April 27, 2021
This week in Protocol Gaming, your weekly guide to the business of video games: what's at stake in the Epic Games v. Apple lawsuit going to trial next week, a leaked Electronic Arts document details its controversial loot box systems and a Blizzard veteran is departing Overwatch.
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Hi there, this is Nick Statt, Protocol's new video game reporter. I've been writing about the gaming industry for close to 10 years and have been playing games since the moment I learned how to use my thumbs. And while I enjoy poring over patch notes and dissecting Nintendo Direct presentations like the most devoted of fans, I've found myself more fascinated in recent years by the ways games are distributed on various platforms, how they make money and how that, in turn, affects what becomes the next ultra-lucrative cultural phenomenon.
So let's get started!
No game embodies the idea of being a cultural phenomenon better than Epic Games's Fortnite. What started as a collaborative survival game is now a "Ready Player One"-style transmedia extravaganza featuring characters from across the spectrum of pop culture. It's also wildly successful: The game has made more than $5 billion since its launch in 2017 and now counts more than 350 million players worldwide. Up until last year, the game was available on virtually every screen imaginable.
Fortnite has become a real-world battlefield, too, with the future of Apple's App Store on the front lines. Epic is suing Apple for alleged antitrust violations over the removal of Fortnite from the iOS platform last August, and the case is set to go to trial on Monday. It's slated to be one of the most consequential tech antitrust and video game lawsuits in recent history.
Here are the broad strokes of the case, starting back in August 2020:
Since last fall, we've seen a fair amount of new details emerge in the lead-up to trial thanks to discovery and document filing, some of which have shed light on both the gaming industry and Apple's business.
Epic's goals are nothing short of a complete paradigm shift in mobile software distribution, and it has an uphill battle in that regard. Apple's security justification — and the fact that iOS is far from the most dominant mobile operating system — give it a longstanding defense that has protected the iPhone from countless attacks in the past. Why should Apple, which makes the iPhone and iOS and controls the App Store, be forced to do business differently? That's what Epic has to answer starting next week. And the outcome could change the app industry forever.
As the world becomes increasingly digital, we look to a future that's bright with possibilities. But we must first address a stark reality: Unless we radically rethink how we make decisions and who benefits from the outcomes, we risk reducing the chances of participation in the digital economy for billions of people.
The International Olympic Committee last week announced the Olympic Virtual Series, a first-ever Olympic licensed event for esports. It will focus not on video games per se, but on virtual reality competitions in baseball, cycling, rowing, sailing and motorsports organized by partnered game publishers and international sports federations. The event will kick off on May 13 and last until June 23.
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