The Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences annual DICE summit is an opportunity for the most influential names in digital entertainment to make their voices heard. Names don’t come much more influential than Tim Sweeney. He’s the billionaire CEO and founder of Epic Games, the company behind Fortnite, and was this year’s keynote speaker. He took the opportunity to fire shots at some of the biggest names in digital tech, including Google, Facebook, Apple and Android.
iOS, Android and closed systems
Fortnite found its success as a desktop game, a platform where Epic was able to manage hosting and distribution on its own terms. However, it’s becoming a mobile world. Users expect to be able to play games of every genre, from Battle Royale to sport sims to video poker on their smartphone. For developers, that means Android, iOS or realistically, both.
Sweeney criticized the platforms for essentially forcing developers to launch their products on the platforms’ respective app stores. With iOS, there is no other option. Android does permit sideloading (ie. offering the game from your own platform), but the system automatically warns users of potential risks when installing apps in this way. Epic took this approach with the Android version on Fortnite, and Sweeney was scathing about what he called “scary popups” that deter users from installing sideloaded apps.
All about the dollars?
Sweeney’s comments seem reasonable enough, but many have questioned the motivation behind his attack. After all, iOS and Android are businesses, they have been operating in this way for years and every game developer is working in the same market conditions. Could it all come down to dollars and cents?
Both iOS and Android take a 30 percent cut on apps downloaded through their stores. Sweeney all but insinuated profiteering, drawing a comparison with credit card companies that typically charge two to three percent. In suggesting that the mobile platforms could do something similar and remain profitable, he clearly had more than one eye on Epic’s own bottom line.
Mobile platforms were not the only digital giants in Tim Sweeney’s line of sight. He was also critical of Microsoft, Nintendo and Sony for failing to get onboard with the cross-platform gameplay that Epic is seeking to embrace for Fortnite. Right now, it is possible, but only if all parties are linked through the friends list on their Epic accounts. The next step is true cross-platform functionality via the main game lobby, but that is only going to be possible if the hardware providers are working together.
Yet Sweeney saved his most searing criticism for the biggest names of all. He described the business models adopted by Google and Facebook as adversarial and suggested that they profit from doing users harm. He said: “They give you a service for free, and they make you pay for it in … loss of privacy and loss of freedom.”
Sweeny told delegates about the “difficult conversations” that he has had with the likes of Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo in trying to make cross platform gaming a reality. His words struck a chord with Renee Gittins, who serves as Executive Director for the IGDA. Following the keynote speech, Gittins commented that uncomfortable conversations are often what it takes to achieve new things. Given the current evolutionary state of the gaming sector, it seems there are plenty more such conversations to follow. One thing is certain – Tim Sweeney has no qualms about starting them.