Epic vs. Apple - will the 'walled garden' get breached?
Also: growing your social media presence with Cult Of The Lamb.
[The GameDiscoverCo game discovery newsletter is written by ‘how people find your game’ expert & company founder Simon Carless, and is a regular look at how people discover and buy video games in the 2020s.]
Happy mid-week, fans of video game discovery and platform, uh, drama. And we’ve got another packed newsletter for you this week, starting out with a look at the latest arguments in the U.S. antitrust lawsuit between Epic Games and Apple.
Before we start, shout-out to the Video Game History Foundation non-profit for a fascinating article on what happened to Maxis’ SimCopter for the N64. And game companies, ping them to donate matching funds for an upcoming ‘winter fundraiser’.
[11 days left to grab our 33% off deal for new GameDiscoverCo Plus monthly or yearly subs. You get an extra weekly newsletter (example) that goes deep on games & trends, a Steam data back end (video) with much useful info, & GameDiscoverCo Plus Discord access. Sign up..]
Epic vs. Apple: latest from the three wise judges?
So, when we last left our protagonists - Apple and Epic - back in September 2021 - you may recall that “U.S. District Court judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers had ruled against Apple in one notable ‘anti-steering’ area” of a wide-ranging U.S. antitrust lawsuit.
And - just summing up my subheds from that piece: “The vast majority of Epic’s allegations were rejected… The judge wasn’t very happy with Epic’s ‘all guns blazing’ attitude.. But she wasn’t a massive Apple fan either… The court was never likely to open up app stores or change percentage cuts.”
Nonetheless, Apple appealed this verdict, in great part because the one thing that was meant to happen - “in 90 days, iOS apps can link to other purchase mechanisms & sign-up methods” - had the potential to be both a short and long-term issue for the company.
And so, we get to this week, where the U.S. Court Of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit - a sorta Abba-style judicial supergroup - hung out with Epic and Apple’s lawyers for just over an hour, and had a public chinwag about the whole situation.
We looked around for the best coverage of the hearing. And for a high-level overview, we actually dug this Courthouse News Service report the most. (It’s a free/paid news service for lawyers, and so seems good at describing overcomplex legal rummaging.)
Anyhow, this conversation went ‘big picture’ again for that hour. And here’s the most interesting parts of it:
The idea of the App Store ‘walled garden’ is still under attack: Apple says the App Store model is a “lawful vertical restraint” to stop malware, hacks, porn, and other breaches. Epic rebutted - per the CNS report - that “Apple does not have the right to ‘lock out’ horizontal competition and prevent developers like Epic Games from offering their own app store.”
‘Switching costs’ are a major point of contention: as Ars Technica notes, “Both sides also went back and forth on whether iPhone users were truly ‘locked in’ to the iOS ecosystem, and whether the prospect of high switching costs prevents users from moving to other platforms if they want.” Switching costs are a ‘big deal’ in antitrust lawsuits, and Judge Rogers didn’t think Epic had mapped them well in the original suit.
Market definition is a big point that the Appeals Court will rule on: this is where it gets complex - and the best I can offer is this FOSS Patents blog from September. But Epic’s claims were rejected because the Judge felt they didn’t prove a competitive foremarket (iOS vs. Android duopoly) and a monopolized aftermarket (the iOS App Store on iPhones.)
So what is likely to happen next? Again, I would refer you to a FOSS Patents summing-up, if you want to go deep into possibilities. But that blog’s Florian Mueller believes that, when the Appeals Court rules in a few weeks/months, it may send elements of the case back to the trial court to reconsider - in particular market definition.
And why is this a big deal for you, or for other platforms? Because the U.S. Department Of Justice, the Federal Trade Commission and others are looking very closely at how this lawsuit goes, as they consider what’s fair and what’s monopolistic.
So sure, this particular lawsuit probably isn’t going to suddenly open up major choices on iOS (or the Google Play Store.) But the fact that the ‘30% platform tax’ is up for debate legally is moving the Overton window towards more concessions from Apple and Google.
And of course, companies like Microsoft - who desperately want ‘Game Pass iOS’ app or store to be a thing, and were the subject of a famous 2001 antitrust lawsuit over Windows, are watching cases like this incredibly closely. As should you be. Because in the long-term, Epic vs. Apple won’t be the only lawsuit in town re: these platforms.
Growing your social media presence methodically!
Cult Of The Lamb social media supremo Jared J. Tan has done a neat piece on how he grew the game’s social media presence, pre- and post-release, with some really useful lessons - and some great graphs, like the above one.
We have a separate mini-interview with Jared about TikTok coming soon. But look, the game he worked with has sold 1 million copies in its first week, so let’s zoom through his excellent points on ways to grow intelligently:
Understand the game’s ‘story’: before he starts working on a game, Jared polls the dev team on: “How does the team want to be portrayed? What is the development backstory? What makes this game unique? How can I convey these messages as quickly as possible?”
Make content that evokes emotion: “Cult of the Lamb evokes surprise. It matches cute cartoon characters with gruesome atrocities. This works perfectly on social media because humour can arise when expectations are subverted in clever ways.” As Jared says, it doesn’t always need to be surprise - but it needs to be something.
Be the biggest fans of your biggest fans: this is all about promoting and highlight fan-made art and assets: “Our fans are unbelievable. We're floored seeing what they create and it's easy to show love back to them, using our growing platform to amplify their work.”
You can anticipate or ride trends: Jared notes: “When game devs were sharing early footage of their games after GTA VI leaked, we hopped on. It became one of the most liked versions of the trend and landed in several press articles.” Smart idea, and one of many.
Finally - and this is where the ‘methodically’ part comes in - Jared explains: “The hardest part of social media is the content grind. Repurposing content keeps things fresh without making something entirely new.” Please - don’t make a brand new thing for every platform, every day - it’ll kill ya!
An example: for the above viral ‘here's what early versions of Cult of the Lamb looked like’ video, Jared actually repurposed an earlier ‘making of’ video, and edited a split-screen version that cut between iterations much faster. New content from old - tada!
[Thanks to Jared for this excellent piece - read it here and subscribe to his newsletter for more.]
The game discovery news round-up..
We’re reaching the end of the free newsletters this week - sign up for Plus, if you want to get our exclusive Friday member-only edition. But we still have a lot to say about other game platform and discovery announcements, as follows:
Over half of all announced games for next-gen game consoles are being developed using Epic Games’ Unreal Engine suite of developer tools, Epic claimed to The Verge. (And some are upgrading from UE4 to UE5.) Next-gen specific games that get preannounced will be higher end, so it makes sense. (Unity’s still king, tho.)
What we’re noticing in Game Pass’ latest November game announcements is more heavyduty acquisitions on the PC Game Pass side of things, with a post-release pickup for Dune: Spice Wars and (smash hit in the making!) Warhammer 40k Darktide coming to PCGP on Day 1. (Can’t have been cheap.)
Afterburn Games recently revealed it’s sold 50,000 copies of Railbound across all platforms, with a platform split: 61% (30,000 units) on Steam, where the ‘relaxing train puzzle game’ is $12, 24% (12,000 units, $5) on the iOS App Store, and 14.5% (7,200 units, $5) on Google Play. Good sales for a niche/cozy puzzle game!
Public wordsmithing of ‘Xbox’s deal with Sony for Call Of Duty if they buy Activision’ is still in process, with Phil Spencer telling The Verge: “This idea that we would write a contract that says the word forever in it I think is a little bit silly. But to make a longer term commitment that Sony would be comfortable with, regulators would be comfortable with, I have no issue with that at all.”
Even Newzoo is now also now predicting a decline in video game revenue in 2022 across the entire market, down 4.3% to $184.4 million, with mobile at 50% of that, console games at 28% and PC games at 21%. But plz note: “we want to emphasize that only 2022 will be a corrective year following two years of lockdown-fuelled growth.”
Here’s a new tool from GameDiscoverCo collaborator Ashley Gwinnell: “Press Kitty is a free web-based service to create press & media kits for video games… that showcases 'at a glance' a game's best assets… inspired by the original, Rami Ismail's presskit().” Neato!
In ‘“pay once” games can work if your IP is big enough’ news, God Of War Ragnarok “sold more boxed copies in its first week [in the UK in 2022] than Elden Ring, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 and the previous second place: Pokémon Legends: Arceus.” The only game to beat it? FIFA 23 - which has GaaS features locked down too with Ultimate Team, haha.
Frontier is the latest company to try a monthly DLC subscription on Steam, for its Planet Coaster DLC. It’s $5 per month, and joins companies like Paradox, which does it for multiple games, including Europa Universalis IV, Hearts Of Iron IV, and even Crusader Kings II - which is actually now free to play. Interesting!
Xbox-related microlinks: Xbox cloud gaming is coming to even more Samsung TVs and adding rumble support; Microsoft’s Xbox streaming console ‘Keystone’ was pushed back because its end-user cost was too expensive; 3-month free trials of Apple TV+ and Apple Music+ are coming to Game Pass Ultimate Perks.
Finally, for a ‘this is how many people want to be discovered’ gutcheck, plz read this great piece where a writer ‘just said yes’ to, uhh, every single pitch - for one day only:
[We’re GameDiscoverCo, an agency based around one simple issue: how do players find, buy and enjoy your premium PC or console game? We run the newsletter you’re reading, and provide consulting services for publishers, funds, and other smart game industry folks.]