitrust lawsuit over Apple’s delisting of “Fortnite”, which can be said to be a formal declaration of war.
Apple’s counterattack was also unrelenting. Two days after the two sides were at war, Apple notified Epic not only to deactivate all Epic developer accounts, but also to disable the development tools provided by Epic in the App store. This means that not only Epic’s games on the Apple platform will be affected, but also many third-party developers who use Unreal Engine.
In the judicial way, in the face of Epic’s prosecution, Apple even backhanded two counterclaims, and also turned Epic onto the dock for unfair competition and breach of contract, demanding punitive damages.
An epic business war officially kicked off.
In the blink of an eye, half a year later, Epic and Apple’s first round of hand-to-hand combat in court has long since come to an end. In October last year, the U.S. District Court rejected Epic’s request to let “Fortress Night” be listed on the App Store in the form of direct payment channels before the outcome of the case. But the judge also ordered the prohibition of Apple’s punishment of other games involving Unreal Engine in order to protect the interests of third-party developers.
Therefore, iPhone users are still unable to download the mobile version of “Fortnite”, and even mobile phones that have previously installed the game, because they cannot update the content of the new season, are actually tasteless.
Perhaps for the sake of concealment, Epic cooperated with Nvidia in November last year to enable the PC version of Fortnite to be played on Apple’s mobile phone through the Geforce Now cloud game service on iOS. But its actual effect is not enough to become a perfect substitute.
Epic also ignited the war in other countries, and initiated antitrust lawsuits against Apple in many places, including the United Kingdom, Australia, and the European Union. However, the British court refused to accept the case on the grounds that “the United States should be a better jurisdiction and venue for trial”.
In addition to the rivalry between itself and Apple, Epic also actively participated in the “Coalition for App Fairness” (Coalition for App Fairness) activities.
This organization was established in September last year to promote the passage of a bill that “bans large digital platforms such as Apple and Google restricting developers to only publish products through their store pages or use the payment methods they provide”.
On Apple’s side, in November it launched the “Small Business Plan”, which offers a halving discount for new developers who join the App Store in 2020 and developers with all application revenues of less than US$1 million that year. Seen as a response to environmental pressure.
All in all, the forces of the two sides in this war are still in full swing, but the main battlefield of the confrontation has gradually shifted from the space of public opinion to the field of justice, and there are fewer big dramas for the people who eat melons.
But a recently released legal document of the case broke this dullness-the document showed that Valve, the actual operating company of Steam, was involved in this lawsuit, and Apple required it to provide the Steam platform before March 8. The data on more than 30,000 games since 2015, including basic information, sales data, annual revenue and revenue composition of these games, in addition to requiring Valve to provide Steam revenue information.
As soon as the incident was reported, there was an uproar, and the crowds onlookers sighed, “Apple, you are such a powerful official.”
The reason given by Apple is: Steam is currently Epic’s main rival in the field of digital game platforms. According to Steam’s data, it can be verified that the 30% percentage is not based on monopoly abuse of power and does not interfere with fair competition.
Compared to Apple’s strength, the response of V agency at the hearing was weak and aggrieved.
In response to the subpoenas that Apple has applied for since November last year, V agency responded that it has cooperated to provide most of the data and information. Only the above requirements are really difficult to fulfill, not only because the information involves commercial secrets, but also because it requires V agency. Many employees are arranged full-time to organize work. In particular, Apple, which has more than 100,000 employees, also requires V agency, which has only a few hundred members, to produce reports in accordance with their specified specifications. This is unbearable for V agency.
V agency cited five reasons to refute the subpoena, including questioning that Apple was taking the opportunity to obtain sensitive data. Finally, he pointed out: “Fortnite is not available on Steam”, and the subtext is obviously “This lawsuit against the App Store for “Fortnite” is not on the App Store, what is my business!”
These struggles cannot be said to be completely useless, but they did not help V agency get out of this storm.
At the hearing on the 24th, the judge finally ruled that the subpoena applied by Apple was valid, and V agency still needed to provide the data requested by the other party on time, but the scope was narrowed from 30,000 games to 436 games on Steam and Epic at the same time. The starting point has also been adjusted from 2015 to after 2017.
This result, of course, made the onlookers very puzzled: Why must the V agency, which has nothing to do with this case, have to provide its own important information according to Apple’s requirements?
According to the interpretation of legal persons, this is firstly based on the third party subpoena rule in US law.
Even outsiders who are not directly related to the litigation case must respond when receiving a third-party subpoena and provide the information documents that are deemed necessary for the case. However, the third party does not have to respond to the entire content of the subpoena. On the contrary, it can not only refute the subpoena’s proposal of amendments, or limit the publicity of document information, but can also propose cost transfers and require the party issuing the subpoena to bear the corresponding expenses.
V agency obviously knows this well, and it will not only comply with most of Apple’s requirements, but also try to win sympathy and dismiss part of the subpoena with a “small workshop” posture, or through delays in order to allow Apple to bear the cost. These are basic operations that are very common in related cases.
Will the increased workload of sorting out documents really affect the normal operation of a company of the size of V company? At least the judge did not buy it. After the arbitration results were announced at the hearing, the judge also comforted the representatives of V agency: “Don’t worry, Apple’s subpoenas are flying around the world, not just you.” As for who will be the next lucky one, it may be Samsung’s Galaxy App Store based on the current public information.
The question then becomes why the court would agree that Steam’s sales data are relevant to this case.
According to the published documents, Epic wants to narrowly limit the monopoly market in the subject of the case to the mobile APP market on Apple mobile phones, but Apple is trying to portray consoles, PCs and mobile devices as a broad overall game market. As a result, many digital sales platforms, including App Store, V agency, Microsoft, and Nintendo, are competing together in this market. And Steam, as one of the “outstanding”, the relevant evidence submitted will be related to the validity of the above argument.
Similar third-party subpoenas are indeed very common in antitrust cases. Soon after Epic initiated an antitrust civil lawsuit against Apple, the U.S. Department of Justice filed a lawsuit in eleven states alleging Google’s monopoly. In this lawsuit, many Internet companies, including Microsoft, Oracle, and Amazon, also received third-party subpoenas initiated by the plaintiff, and provided some information related to commercial secrets upon request.
It’s just that in Google’s case, the plaintiff’s Ministry of Justice and the State Attorney’s Office are government agencies, which are more credible than ordinary enterprises, so there are almost no doubts. On the contrary, Google once petitioned the court to request access to information on the grounds of “needing to prepare an effective defense based on these evidence,” but the government refused.
So back to the case between Epic and Apple, when the party applying for the subpoena becomes Apple, the matter is somewhat intriguing. After all, in the eyes of bystanders, there is no obvious evidence that these data are beneficial to Apple’s claims, and its persistent motives will inevitably lead to conspiracy theories.
But the court still approved Apple’s application, and the judge also explained:
Although the Steam financial information that Apple has applied for cannot be obtained through public channels, this is because V agency is still an unlisted company. Such information is normally disclosed for listed companies and does not constitute commercial secrets. As a private limited company, V Company has no obligation to publish financial reports on a regular basis, but this does not mean that it has immunity when it is necessary to disclose financial information. However, V agency still has the right to apply for a protection order for these sensitive information, restricting the conditions and authority of the other party’s access.
In the current storm, another company involved, Epic, has not yet expressed its attitude. After all, from his standpoint, it is more advantageous to limit the case to the mobile platform, and I should not want Steam to be involved. But since V agency submits the data to the court is a foregone conclusion, whether Epic will request this information like Google is still unclear.
Before the formal hearing in May, there will still be multiple hearings in this case. It is foreseeable that there will still be companies operating digital game sales platforms such as V agency being involved. This lawsuit has long been related to not only the fate of the game “Fortnite”, but also the future of Apple and Epic. Many game companies and developers are paying attention to this business battle that is closely related to themselves. What changes will it bring to the entire industry?
For players, as consumers, no matter who is the winner in the end, they may not be able to get any benefits. But at least it’s not a pleasure to have melons to eat and play to watch like this.
Source: Travel Research Agency