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Just a game?
Creative Sensemaker

Just a game?

Thursday 27 May 2021

The three-week Epic v Apple trial has come to an end. But why did Epic Games take Apple to court? At the centre of the case is Fortnite, a game that is, arguably, more than just a game


On Monday the Epic v Apple trial wrapped up in California. And, frankly, it’s been a doozy. Epic Games are the creators of the free-to-play game Fortnite, arguably the biggest cultural phenomenon of the last five years. Apple are, well, Apple.

It’s almost a truism that culture moves quicker than our institutions, but the Epic v Apple trial has really laid it bare. From kids joining the live audio feed to scream “Free Fortnite”, to confused efforts to define a game, to a digression on a naked banana, this was no 12 Angry Men.

Here’s the case in a nutshell. In August 2020, Epic updated Fortnite on the App Store to allow users to buy stuff with its own virtual in-game currency, V-Bucks, without going through Apple’s payment system (Apple takes a 30 per cent commission on in-app sales). 

Apple, as you’d imagine, wasn’t happy about this, and so it removed Fortnite from the App Store. Epic was similarly unhappy about that, so it sued Apple.

In the trial, Epic claimed that Apple was a monopoly-operating “overload”, because iOS users can’t download apps (legitimately) without using the App Store. Apple said that wasn’t the case because it’s in competition with things like consoles and the gaming platform Steam.

This led to a bunch of questions. Is a Nintendo Switch a mobile device if it doesn’t connect to mobile networks? Can you show a nude cartoon banana (Peely is an avatar in Fortnite) in federal court? And even: is Fortnite a game?

“Is Fortnite a game?” might seem the world’s dumbest question. You have to be the last person or team to survive on an island where everyone has guns. Of course it’s a game. 

But the Fortnite world has that virtual currency, V-Bucks. It has streamed Travis Scott, Steve Aoki and Deadmau5 concerts. There have been Star Wars and Marvel crossovers. There is a whole mode just for socialising. With 350 million users, that’s a pretty big party – and suddenly it does indeed seem to be pushing at the boundaries of what counts as a game.

Epic CEO Tim Sweeney was keen to stress this during the trial. Fortnite was a whole metaverse, he argued, and Apple taking a 30 per cent cut from that metaverse – when Fortnite has its own currency, thanks very much – was unfair.

For a non-player this might all seem baffling, but we ignore Fortnite at our peril. Epic submitted court documents which included its revenues. Fortnite alone generated revenues of $9 billion across 2018 and 2019. The highest grossing film of all time, Avatar, has revenues of just $2.8 billion.

We might be counting our earnings in V-Bucks one day, whether we like it or not.


Watch

The 8th (in selected cinemas and on demand)

For more than three decades Irish women fought to repeal the 8th amendment, a constitutional ban on abortion. In a historic referendum on 25 May 2018, they finally succeeded. Released on the third anniversary of the vote, The 8th takes us into the heart of the historic campaign to repeal the law. It never lets the painful stories of women affected by the law stray too far from view, nor is the film mere hagiography (supporters of the amendment are given space to make their own arguments, too). The day the results are announced is quite something.

Nasrin (True Story, 28 May)

Sticking with the theme of women’s rights, Nasrin is an unfurnished but intimate portrait of Nasrin Sotoudeh, the Iranian human rights lawyer who (among other causes) has represented women arrested for appearing in public without a hijab. She is reviled by Iran’s Islamic Republic, which has imprisoned her on multiple occasions. The documentary ends in 2018, when she was rearrested and thrown back into Iran’s brutal prison system, where she remains to this day. It’s not just Sotoudeh who’s brave. Iranian videographers made the documentary in secret, because even filming Sotoudeh carries grave risk in a country which doesn’t take well to dissent.

A Quiet Place Part II (previews 31 May, full cinema release 3 June)

Blockbuster films are usually about noise, which made the 2018 horror film A Quiet Place so remarkable: it was so quiet that an article at the time ran with the headline, ‘A Quiet Place showed me I have tinnitus’. The sequel is certainly more expansive than its predecessor. There’s more dialogue and more music, and the setting opens up, too: the family venture beyond their home to find more survivors in the post-apocalyptic world they spend their life creeping around. But the monsters (who have very sensitive hearing, hence the quietness) remain an active threat – and silence and noise are still balanced with terrifying success. A special film for the cinema.


Read

The Anthropocene Reviewed – John Green (Ebury Publishing)

A collection of personal essays adapted from John Green’s podcast, the author of The Fault In Our Stars strikes gold with his first non-fiction work. Bemused by the absurdity of the ever-present five-star scale, Green takes 40 things related to modern-day life – including Jurassic Park, the Liverpool anthem ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’, and cholera – and rates each one out of five. The affirming joy is in the written reviews themselves. You get to the end of them and think the world’s at least four stars out of five.

What It Feels Like for a Girl – Paris Lees (Penguin)

What It Feels Like for a Girl is an autobiography, but it reads like fiction. The journalist Paris Lees recounts her traumatic adolescence growing up in the east Midlands, but tells it in technicolour. There’s poverty and abuse, but there’s also hilarity and hope. Lees is trans, but the book is about much, much more. “This is only a trans book,” she told the Guardian, “if every other memoir is a ‘woman book’ or a ‘man book’.” 

The Kingdoms – Natasha Pulley (Bloomsbury)

Joe Tournier steps off a train in 1898 Londres and can’t remember a thing. It’s Londres because Tournier has woken up in an alternative world where England is ruled by the French. The catch is that he has hazy memories of the past we know, and a century-old postcard of a Scottish lighthouse sends him on an epic search for answers. Natasha Pulley’s novel is ambitious and transgressive – and you’ll want some answers too.


Listen

‘Like I Used To’ – Sharon Van Etten & Angel Olsen

Two of the best singer-songwriters alive today, Sharon Van Etten and Angel Olsen were always going to make something great together, but none of us deserved something this great. Like Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Born To Run’ with a glockenspiel, the song is triumphant, anthemic, emotional. We’ll all be dancing in post-pandemic freedom to it, in not too long. 

Sensational – Erika de Casier

Soaked in vintage R&B, Erika de Casier’s whispery second album is full of bold sounds and beautiful melodies. Brought up in Denmark, Portuguese-born Erika de Casier spent hours as a child watching MTV, which, she says, “was the only place I saw other Black people”. Accordingly, the early 00s MTV era is all over this album, but de Casier’s inspirations are handled too originally ever to be pastiche. The album is hazy, succinct, and fed not just on R&B, but trip-hop, pop, garage, trance, and electronica. ‘Insult Me’ – whose opening bars sound like they could come out of an MMORPG soundtrack – is the highlight.

Voices (Pt. 1 & 2) – Max Richter

The packaging up of Max Richter’s two most recent albums (Voices and Voices 2) in this new release has brought about a typical tour de force from the British composer. If you don’t know Richter by name, you might know the films for which he has composed music – they include Arrival, Shutter Island, and Ad Astra. His opus never shies away from humanitarian concerns, and it’s no different on Voices (Pt. 1 & 2), whose first half is shaped around readings from the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. If that sounds a bit too heavy handed, skip to the second half where the UDHR disappears, and Richter’s haunting, but ultimately hopeful, instrumentals take centre stage.

…and finally, thanks to Tortoise ThinkIn executive, Phoebe Davis, for this podcast recommendation:

Human Resources

Bob Marley said that “if you know your history, then you would know where you’re coming from”, and journalist Moya Lothian-Mclean has taken that to heart in her new podcast, Human Resources. As a descendant of Black slaves and white slave owners the gal-dem political editor is in a unique position to dig into the history of the slave trade – and how it still impacts the UK. Here’s a clue: there is a lot more to it than statues. The first few episodes are live now, and I can’t wait for the rest of the series.

That’s all for now. Please do send your own recommendations to us at editor@tortoisemedia.com.

Best wishes

Xavier Greenwood
Reporter
@XAMGreenwood