The DeanBeat: What would Orwell think of Big Tech versus gaming?

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I accidentally started writing this column while in the city of Barcelona, ​​where there is a place dedicated to George Orwell, author of the two Tribute to Catalonia and 1984† This latest book reminds us of the totalitarian society that could arise if we left too much power to one person. This does not only apply to politicians and governments. This also applies to technology and games. I read Orwell’s books decades ago and I see the warnings he gave us as relevant as ever.

Apple invoked these images in its famous 1984 television commercial, promoting the Macintosh computer as a counterbalance to IBM’s ineptitude. Openness and freedom should rule closed ecosystems or walled gardens and corporate greed.

Fortnite creator Epic Games brought back the irony of that footage by accusing Apple of antitrust violations in a lawsuit filed in federal court in August 2020. The court ruled in Apple’s favor on most of the charges in September 2021. the case is still making its way through the courts, and Epic still has a similar lawsuit pending against Google. This week, Epic filed another response to Apple in its appeal against the court’s decision. Epic wants to roll back lower court rulings on some key arguments and Apple must be held accountable.

And so the question remains: why are we still interested in this case? To me, as I pondered the meaning of Orwellian fears while I was in Barcelona, ​​this legal battle between giant corporations is interesting because it’s a battle for consumer control between a major technology platform owner, Apple, and a major developer about this platform. , Epic games. I chose to use this time in Spain to zoom in on some details of the case and zoom out to see the bigger picture. I can’t say I have all the answers, but I do have my point of view, and I can’t wait to see how the details and facts play into the drama ahead and influence that point of view in favor. or Epic.

Epic CEO Tim Sweeney has been a big proponent of openness, and he thinks we’re on the cusp of a major shift in platforms, from app stores and distribution platforms to the age of metavers, a universe of virtual worlds all with are connected, as in novels such as Snowfall and borrow player one† Citi estimates that the Metaverse will be worth up to $13 trillion by 2030. That says something about the importance of the Metaverse and why it matters who rules.

And Sweeney doesn’t want tech platforms to dominate the metaverse, because that means they’re getting their royalties — Apple charges 30% for its share of the fee when someone buys something from the App Store — from developers. † It’s like an automaker charges a fee every time you fill up your car, Epic explained. Just as the Oasis was run by a single company in borrow player onetechnologists fear that walled gardens – like Apple or Meta or Microsoft or Amazon or Google – will rule the metaverse.

“And if you look at the structure of the terms, Apple and Google have created terms that will give them a stranglehold on the metaverse unless there are major changes in the practices they are allowed to get away with,” Sweeney said in an interview. with the Financial Times.

These companies claim to be in favor of transparency and want to treat everyone fairly. Do we believe them?

I would say that companies that create platforms with a lot of users earn some sort of royalty. But if they’re going to push the developers that make the platforms valuable, then they’re using some form of monopoly power and we’ll have to invoke antitrust laws to limit their power. Our antitrust laws are a bit outdated as the federal laws are over 100 years old. But that could change if Epic gets enough people — developers, regulators, legislators and tech companies — on its side, and if we strengthen antitrust enforcement.

George Orwell Square in Barcelona.

Apple is going to release some cool AR/VR technology one of these days that will support Meta’s virtual reality and augmented reality platforms. And if Apple’s technology turns out to be great, developers will get rich making apps for it. If it works, Apple deserves to be cut off from profits, according to those who think innovation and capitalism work in our favor. Apple argues that it should be rewarded for the investment it has made and the risks it has taken in building the iPhone platform. He doesn’t think the courts should withhold rewards for his intellectual property.

But Epic says it’s been a long time since Apple has done anything for us with its mobile platforms like the iPhone and App Store, arguing in its briefing this week that US District Court Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers in Oakland, Calif. was right. when she said that Apple’s rules seemed too strict for developers and that Apple’s market power was about to become illegal. But Epic said it made a mistake when it ruled on the antitrust law, and the history of the case suggests Apple hasn’t broken many laws.

The judge ruled that Apple violated California’s unfair competition laws on a limited but important issue of “anti-driving rules.” In that part, she said that Apple was anti-competitive by banning developers from saying in their App Store apps that they had better prices for virtual goods on their own websites. Simply put, the judge said Apple shouldn’t force developers to hide information about better consumer discounts from its platform.

Epic lost a key point as it argued it should be allowed to upload apps to the Apple platform that would allow it to redirect players so they can bypass Apple’s platform fees. Apple said this would pose a lot of security risks, and Epic claimed it wasn’t true because Apple allows it on the Mac. Apple executives have argued that the Mac is not as secure because of this risk. I think Apple pushed the best apps to the top of the App Store, and those apps didn’t infect all of us with malware. Epic argues that Apple should find a compromise where some form of notarization of downloaded apps would make them more palatable.

George Orwell's Animal Farm
George Orwell’s Animal Farm

If we were in a perfect world, judges, regulators and legislators around the world would be able to see the risks of new innovations and platforms like the Metaverse. They could act to stop these risks and maintain competition and allow the emergence of equitable relationships between promoters and those who give them access to major markets. They would prevent Apple from using its stranglehold on a billion smartphone users to force them to use only its app store and payment system, as Sweeney complains.

I think game companies like Epic, Roblox and Microsoft (with Minecraft) are in a better position than big tech companies to deliver experiences that people really want. Brands would probably side with Epic as they lead the way into this brave new world.

If Epic wins its appeal against the antitrust law, we could see alternative app stores gain popularity, we could see development costs fall and Apple’s payment monopoly collapse. These cost savings and efficiencies can be passed on to consumers in the form of lower prices, or they can be passed on to developers, making them healthier entities in the long run. This would benefit the entire gaming industry.

But we are not in a perfect world. The judge has been paralyzed by a hundred years of jurisprudence. Legislators are clueless when it comes to evaluating key new technologies and the balance to strike between enabling competition and rewarding innovation. This case may not be the perfect case shifting the balance of power between platforms and developers or between enablers and creators.

In that case, we may just have to see Epic Games triumph by winning the market, perhaps delivering something even more desirable than Fortnite success. Or perhaps other entities, such as the forces of decentralization behind crypto and blockchain games, could disrupt the status quo, taking power from developers and platforms and giving it back to the people.

Who would win in the battle for the metaverse? I think this will be the company that does the best work when combined with game development, user-generated content and machine learning. It takes these three things to create all the content needed to create a credible metaverse. Microsoft could be the presence leader in all of these things right now, and it will be stronger if the Activision Blizzard acquisition goes through. But the great thing is that no company has a lock on that anymore.

If I were to ask George Orwell what he would think would happen here, and what would be best for the people of the world, I wonder what he would say. But I think he would say that this metaverse battle is one of the most important struggles of our time.

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