LOS ANGELES — Wearing blazers and bedazzled dresses, downing cocktails, swapping industry gossip, and hobnobbing with some of Hollywood’s biggest names, the stars of America’s video game industry assembled on Thursday night for a long-delayed reunion at the Game Awards.
The lavish event was a victory lap of sorts for the video game community. While the movie industry has fretted over ticket sales and cannibalization by streaming services like Netflix, the video game industry has enjoyed tremendous growth during the pandemic. An estimated 2.9 billion people — more than one out of every three people on the planet — have played a video game this year, according to the video game analytics firm Newzoo.
Thursday’s awards were also a welcome opportunity for the industry to gather under the same roof, since last year’s event was held online because of the pandemic. Gaming luminaries arrived on the red carpet at the vast Microsoft Theater in downtown Los Angeles, joined by celebrities better known for their work in other entertainment industries.
Sting, the rock music icon, was backed by an orchestra as he opened the show with a performance of the haunting song “What Could Have Been” from the Netflix series “Arcane,” which is based on the video game hit “League of Legends.” The hit band Imagine Dragons performed “Enemy,” another song featured in “Arcane.”
entertainment award events, you would also have been on the nose.
At the center of the gaming industry’s answer to the Oscars was Geoff Keighley, the video game and television personality who created and hosts the annual event and who tried, with seemingly endless reserves of energy and enthusiasm, to steer an increasingly antsy audience through more than three hours of awards presentations and trailers for upcoming games, interspersed with music from the orchestra.
The show began in 2014 and has attracted millions more eyeballs each year on YouTube and Twitch. Last year’s fully remote version garnered 83 million live streams, according to organizers, and Mr. Keighley said after Thursday’s show that he expected more people to have watched live this year, though preliminary numbers were not yet available.
bnans, said in the crowded lobby after the show. “We’ve been in quarantine for so long, but it’s really nice to actually get to hang out with everyone again and see each other after two years.”
More than two dozen awards were handed out in categories like best action game and best art direction. The most prestigious title, game of the year, went to “It Takes Two,” a two-player puzzle adventure game developed by Hazelight Studios about a married couple navigating a divorce and journeying through a fantastical world.
Microsoft’s gaming division brought home a number of awards, with “Age of Empires IV” winning best strategy game, “Halo Infinite” winning a fan award called players’ voice, and “Forza Horizon 5,” a car-racing game, taking home three honors. “Deathloop,” a first-person shooting game developed by Arkane Studios, also won multiple awards.
The winners were determined by a vote of industry insiders and the general public.
For many watching, though, the awards were just a sideshow. The Game Awards is also used by the industry to introduce new game announcements and debut trailers for upcoming titles. If audience reaction is any indication, the fantasy game “Elden Ring” continues to be one of next year’s most hotly anticipated titles.
debuted on the stock exchange, topping a $45 billion valuation on its first day of trading.
The increased mainstream interest in online worlds has also been a validation for industry insiders and gamers that were using the term “metaverse” years before Mark Zuckerberg decided that Facebook was going to change its name to Meta. Even Mr. Carrey, appearing at the awards show on a prerecorded video, joked about it.
“I’m sorry I couldn’t be there with you, but I look forward to meeting all of your avatars in the metaverse, where we can really get to know each other,” he said.
As the industry has grown, it has faced increasing challenges, none more pressing Thursday night than the treatment of its employees. A shadow was cast over the event by the scandal trailing Activision Blizzard — the game publisher that has been under fire for months following a lawsuit from California accusing it of fostering a workplace environment in which mistreatment and harassment of women was commonplace.
A handful of protesters stood with signs supporting Activision employees outside the theater Thursday evening, and Mr. Keighley faced pressure in the lead-up to the event to condemn the company.
He tweeted last week that Activision would not be a part of the awards show, and he opened the event by saying that “game creators need to be supported by the companies that employ them.”
“We should not, and will not, tolerate any abuse, harassment and predatory practices,” Mr. Keighley said, though he did not mention Activision by name. Rob Kostich, the president of Activision, is on the board of advisers for the Game Awards.
Before the event, Mr. Keighley said in an interview that he wanted to strike a balance between using his platform for good and maintaining the upbeat vibe of an awards show.
“Are we going to use our platform to take companies to task publicly inside the show? It’s always something worth thinking about,” he said, “but it’s not a referendum on the industry.”
Richard Errington clicked to stream a science-fiction film from his home in Britain last month when YouTube carded him.
The site said Mr. Errington, who is over 50, needed to prove he was old enough to watch “Space Is the Place,” a 1974 movie starring the jazz musician Sun Ra. He had three options: Enter his credit card information, upload a photo identification like a passport or skip the video.
“I decided that it wasn’t worth the stress,” he said.
In response to mounting pressure from activists, parents and regulators who believe tech companies haven’t done enough to protect children online, businesses and governments around the globe are placing major parts of the internet behind stricter digital age checks.
People in Japan must provide a document proving their age to use the dating app Tinder. The popular game Roblox requires players to upload a form of government identification — and a selfie to prove the ID belongs to them — if they want access to a voice chat feature. Laws in Germany and France require pornography websites to check visitors’ ages.
called for new rules to protect young people after a former Facebook employee said the company knew its products harmed some teenagers. They repeated those calls on Tuesday in a hearing with executives from YouTube, TikTok and the parent company of Snapchat.
Critics of the age checks say that in the name of keeping people safe, they could endanger user privacy, dampen free expression and hurt communities that benefit from anonymity online. Authoritarian governments have used protecting children as an argument for limiting online speech: China barred websites this summer from ranking celebrities by popularity as part of a larger crackdown on what it says are the pernicious effects of celebrity culture on young people.
“Are we going to start seeing more age verification? Of course,” said Hany Farid, a professor of engineering and computer scienceat the University of California, Berkeley, who has called for more child safety measures. “Because there is more pressure, there’s more awareness now, on how these technologies are harming kids.”
But, Mr. Farid said, regulators and companies need to proceed with caution. “We don’t want the solution to be more harmful than the problem,” he said.
say some websites need to take additional steps to verify their users’ ages when the services collect sensitive user data.
An update to the European Union’s rules for video and audio services requires sites to protect minors, which may include checkingusers’ ages. In response to the change, Google said last year that it would ask some users of YouTube, which it owns, for their identification documents or credit card details before they could watch adults-only videos. A spokeswoman for Google pointed to an August blog post where the company said it was “looking at ways to develop consistent product experiences and user controls for kids and teens globally” as regulators applied new rules in different countries.
in a July blog post that it was developing programs to look for signs that users were lying about their age, like spotting when someone who claims to be 21 gets messages about her quinceañera. But when “we do feel we need more information, we’re developing a menu of options for someone to prove their age,” Pavni Diwanji, the company’s vice president of youth products, said in the post. Facebook later said one of the options would involve providing identification documents.
Many of the new age verification efforts require users to submit government-issued identification or credit cards information. But other companies are using, or considering, other options, like software that scans a user’s face to approximate the person’s age.
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Critics of the checks worry that the requirement will force users to give sensitive information to websites with limited resources to prevent hacks. Outside companies that offer age checks would be vulnerable, too.
Roblox, the game company, showed prototypes to 10 teenage players, said Chris Aston Chen, a senior product manager at the company.
One possible method required players to get on a video call, while another checked government databases. Mr. Chen said the players gravitated toward using government IDs, an option they trusted and thought was convenient. (Roblox’s chief product officer is a board member of The New York Times Company.)
The technology will also make it easier for Roblox to keep out players it has barred because of inappropriate conduct in the voice chat feature. If those players log back in using a new account but try to verify their age using the same government document, they’ll be locked out.
one user said. The user noted that he had first bought the track on cassette “when I was about 12, almost 30 years ago.”
“This is a rule applied to video sharing platforms in certain countries,” YouTube’s customer support account responded.
Mr. Errington in Britain said YouTube had asked him for a credit card when he tried to watch “Space Is the Place.” He doesn’t have one. And he said he felt uncomfortable uploading a photo ID.
“I wasn’t prepared to give out this information,” he said. “So the Sun Ra video remains a mystery.”
Apple is widely expected to ask a judge to keep the order from going into effect. Either company could also appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. In that court, a three-judge panel could review the decision, a process that could take a year or more. After a ruling there, Apple or Epic could appeal to the Supreme Court.
The ruling allows both sides to claim a partial victory. Apple now has a court ruling that says it does not run a monopoly in an important digital marketplace, which undercuts its opponents’ efforts to claim that it violates antitrust laws. But Epic’s lawsuit could also force Apple to crack open its airtight iPhone software to create an avenue for developers to avoid its commission.
Apple’s shares fell nearly 3 percent on the Nasdaq exchange after the ruling was announced.
“Today the court has affirmed what we’ve known all along: The App Store is not in violation of antitrust law,” Apple said in a statement. “As the court recognized, ‘Success is not illegal.’ Apple faces rigorous competition in every segment in which we do business, and we believe customers and developers choose us because our products and services are the best in the world.”
The ruling did uphold many of the principles of Apple’s App Store business, including that it can prohibit third-party iPhone app marketplaces and can continue to charge a 30 percent commission on many transactions. Epic had challenged those practices.
“It puts an economic question mark around the App Store, but at the same time, it affirms the principles” of the business, said Adam Kovacevich, a former Google lobbyist who now runs a tech-policy group that is in part sponsored by Apple.
Tim Sweeney, Epic’s chief executive, said on Twitter that he was not satisfied with the ruling because it did not go far enough in allowing companies to complete in-app transactions with their own payment systems, versus having to direct customers to outside websites. He said Fortnite would not return to the App Store until such rules were in place.
“Today’s ruling isn’t a win for developers or for consumers,” he said. “We will fight on.”
Mr. Rubin, the antitrust lawyer, said that Apple would feel relieved to dodge being labeled a monopoly, but that the judge’s verdict would most likely do little to strengthen its standing in other investigations because antitrust lawsuits can vary. He said Apple might also have to consider lowering its commission now that it will be easier for developers to send customers elsewhere to make purchases.
More than 1,500 workers for the video game maker Activision Blizzard walked out from their jobs this week. Thousands signed a letter rebuking their employer. And even as the chief executive apologized, current and former employees said they would not stop raising a ruckus.
Shay Stein, who used to work at Activision, said it was “heartbreaking.” Lisa Welch, a former vice president, said she felt “profound disappointment.” Others took to Twitter or waved signs outside one of the company’s offices on Wednesday to share their anger.
Activision, known for its hugely popular Call of Duty, World of Warcraft and StarCraft gaming franchises, has been thrown into an uproar over workplace behavior issues. The upheaval stems from an explosive lawsuit that California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing filed on July 20, accusing the $65 billion company of fostering a “frat boy workplace culture” in which men joked about rape and women were routinely harassed and paid less than their male colleagues.
Activision publicly criticized the agency’s two-year investigation and allegations as “irresponsible behavior from unaccountable state bureaucrats.” But its dismissive tone angered employees, who called out the company for trying to sweep away what they said were heinous problems that had been ignored for too long.
Hollywood, restaurants and the media — the male-dominated video game sector has long stood out for its openly toxic behavior and lack of change. In 2014, feminist critics of the industry faced death threats in what became known as Gamergate. Executives at the gaming companies Riot Games and Ubisoft have also been accused of misconduct.
Now the actions at Activision may signal a new phase, where a critical mass of the industry’s own workers are indicating they will no longer tolerate such behavior.
“This could mean some real accountability for companies that aren’t taking care of their workers and are creating inequitable work environments where women and gender minorities are kept at the margins and abused,” said Carly Kocurek, an associate professor at the Illinois Institute of Technology who studies gender in gaming.
She said California’s lawsuit and the fallout at Activision were a “big deal” for an industry that had traditionally shrugged off claims of sexism and harassment. Other gaming companies are most likely watching the situation, she added, and considering whether they need to address their own cultures.
spared little detail. Many of the misconduct accusations focused on a division called Blizzard, which the company merged with through a deal with Vivendi Games in 2008.
The lawsuit accused Activision of being a “a breeding ground for harassment and discrimination against women.” Employees engaged in “cube crawls” in which they got drunk and acted inappropriately toward women at work cubicles, the lawsuit said.
In one case, a female employee died by suicide during a business trip because of the sexual relationship she had been having with her male supervisor, the lawsuit said. Before her death, male colleagues had shared an explicit photo of the woman, according to the lawsuit.
Employees reacted furiously. An open letter addressed to Activision’s leaders calling for them to take the accusations more seriously and “demonstrate compassion” for victims attracted more than 3,000 signatures from current and former employees by Wednesday. The company has nearly 10,000 employees.
“We no longer trust that our leaders will place employee safety above their own interests,” the letter said, calling Ms. Townsend’s remarks “unacceptable.”
a $155 million pay package that makes him one of the country’s highest-paid executives, added that the company would beef up the team that investigated reported misconduct, fire managers who were found to have impeded investigations and remove in-game content that had been flagged as inappropriate.
Employees said it was not enough.
“We will not return to silence; we will not be placated by the same processes that led us to this point,” organizers of the walkout said in a public statement. They declined to be identified out of fear of reprisal.
Mr. Buser declined to comment on February’s changes.
Amazon also unveiled a cloud service, Luna, in September. It is so far available only to invitees, who pay $6 a month to play the 85 games on the platform. The games can be streamed from the cloud to phones, computers and Amazon’s Fire TV.
Like Google, Amazon has struggled to assemble a vast library of appealing games, though it does offer games from the French publisher Ubisoft for an added fee. Amazon has also had trouble developing its own games, which Mr. van Dreunen said showed that the creative artistry necessary to make enticing games was at odds with the more corporate style of the tech giants.
“They may have an interesting technological solution, but it totally lacks personality,” he said.
Amazon said it remained dedicated to game development: It opened a game studio in Montreal in March and, after a long delay, is releasing a game called New World this summer.
Even console makers have jumped into cloud gaming. Microsoft, which makes the Xbox console, released a cloud offering, xCloud or Xbox Cloud Gaming, last fall. For a $15 monthly subscription, users can play more than 200 games on various devices.
Sony also has a cloud gaming service, PlayStation Now, where games can be streamed to PlayStation consoles and computers.
Satya Nadella, Microsoft’s chief executive, said in an interview last month that he did not think it was possible to be a gaming company “with any level of big ambition” without cloud gaming. Sony declined to comment.
Other companies have waded in, too. Nvidia, the chip maker that produces gaming hardware, has a $10-a-month cloud program, GeForce Now.
Tim Cook took the stand for the first time as Apple’s chief executive. The billionaire creator of one of the world’s most popular video games walked a federal judge through a tour of the so-called metaverse. And lawyers in masks debated whether an anthropomorphic banana without pants was appropriate to show in federal court.
For the past three weeks, Apple has defended itself in a federal courtroom in Oakland, Calif., against claims that it abused its power over the iPhone App Store, in one of the biggest antitrust trials in Silicon Valley’s history. Epic Games, the maker of the popular game Fortnite, sued Apple last year seeking to allow apps to avoid the 30 percent commission that the iPhone maker takes on many app sales.
On Monday, the trial — which covered esoteric definitions of markets as well as oddball video game characters — concluded with Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California pressing the companies on what should change in Apple’s business, if anything. The decision over the case, as well as the future of the $100 billion market for iPhone apps, now rests in her hands. Judge Gonzalez Rogers has said she hopes to issue a verdict by mid-August.
Yet even in an era of antitrust scrutiny of the world’s biggest tech companies, the trial showed how difficult it was to take on a $2.1 trillion corporate titan like Apple.
more than $1 billion in sales — from the App Store. Epic also spent millions of dollars on lawyers, economists and expert witnesses. Yet it still began the trial at a disadvantage because antitrust laws tend to favor defendants, according to legal experts who tracked the case.
While Judge Gonzalez Rogers signaled openness to Epic’s arguments during the trial, a ruling in favor of the video game maker might not lead to momentous changes in the market for mobile apps. Any verdict is also likely to be tied up in appeals for years, at which point rapid change in the technology industry could leave its effects obsolete.
“To mount a credible antitrust campaign, you need to have a significant war chest,” said David Kesselman, an antitrust lawyer in Los Angeles who has followed the case. “And the problem for many smaller companies and smaller businesses is that they don’t have the wherewithal to mount that type of a fight.”
The case focused on how Apple wields control over the iPhone App Store to charge its commission on app sales. Companies big and small have argued that the fee shows Apple is abusing its dominance, while Apple has responded that its cut of sales helps fund efforts to keep iPhones safe. Regulators and lawmakers have homed in on the issue, making it the center of antitrust complaints against the company.
Tim Sweeney, Epic’s chief executive and a longtime antagonist to big tech companies, has said he is “fighting for open platforms and policy changes equally benefiting all developers.”
30 percent number has been there since the inception. And if there was real competition, that number would move. And it hasn’t,” she said of Apple’s commission on app sales. She also said that it was anticompetitive for Apple to ban companies from telling customers that they could buy items outside of iPhone apps.
At other times on Monday, she appeared reluctant to force Apple to change its business. “Courts do not run businesses,” she said.
Judge Gonzalez Rogers also suggested that Epic’s requested outcome in the case would require a significant change in Apple’s business and questioned whether there was legal precedent for that. “Give me some example that survived appellate review where the court has engaged in such a way to limit or fundamentally change the economic model of a monopolistic company?” she asked Epic’s lawyers.
ripe for a legislative fix. Apple also faces two other federal lawsuits over its app fees — one from consumers and one from developers — which are both seeking class-action status. Judge Gonzalez Rogers is also set to hear those cases.
Similarly, a victory for Apple could deflate those challenges. Regulators might be wary to pursue a case against Apple that has already been rejected by a federal judge.
Judge Gonzalez Rogers may also deliver a ruling that makes neither company happy. While Epic wants to be able to host its own app store on iPhones, and Apple wants to continue to operate as it has for years, she might order smaller changes.
Former President Barack Obama nominated Judge Gonzalez Rogers, 56, to the federal court in 2011. Given her base in Oakland, her cases have often related to the technology industry, and she has overseen at least two past cases involving Apple. In both cases, Apple won.
She concluded Monday’s trial by thanking the lawyers and court staff, who mostly used masks and face shields during the proceedings. Months ago in the throes of the coronavirus pandemic, it was unclear if the trial could be held in person, but Judge Gonzalez Rogers decided that it was an important enough case and ordered special rules to minimize the health risks, including limits on the number of people in court.
Epic opted to include its chief executive over an extra lawyer, and Mr. Sweeney spent the trial inside the courtroom, watching from his lawyers’ table. Mr. Sweeney, who is typically prolific on Twitter, didn’t comment publicly over the last three weeks. On Monday, he broke his silence by thanking the Popeyes fried-chicken restaurant next to the courthouse.
LOS ANGELES — For 28 years, ever since “Super Mario Bros.” arrived in cinemas with the tagline “This Ain’t No Game,” Hollywood has been trying and mostly failing — epically, famously — to turn hit video games into hit movies. For every “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider” (2001), which turned Angelina Jolie into an A-list action star, there has been a nonsensical “Max Payne” (2008), an abominable “Prince of Persia” (2010) and a wince-inducing “Warcraft” (2016).
If video games are the comic books of our time, why can’t Hollywood figure out how to mine them accordingly?
It may finally be happening, powered in part by the proliferation of streaming services and their need for intellectual property to exploit. “The need for established, globally appealing I.P. has naturally led to gaming,” Matthew Ball, a venture investor and the former head of strategy for Amazon Studios, wrote last year in an essay titled “7 Reasons Why Gaming I.P. Is Finally Taking Off in Film/TV.”
Sony Pictures Entertainment and its PlayStation-powered sibling, Sony Interactive, are finally working together to turn PlayStation games into mass-appeal movies and television shows. There are 10 game adaptations in the Sony Pictures pipeline, a big leap from practically none in 2018. They include “Uncharted,” a $120 million adventure based on a 14-year-old PlayStation property (more than 40 million copies sold). “Uncharted” stars Tom Holland, the reigning Spider-Man, as Nathan Drake, the treasure hunter at the center of the game franchise. It is scheduled for release in theaters on Feb. 18.
post-apocalyptic game of the same title. Pedro Pascal, “The Mandalorian” himself, is the star, and Craig Mazin, who created the Emmy-winning mini-series “Chernobyl,” is the showrunner. Executive producers include Carolyn Strauss, one of the forces behind “Game of Thrones,” and Neil Druckmann, who led the creation of the Last of Us game.
Sony games like Twisted Metal and Ghost of Tsushima are also getting the TV and film treatment. (Contrary to speculation, one that is not, at least not anytime soon, according to a Sony spokesman: God of War.)
In the past, Sony Pictures and Sony Interactive operated as fiefs, with creative control — it’s mine; no, it’s mine — impeding adaptation efforts. When he took over as Sony’s chief executive in 2018, Kenichiro Yoshida demanded cooperation. The ultimate goal is to make better use of Sony’s online PlayStation Network to bring Sony movies, shows and music directly to consumers. PlayStation Network, introduced in 2006, has more than 114 million monthly active users.
“I have witnessed a radical shift in the nature of cooperation between different parts of the company,” said Sanford Panitch, Sony’s movie president.
Halo,” a series based on the Xbox franchise about a war between humans and an alliance of aliens (more than 80 million copies sold), will arrive on the Paramount+ streaming service early next year; Steven Spielberg is an executive producer. Lionsgate is adapting the Borderlands games (roughly 60 million sold) into a science fiction film starring Cate Blanchett, Kevin Hart and Jamie Lee Curtis.
Buoyed by its success with “The Witcher,” a fantasy series adapted from games and novels, Netflix has shows based on the “Assassin’s Creed,” “Resident Evil,” “Splinter Cell” and “Cuphead” games on the way. Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy, the duo behind HBO’s “Westworld,” are developing a science-fiction show for Amazon that is based on the Fallout video game franchise.
And Nintendo and Illumination Entertainment, the Universal Pictures studio responsible for the “Despicable Me” franchise, have an animated Mario movie headed to theaters next year — another new collaboration between a game publisher and a film company.
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Still, Hollywood’s game adaptation track record is terrible. Why should the coming projects be any different?
For a start, the games themselves have evolved, becoming more intricate and cinematic. “Games have stories that are so much more developed and advanced than they used to be,” Mr. Panitch said.
first major game adaptation in three decades to receive a “fresh” designation on Rotten Tomatoes, the review-aggregation site. Since then, two more adaptations, “Sonic the Hedgehog” (Paramount) and “The Angry Birds Movie 2” (Sony) have been critical and commercial successes.
“Quality has definitely been improving,” said Geoff Keighley, creator of the Game Awards, an Oscars-like ceremony for the industry.
The most recent game-to-film entry, “Mortal Kombat” (Warner Bros.), received mixed reviews but has taken in $41.2 million in the United States since its release last month, a surprisingly large total considering it was released simultaneously on HBO Max and theaters were still operating with strict coronavirus safety protocols.
Mr. Panitch acknowledged that “video game movies have a checkered history.” But he added, “Failure is the mother of invention.”
Game adaptations, for instance, have often faltered by trying to rigidly replicate the action and story lines that fans know and love. That approach invites comparison, and movies (even with sophisticated visual effects) almost always fail to measure up. At the same time, such “fan service” turns off nongamers, resulting in films that don’t connect with any particular audience.
“It’s not just about adapting the story,” said Michael Jonathan Smith, who is leading Sony’s effort to turn Twisted Metal, a 1995 vehicular combat game, into a television series. “It’s about adapting how you feel when you play the game. It has to be about characters you care about. And then you can slide in the Easter eggs and story points that get fans absolutely pumped.”
“Uncharted” is a prequel that, for the first time, creates origin stories for the characters in the game. With any luck, such storytelling will satisfy fans by giving them something new — while also inviting nongamers, who may otherwise worry about not knowing what is going on, to buy tickets. (The producers of “Uncharted” include Charles Roven, who is known for the “Dark Knight” trilogy.)
“It’s a question of balance,” said Asad Qizilbash, a senior Sony Interactive executive who also runs PlayStation Productions, an entity started in 2019 and based on Sony’s movie lot in Culver City, Calif.
Unlike in the past, when Sony Pictures and Sony Interactive pledged to work together and ultimately did not, the current collaboration “has weight because there is a win for everyone,” Mr. Qizilbash added. “We have three objectives. Grow audience size for games. Bring product to Sony Pictures. Showcase collaboration.”
The stakes are high. A cinematic flop could hurt the game franchise.
“It’s risky,” Mr. Qizilbash allowed. “But I think we can do it.”
At another point, the Apple lawyer questioned Mr. Cook on Apple’s competition in the app market. Mr. Cook said he believed digital marketplaces that distributed games, including Epic’s and those of the gaming-console makers like Sony and Microsoft, were direct competitors to the App Store. Though, he admitted, “I’m not a gamer.”
Throughout the trial, Judge Gonzalez Rogers frequently sought clarification on technical jargon and pressed witnesses further on their answers. She asked about the difference in business models for Fortnite, Epic’s most popular game, and games like Roblox and Minecraft from other companies, and asked how Apple’s security compared with that of third-party companies.
Earlier this week, she said she had not seen much evidence for one of Epic’s nine claims that accuses Apple of violating the essential facilities doctrine, which bans business from denying other businesses access to certain markets. Apple quickly filed a motion to have the essential facilities claim dismissed.
The biggest challenge in deciding the case may be defining the market that Epic and Apple are fighting over. Apple argued that Epic has many options for game distribution including web browsers, gaming consoles and personal computers. Many of those platforms charge a commission similar to that of the App Store. If gaming is the market, Apple argued, then there are many competitors — like Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo — and Apple cannot have a monopoly.
Epic responded that Fortnite is more than a game. It is something the company calls the metaverse — an infinite digital universe with activities, social media and even concerts. The argument led to a lengthy and detailed debate over what a game actually is. The point? This case, Epic’s lawyers argued, is about all mobile apps, which can only reach the iPhone’s one billion users through Apple’s App Store.
Judge Gonzalez Rogers expressed frustration over the market semantics. “One side will say it’s black, the other says it’s white — typically it’s somewhere in the gray,” she said last week.
Apple argued that its fees were necessary to maintain security for its customers. The company’s lawyers said the App Store’s restrictions protected against malware and data breaches for iPhone users.
Last May, Epic Games was making plans to circumvent Apple’s and Google’s app store rules and ultimately sue them in cases that could reshape the entire app economy and have profound ripple effects on antitrust investigations around the world.
Epic’s chief operating officer, Daniel Vogel, sent other executives an email raising a concern: Epic must persuade Apple and Google to give in to its demands for looser rules, he wrote, “without us looking like the baddies.”
Apple and Google, Mr. Vogel warned, “will treat this as an existential threat.” To prepare, Epic formed a public relations and marketing plan to get the public behind its campaign against the tech giants.
Apple seized on that plan in a federal courtroom in Oakland, Calif., on Tuesday, the second day of what is expected to be a three-week trial stemming from Epic’s claims that Apple relies on its control of its App Store to unfairly squeeze money out of other companies.
must use Apple’s App Store to reach consumers.
“Our contention in this case is that all apps are at issue,” said Katherine Forrest, a lawyer at Cravath, Swaine & Moore.
Epic is not asking for a payout if it wins the trial; it is seeking relief in the form of changes to App Store rules. Epic has asked Apple to allow app developers to use other methods to collect payments and open their own app stores within their apps.
Apple has countered that these demands would raise a world of new issues, including making iPhones less secure.
On Tuesday afternoon, Benjamin Simon, founder of Yoga Buddhi, which makes the Down Dog Yoga app, testified about his company’s problems with Apple’s policies. Mr. Simon said that he had to charge more for subscriptions on the App Store to make up for the 30 percent fee that Apple charged him, and that Apple’s rules prevented him from promoting inside his app a cheaper price that is available on the web.
Mr. Simon said Apple warned app developers against speaking out about its policies in guidelines for getting their apps approved. “‘If you run to the press and trash us, it never helps,’” he said. “That was in the guidelines.”
Apple and Epic Games, maker of the wildly popular game Fortnite, are set to square off on Monday in a trial that could decide how much control Apple can exert over the app economy. The trial is scheduled to open with testimony from Tim Sweeney, the chief of Epic, on why he believes Apple is a monopoly abusing its power.
The trial, which is expected to last about three weeks, carries major implications, Jack Nicas and Erin Griffith report in The New York Times. If Epic wins, it will upend the economics of the $100 billion app market and create a path for millions of companies and developers to avoid sending up to 30 percent of their app sales to Apple.
An Epic victory would also invigorate the antitrust fight against Apple. Federal and state regulators are scrutinizing Apple’s control over the App Store, and on Friday, the European Union charged Apple with violating antitrust laws over its app rules and fees. Apple faces two other federal lawsuits about its App Store fees — one from developers and one from iPhone owners — that are seeking class-action status.
Beating Apple would also bode well for Epic’s coming trial against Google over the same issues on the app store for Android devices. That case is expected to go to trial this year and would be decided by the same federal judge, Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers of the Northern District of California.
If Apple wins, however, it will strengthen its grip over mobile apps and stifle its growing chorus of critics, further empowering a company that is already the world’s most valuable and topped $200 billion in sales over just the past six months.