Epic vs Apple trial raises the question: what is a game?

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The Epic Games vs Apple antitrust trial has been in full swing this week, bringing up all sorts of confidential info, and showing poor legal people just how confusing the games industry can be. Yesterday, during the fourth day of the trial, Apple found themselves getting caught up in a few contradictions when defining what a game actually is – and it’s all because of Roblox.

For context, Epic first filed an antitrust lawsuit against Apple last year, after Apple booted Fortnite off of the App Store, because Epic subverted Apple’s rules and put their own microtransactions in the Fortnite app. The important points to note here are 1) that Apple don’t allow apps that have transactions that don’t go through them directly, or have content that isn’t approved by Apple, and 2) they have rules against hosting third-party storefronts on the App Store, which has kept Epic from bringing the Epic Games Store to iOS. This is where Roblox begins to muddy the water.

Roblox is technically a game that hosts a collection of other games made by its players. It already breaks some of Apple’s policies just by being what it is, because each of the individual games inside it aren’t directly approved by Apple. And yet, it’s been on the App Store for years.

As reported by The Verge’s Adi Robertson, Epic’s lawyers brought up Roblox during the trial last night. Epic describes it pretty much as I have – a collection of games in a game. But when asked by the judge what the app does, Apple’s Trystan Kosmynka had a slightly different idea: “Roblox is an app where users create a profile, hang out with their friends, and they can join in these experiences that I would look at as content…”

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“If you think of a game or app, games are incredibly dynamic,” he added. “Games have a beginning and end, there are challenges in place. I look at the experiences that are in Roblox similar to the experiences in Minecraft.”

He’s not… wrong. Roblox and Minecraft both have building, I guess. But, do games like Dear Ester have challenges? Do “live service” games really end? How would you define a game? It sounds as though Apple are tailoring their description to fit what they need it to fit. As Robertson mentions later in her Twitter thread, it seems Apple are trying to argue that the “experiences” in Roblox aren’t games, otherwise it might be considered similar to the Epic Games Store. Then it would be a bit naughty if Apple didn’t let Epic come and hang out on the App Store with them.

There’s likely going to be more arguments over how to define things like this as the trial goes on. Rest assured we’ll report on the best bits and keep you posted about the results.

For more on the trial so far, how about seeing some accidentally-revealed-to-the-public info? Court documents that surfaced online this week revealed that Epic Games spent nearly $12 million giving away free games in their first nine months, and leaked details about Walmart’s unannounced cloud gaming service.

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