Vague Patch Notes: Apple vs. Epic is not good vs. evil

The company is not your friend

    
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Bad guys. Duh.

So Epic has really gone all-in on fighting against Apple here, huh? The company is using Fortnite as a wedge in hopes of bringing down some of Apple’s tech monopoly when it comes to its app store. And… on this point, yes, Epic is probably right. Apple is definitely not a good company, and it has some policies that should really be addressed and probably stopped. I don’t like Apple very much for a number of reasons, and this is several of them.

But Epic is… also not a good company. Let’s be real, it’s been trying to circumvent stores and the share of profits associated with them for some time despite making huge amounts of money with Fortnite, there’s loads to dislike about how that game has been managed and marketed, and the company is generally not a great outfit. Of course, saying that also brings people in who want to be mad because of the Epic games store, which means people who are defending Steam and Valve, and we’ve barely touched on Google’s similar Fortnite ban here either, and… oh, gosh, we’re going to need to have this conversation, huh?

Let me be clear about something: I absolutely agree that Apple’s way-too-tight control over its digital storefront should be adjusted. There are a ton of smaller indie developers that deserve higher profit margins than they’re going to be able to get. With the limitations involved in digital distribution, these storefronts hold a disproportionate amount of power, and that means that companies managing this stuff are often doing a bad job in various ways.

Apple isn’t alone in this; Steam (owned by Valve) has pretty egregious margins for developers, and it’s made worse by the fact that Steam appears to have wholly abdicated its responsibility to curate anything. Epic taking aim at Apple is entirely justified this, as it’s really an extension of how it’s already taken aim at Valve… and it helps, of course, that Epic is actually a lot smaller than Apple. The difference between their net worth is more than a trillion dollars. That’s not a typo.

Friends now.

So Epic does happen to be on the side of the angels in this particular conflict. But the danger there is to assume that this means Epic is the poor underdog sticking up for the maligned underdogs. In reality, it’s more like Epic is the ravenous, nasty beast that happens to be large enough to take on a different and much bigger ravenous, nasty beast, and in the margins good things will possibly happen for actual underdogs as a welcome side-effect.

Because let’s also be clear about something: The only reason Epic is willing to go to the mat on this right now is that the studio has a game big enough that it is pretty sure it can survive through the fight with Apple. None of Apple’s behavior is new. It’s just that the allure of money lost is finally greater than the risk of getting kicked off the Apple store (which, you know, actually happened).

If the Epic Game Store actually gets up to Steam levels of an installed base, I assure you that Epic will almost immediately start figuring out how it can roll out Valve-like levels of profit skimming and the like. The company might not roll it out right away, but the meetings figuring out how to do it will be taking place the very next day.

Both of these facts can be true at the same time. Epic is a profit-motivated nasty company with some awful business practices, but its actions have a reasonable chance of having deserved penalties for another profit-motivated nasty company with some awful business practices.

Does this mean we should be cheering Epic for that fact? Not really. If a tiger is about to eat you but it gets attacked and knocked off-balance by a lion, the lion isn’t suddenly your ally. The lion wants to eat you, too. You can be happy for the lion showing up, but you should probably leave without waiting to see how the literal cat fight shakes out.

But that’s just how things are shaking out with this particular situation, and on Massively OP in particular I’m probably preaching to the choir. It’s not a hard lift to convince people here that Apple and Epic can both be bad even if right now Epic is doing the right thing. It can be a lot harder to convince people that the same things are true of basically every large-scale company, including many of the MMO companies we cover here.

Mossy.

To use myself as an example, you all know I like Square-Enix, right? Trick question; I really don’t. I like a lot of the things that Square has been doing recently, don’t get me wrong. I’m generally a fan of the Final Fantasy franchise, I’m glad that the company has been pushing hard on making all of its titles available multi-platform and in present formats, and I have a great deal of admiration for a lot of the developers at work.

However, liking the general corporate philosophy doesn’t change the fact that this is still a company that is deriving profits from some lockbox-filled mobile titles that have some darn simple gameplay (War of the Visions broke my heart because it looks like Final Fantasy Tactics but lacks basically everything making that game compelling). Oh, and this is the same company behind Final Fantasy XV and Left Alive. It’s really nice that you’ve got a Final Fantasy Legend compilation coming out, but where’s that remaster of Vagrant Story or Bahamut Lagoon or Xenogears?

Square-Enix is a company. It might do things that I like and release games I enjoy, but that does not make it my friend. And I am under no obligation to defend it from criticism. There’s no need for me to stand up for it beyond correcting factual inaccuracy – and even that is generally not worth the effort.

Part of me understands where this impulse comes from. After all, if you get used to defending World of Warcraft from people who arbitrarily claim that it sucks, it’s a short hop and a skip to defending Blizzard from equally context-free accusations of being bad. And it’s not a long walk from there to defending the company when people bring up very tangible distinct actual problems it has, and oh look, now you’re doing the job that lawyers and PR staffers usually make huge amounts of money to do, only you’re doing it for free on a volunteer basis.

But the trick is to catch yourself when you start going down that route. Large companies are what they are. At the best, a big company is a predator you have a symbiotic relationship with, but that symbiotic relationship does not extend to a friendship or an establishment of virtue.

And that’s fine. You don’t need to be friends with these outfits. You don’t have to look at Epic as the good guy to see that the company is doing something good by fighting back against Apple. You just need to keep in mind that the good part there does not override everything else, and you need to avoid being lulled into a sense that either side is “the good guy” so much as “the bad guy whose goal is probably a net positive.”

If companies want more out of you, they should probably be paying you a salary.

Sometimes you know exactly what’s going on with the MMO genre, and sometimes all you have are Vague Patch Notes informing you that something, somewhere, has probably been changed. Senior Reporter Eliot Lefebvre enjoys analyzing these sorts of notes and also vague elements of the genre as a whole. The potency of this analysis may be adjusted under certain circumstances.
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