Epic's 1984 references are just 1984

Epic and Apple (along with Google) have entered a bit of a corporate spat over app marketplace policies. Their biggest complaint seems to be that Apple and Google have significant control over the app ecosystems of their respective platforms and take a significant cut off any payments associated with those ecosystems.

Epic's campaign started basically with an offer to sell V-bucks, the Fortnite virtual currency to Fortnite players at a reduced rate while bypassing the usual platform payment methods. In Apple's case in-app purchases are supposed to be handled via Apple's payment channels, off which Apple takes a 30% cut. When Epic had set up their own payment channel, they offered the "money saved" as a discount to Fortnite players.

This was obviously against both the App Store and Play Store rules, and Fortnite got promptly kicked off both platforms for rule violations. This was also what Epic expected, because they had a "1984" inspired video and a hashtag campaign ready at the exact moment Fortnite got pulled from the App Store.

Epic - right things for the wrong reasons

Firstly I would like to point out that there are aspects to what Epic is doing which I would view as the right thing to do.

Apple's control over their phone ecosystem is basically totalitarian, since all aspects of native software development and distribution are fully in Apple's control. In order to even write software for iOS devices you need to have access to Apple-approved development devices and software, to my knowledge you need to have an Apple developer account and you can only distribute your software via the App Store. Any method of side-loading applications is considered a bug by Apple and is promptly patched.

In Google's case control is somewhat relaxed. Basically anybody has access to Android SDKs and Android devices can be configured to accept foreign applications. So, Epic could just provide their own APK for it (and they have in the past). Third party app stores can also exist on Android, the most notable of which is F-Droid which offers free and open source Android apps.

My personal opinion is that any general purpose computing device should make it possible for applications to be developed for it and released on it without the knowledge and approval of the device vendor. Even better, it should be possible for applications to be developed ON the device in question. I also further believe that it should be possible for you to run any software on your general computing devices that you want without restrictions. In my mind smartphones are already such general computing devices.

Apple's and Google's cut off in-app purchases and application purchases in general are also worthy of examination. I think it's probably fair to say that Apple could survive with a smaller cut than 30%, considering they are a trillion dollar mega-corporation. Google could too.

However, I don't think Epic is doing these things for the right reasons. While Epic claims that Apple's and Google's practices are anti-competitive, Epic itself engages in anti-competitive practices by buying up games to sell as exclusive products, thus stiffling competition. In fact some people have speculated that Epic is just using this campaign to make it possible for themselves to become a mobile game store on iOS so that they could then extract the cut Apple otherwise would.

The ironic #FreeFortnite campaign

Next up I would like to talk about that #FreeFortnite campaign and the associated video and do a bit of literary analysis.

Epic has begun legal action against Apple, which is perfectly fine if they have the money to burn. In fact, I would encourage Apple's business practices be explored in a court room.

However, Epic decided that they would also apply further pressure by attempting the creation of a movement of sorts along with the ironic use of propaganda to reach their goals.

The video Epic made is a spoof of Apple's 1984 advertisement, which itself was a spoof of the movie based on 1984 the book. Both Epic's video and Apple's video are propaganda of sorts: Apple tried to convince the consumers that their computers would set computing free and Epic is trying to convince their consumers that Epic is fighting for the freedom of the software market on Apple devices.

Where the irony comes into play is that 1984 (the book and the movie) are themselves about the power of propaganda. Everybody knows the 1984 references related to state-level surveillance, but I think fewer actually see deeper than that.

In my opinion, the most central theme of 1984 is lies, propaganda and brainwashing. The Party in 1984 is entirely built on lies and deceit. Their official ideology, IngSoc, is officially a form of socialism, but all the policies of the Party are aimed at oppressing the workers and creating and maintaining hierarchies. Oceania is always at war with either Eurasia or Eastasia and they change sides on the daily while convincing their citizens that they have always been at war with just one of them. War is peace, freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength and so on.

So, Oceania and the IngSoc Party are built entirely on propaganda without which their entire system would fall apart. So, when Epic and Apple are using 1984 references as propaganda, there's a certain note of irony to it that just rubs me the wrong way.

To add to the irony, the Fortnite video is basically just a Two Minute Hate (it's actually just 48 seconds, but close enough) on Apple to rally up a crowd of digital child soldiers to take to the Twitter on behalf of the uncaring entity which Epic is. Saddest of all is that those kids probably don't even understand the 1984 references, much less the themes at play.

Conclusions

I think the best summary of the situation is what Jim Sterling had to say on the matter: screw Apple, screw Google and screw Epic. It's not like there's a good side and a bad side to this, since all the sides are just attempting to maximize their own benefits.

Like I said previously, I am all for the examination of Apple's and Google's position as the controllers of their ecosystems. I think that the cuts Apple and Google take could probably be reduced by a fair margin and Apple's iOS (and soon macOS) ecosystem has no sense of software freedom whatsoever and it should be determined whether their control over that ecosystem should be broken.

But Epic's intentions aren't exactly pure either and I don't doubt for a second that they wouldn't engage in similar practices and justify them if they had the opportunity. I also find Epic's #FreeFortnite campaign pretty cringe-worthy and their advertising highly ironic. I also find Epic's strategy of raising a digital army of children by first offering cheaper virtual fake money and then blaming Apple and Google for taking their Fortnite away cheap.

I would recommend watching Jim Sterling's video on the topic. It probably does a better job summarizing all of this than I did.