In what should come as a surprise to no one, Fortnite publisher and developer Epic Games has been denied a request for an exception to Google’s 70/30% revenue share on in-app purchases on the Google Play Store. In response, Epic CEO Tim Sweeney has thrown what can only be described as a full-on, public meltdown of a temper tantrum, claiming without evidence that Google’s IAP revenue sharing is “illegal.”
We believe this form of tying of a mandatory payment service with a 30% fee is illegal in the case of a distribution platform with over 50% market share.
While Sweeney’s lawyers at Epic probably have some convoluted legal theory that technically back up his claim, a comment he issued to The Verge earlier this year attempting to justify this stance was wildly difficult to defend (Sweeney claimed the Play Store was basically a credit card processor, not an online retailer, which is blatantly untrue).
For its part, Google issued a counter-statement that basically told Epic to get lost:
Android enables multiple app stores and choices for developers to distribute apps. Google Play has a business model and billing policy that allow us to invest in our platform and tools to help developers build successful businesses while keeping users safe. We welcome any developer that recognizes the value of Google Play and expect them to participate under the same terms as other developers.
The question of whether Google’s 30% cut on in-app purchases is fair aside, it seems hard to sympathize with Epic’s position here. Its IAPs are almost pure profit, and it’s hard to imagine a company less deserving of an exception on principle than one that primarily makes its money by selling teenagers a bunch of digital costumes and treasure chests (even if they are no longer randomized). Sweeney himself also hasn’t helped Epic’s image much as of late, and with statements like today’s, it’s easy to see why the guy comes off as an entitled and greedy billionaire.
I don’t have any particular belief Google’s 30% revenue share policy is inherently fair, but it’s one that Epic seems all too happy to accept on Apple’s App Store, while its profound hatred of the exact same system on the Play Store seems largely rooted in the fact that it can throw up a middle finger at Google by distributing its app outside that storefront.
Likely, Sweeney believes that he’ll eventually be able to extract a concession from Google at least reducing the amount of revenue shared, and these pointless rants and PR stunts—like claiming Epic was going to submit Fortnite to the Play Store with IAPs configured to bypass the Play Store’s billing engine, which is against Play Store policy and would result in rejection—are just meant to keep the spotlight on the issue. The problem is that I don’t think anyone is remotely on Sweeney’s side here: nobody is rooting for the guy who got rich on loot crates.