Valve refuses Apple subpoena of its sales & operations data in Epic Games legal battle

Valve claims Apple's request for the data falls well outside of reasonable cooperation.

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As the antitrust legal battle between Epic Games and Apple continues, many other major groups in the gaming industry have either been drawn into the fracas or stepped in of their own accord. Valve is the latest big name to come up in the matter. Apple filed a subpoena asking for access to extensive Steam sales and operations data. Valve denied the subpoena in joint filing with Apple, calling the request unreasonable and burdensome.

Apple and Valve recently filed the joint letter of their recent legal interaction in the Northern District of California Oakland Division US District Court, as reported by PC Gamer. According to the subpoena, Apple asked for access to Steam product listing, operations, and sales data for information the company deemed relevant to its ongoing legal battle with Epic Games, in which the latter purposefully defied Apple’s app platform rules with Fortnite before accusing Apple of antitrust business practices. Apple believes this data relevant to the case because Steam “is the dominant digital game distributor on the PC platform and is a direct competitor to the Epic Game Store.” Apple further claims that the data is not readily available and “does not raise risk of any competitive harm."

Apple claims Steam's massive database is relevant to its legal battle with Epic Games as a primary competitor in gaming marketplaces. Valve disagrees with the sheer amount of data Apple has asked for.
Apple claims Steam's massive database is relevant to its legal battle with Epic Games as a primary competitor in gaming marketplaces. Valve disagrees with the sheer amount of data Apple has asked for.

To clarify, Apple wants Valve to compile data of all product listings, sales, operations, and further info across its entire marketplace. Putting that into perspective, it should come as no surprise that Valve found the request wholly unreasonable and refused

“Valve already produced documents regarding its revenue share, competition with Epic, Steam distribution contracts, and other documents.” Valve argued. “Somehow, in a dispute over mobile apps, a maker of PC games that does not compete in the mobile market or sell 'apps' is being portrayed as a key figure. It’s not. The extensive and highly confidential information Apple demands about a subset of the PC games available on Steam does not show the size or parameters of the relevant market and would be massively burdensome to pull together. Apple’s demands for further production should be rejected.”

It will remain to be seen if Apple takes further action to attempt to garner data from Valve for its cause. That said, in a legal battle that has included Epic Games calling its plan to get into a legal fight with Apple “Project Liberty”, Apple’s request for an absurd amount of Steam data might be one of the most comical plays yet.

News Editor

TJ Denzer is a player with a passion for games that has dominated a lifetime. When he's not handing out beatdowns in the latest fighting games, exploring video game history, or playing through RPGs with his partner, he's searching for new food and drinks in the constant pursuit of good times with good people inside and outside the South Texas area. You can also find him on Twitter @JohnnyChugs.

From The Chatty
    • reply
      February 19, 2021 6:04 AM

      Apple is dragging Valve into the fight against Epic, specificly seeking subpoenas related to Valve's own profits off Steam which Valve apparently refuses to give.

      https://www.pcgamer.com/apple-subpoenas-valve-as-part-of-its-legal-battle-with-epic-valve-fights-back/

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        February 19, 2021 6:23 AM

        That is some chutzpah!

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        February 19, 2021 6:24 AM

        What justification can Apple have to subpoena Valve? That article doesn't specify why the court approved the subpoena either.

        What shape does Apple expect its image to be coming out of this?

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          February 19, 2021 6:29 AM

          Bringing Valve to talk about their 30% cut (not via subpoena) makes sense, as to survey other storefronts and thus justify Apple's own numbers. But requiring Valve to actually give a breakdown seems unnecessary and thus odd why the subpoena was granted since Epic has only targetted the mobile space and Valve's not party to this.

          (Fun fact: 30% is the number set by Nintendo waaaaaaay back when they decided to license out the development of games for the Famicom to other developers like Hudson: 20% for cart manufacturing, 10% for licensing. Those numbers just stuck with the industry since).

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            February 19, 2021 6:35 AM

            I would think this would backfire on Apple though. Steam is not the only player in the space, and GOG has certainly cut into their market share. Obviously, Epic has too. I would assume the Epic lawyer army is going to counter this but pivoting how the space is completely different inside Apple's walled garden. Who cares if Valve has xx% rate if there is ample competition. To me that proves that Apple should either adjust it's policy on rates or allow more stores on it's platform.

            I just can't imaging how Apple expects to control the argument with this. Seems like a free shot for Epic, no?

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              February 19, 2021 6:39 AM

              as someone who somewhat sides with epic, I think the argument will be: there are many stores available on pc, and valve is still the most popular with a 30% cut, so arguments that more stores lower the cut are invalid.

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                February 19, 2021 6:51 AM

                There have been a few high(ish) profile games that went exclusive to EGS because of the difference in cut. I wonder if maybe that's why it's narrowed down to those few hundred games. The list of those games would probably help narrow to argument.

                Too bad for Apple, Steam doesn't have everything they're asking for.

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                February 19, 2021 7:23 AM

                Valve did lower their cut to try and stay competitive after losing a bunch of big games to other platforms.

                It's a sliding scale that only affects the best sellers, though. Their take drops 25% after a game sells $10 million, then 20% after $50 million.

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              February 19, 2021 7:28 AM

              This is all about building the case. I suspect Apple is going to tackle this on multiple fronts by arguing:

              A) there are multiple storefronts that operate at a 30% cut that does not impact individual developers profitability. And, in fact, operating off these storefronts is beneficial to developers due to it surfacing games that might otherwise not see the same profits if they release independently.

              B) that operating costs for maintaining these storefronts is high enough that a 30% cut is warranted.

              C) that there is ample competition as a whole for the industry, and that while Apple has a very large market share in the mobile market, there is still plenty of competition in mobile and, in general, tons of platforms for games beyond Apple’s devices.

              And, quite honestly, I suspect Sony, MS, Nintendo, Valve, and others all probably are doing a little dance where they likely want to side with Apple on the 30% cut argument and ecosystem control. This case is important to them because backlash over this could have industry-wide implications But, vice versa, they don’t want to get too drawn into this fight to over expose themselves to risk.

              I suspect a lot of the talks between Valve and Apple boiled down to Valve going “look we would love to help, but you are asking for too much and for information that could damage our market position”

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                February 19, 2021 9:09 AM

                This for the most part. The whole case hinges on if the App Store is a monopoly, and the question is if the space that this applies to is the iOS area, or any computing device.

                If the judge determines it is iOS, Epic basically wins.
                If it is any computing device, Apple wins.

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                  February 19, 2021 2:59 PM

                  ianal but my understanding is that while competition laws may treat monopolies quite harshly, they are are not limited in their application to only monopolies. abuse of market power, itself, may be illegal.

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            February 19, 2021 9:17 AM

            steam doesn't compete in the mobile space though. And Steam isn't preventing Epic from operating in the space they do compete in.

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            February 19, 2021 9:22 AM

            Doesn't the steam app in iOS not allow storefront activity?

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              February 19, 2021 10:43 AM

              I believe it does not because it would require Valve to use Apple to process the payments, meaning Apple takes its share before Valve takes its share. You can browse but not buy. (this is what I remember reading, I can't confirm)

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              February 19, 2021 6:13 PM

              Steam on iOS does let you purchase games just fine, it's more or less a web browser.

      • reply
        February 19, 2021 6:43 AM

        Every app, pricing, and revenue break down since 2015? Wow.

        Let's hear Value's accountants tell them "Yeah, Excel can't do that."

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          February 19, 2021 6:45 AM

          This data might answer a question I've long had. How many games on Steam have 0 sales?

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            February 19, 2021 6:55 AM

            Someone figured that out recently. It was something like half of all games on Steam.

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              February 19, 2021 7:40 AM

              Those titles should not ever under any circumstances be displayed anywhere on the shop except if you a title search and match it to each individual capitalization.

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            February 19, 2021 6:57 AM

            Way back, like 2008 before the recession hit, I was at a game company and helped to place games on Steam and had some discussions with Xbox about our games on their store. Xbox didn't want more of our IP due to sales not being great. Ironically we were part of a promotional pack of games at that time, so we got sell through anyways. Steam was less strict about it, but this was back when they were just getting into casual games so that part of the catalog wasn't so big and they hadn't open the floodgates. I assume they don't have as high of requirements, and I haven't heard of games being delisted due to sales. I think I was one of the early guys putting casual games on Steam. That was 3 kids ago, and the memory is very fuzzy now. I assume there are plenty of games with low to no sales. Steam doesn't care since it bulks up their catalog. But, they've also had to develop numerous systems to cope with it too.

            I wish digital movies/tv would take some notes; especially Amazon. Steam isn't perfect, but at least they're trying to find ways to deal with ever expanding catalogs.

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            February 19, 2021 7:17 AM

            iirc like 20% of all songs on Spotify have 0 listens. Not that that has anything to do with games

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          February 19, 2021 7:19 AM

          I have a feeling that Apple is going to want to compare games that exist both on App Store and on Steam to show that the App Store is not a monopoly (a keystone of Epic's side of the argument), and need sales + rev numbers from Steam to show this.

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            February 19, 2021 8:07 AM

            This is exactly the fishing exercise that Apple is looking for: they want a direct comparison of apps.

            I'm somewhat shocked Apple doesn't also try this with MS, Sony, or Google -- all companies that also fall in line with the lawsuit (Google already being sued).

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        February 19, 2021 7:24 AM

        Lmao then Nintendo, Microsoft and Sony? Fuck you tim apple.

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          February 19, 2021 7:55 AM

          Whichever side you land on this fight, end of the day the main problem here is Epic’s approach is deeply flawed.

          The competition argument as they have defined it does not work given fortnite exists on every other hardware platform out there and does insane profit still.

          The argument that Apple is engaging in illegal anti-competitive tactics due to how they run their platform is flawed because Apple isn’t doing anything different than other walled platforms have done since Nintendo got into this business over 30 years ago. Apple is simply the biggest and most successful of these companies.

          I’m not saying Epic doesn’t have an argument here, but there approach should be tackling the laws that allow this system to operate in such a way that causes problems at scale.

          Instead their approach is just to pick the largest target because they can say “but look at all the money they have, they don’t need it even though they are doing what everyone else is doing” and hope that sways a judge/jury. And then, I suspect from there, if they win, their plan is to sue everyone else and say “well if Apple has to change this now, everyone else does too”.

          Problem is that first win is going to be a really tough hill for them to climb to even win the first fight when, their argument as it stands now in these terms really boils down to a legalese way of saying “we are making a ton of money, but we could make even more piles of money. So we purposefully have orchestrated a legal battle by our own design so we can get some of Apple’s cut because they already have enough money.”

          It’s not a good approach and this is likely either going to end badly for Epic and/or result in an uncontrolled backlash after that has negative implications for consumers as a bunch of lawyers and politicians who have no fucking clue how the industry really works make broad uneducated changes that hurt consumers more than they help.

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            February 19, 2021 8:20 AM

            this is the right take. epic rattled the wrong cages with the wrong arguments, with the wrong lens. they are just greedy and "FEEL" they shouldn't have to pay hosting and processing fees.

            epic is horribly flawed in all of their approaches here

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            February 19, 2021 8:22 AM

            Google/Microsoft probably has a good argument for anti-competitive practices suit against Apple for the blocking of Stadia/xCloud.

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              February 19, 2021 1:12 PM

              Google/Microsoft both also run their own closed environments with the same standard 30% cut.

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                February 19, 2021 1:28 PM

                Yeah, they're not going to do shit lol

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                February 19, 2021 1:38 PM

                Google/Microsoft run stores with a 30% cut but neither are the only store on their platform. While the Windows Store exists you can get applications from outside of it. And on Android you have companies like Amazon, and Samsung that run their own stores in addition to Google Play. Microsoft console you probably is probably a better argument but there is also retail and used games and things like that for those.

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                  February 19, 2021 1:43 PM

                  You think Microsoft is going to allow Playstation Now on their Xbox platform? Until they allow that- they can't really go around suing apple for not allowing xcloud. Nor do I think they want to...

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                    February 19, 2021 6:06 PM

                    I think what you really want to ask here is if you think Sony is going to allow Playstation Now on their Xbox platform? I think MS would actually be a-ok with that given their recent attitudes.

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            February 19, 2021 8:24 AM

            Apple isn’t doing anything different than other walled platforms have done since Nintendo got into this business over 30 years ago. Apple is simply the biggest and most successful of these companies.

            They don't have to do anything differently to abuse their market power. When you have the kind of power that Apple does even normal activities can amount to abuse. Nintendo and other platforms don't have that problem because they just don't have the amount of power over the market that Apple does.

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            February 19, 2021 8:40 AM

            imo you’ve missed a fundamental point of the argument if you think the existence of other businesses also charging 30% is a good rebuttal.

            Trust and competition laws are (for good reason) sensitive to both the size of business and the scale economic harm.

            as for suing vs legislating: the laws already exist and they are the basis for the lawsuit.

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              February 19, 2021 10:00 AM

              I hear you. But I think the problem is, while the smartphone market is insanely huge in size:

              1) I don’t think Epic will be able to argue anti-competitive behavior successfully due to the fact that almost all other digital marketplaces operate the same way.

              2) When they then pivot to argue scale/monopoly + standard industry practices is the problem with Apple, they won’t be able to prove monopoly because Apple’s biggest market in terms of number of customers is phones, and Apple only controls 25% of that entire market. When MS got anti-trusted for IE they controlled 70% of all devices that could connect to the internet. Ma Bell controlled almost the entire US phone system.

              So, when you are talking scale at this point, you are only able to argue number of people and how much money Apple has, I don’t think Epic is going to be able to prove Apple has too much overall market control. And when we are talking one hardware platform out of the bajillion other hardware platforms Epic is on, and being incredibly successful as a company still, it’s going to be hard to win their arguments as presented especially given their behavior orchestrating this very situation.

              Again, not saying there aren’t issues that need to be addressed and that scale is definitely a factor here, but as Epic is approaching this I don’t think they win.

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                February 19, 2021 10:06 AM

                nice points. I tend to agree that epic probably won’t win (despite somewhat agreeing with them!)

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            February 19, 2021 8:43 AM

            It occurs to me that mobile phones as they're sold today - mostly locked down devices requiring signed code and going through a walled garden - are in this weird middle ground.

            On one end you have computers where anyone can run anything. You can write a program, compile it, then put it on the internet and everyone can download it or buy it, and you don't need anyone's permission. You can even release the source code so people can roll their own. And even with things like Apple and Gatekeeper warning you half a dozen times about unsigned code and are you sure you want to run this non-notarized blah blah blah you can still just run whatever you want.

            On the other end you have game consoles where you can only run things that were blessed by the platform vendor, and the platform vendor has a ton of rules and you have to abide by them and even then there's no guarantee you can get on the platform. I don't know how often it happens but it's definitely the case that sometimes a vendor like Nintendo or Sony just absolutely won't let a game on their system. It took years to get Nintendo to allow The Binding of Isaac on 3DS.

            Apple's App Store, for example, is in the middle - on the one hand you have to go through the vendor to get your app on the store but they're less stringent. Lots of stupid crap makes it through. Games that suck, apps that are pointless, as long as they fit whatever rules Apple has they all get in. Whereas a game console is ultra-curated (well, Nintendo eShop shovelware aside), the App Store has only a handful of rules and then you're in. Heck I got Disasteroids 3D on there when there's already a game called Disasteroids on there. That would be like if I got a game called "Doom, Too" on the eShop.

            What Epic is saying is pick a side - either be the open thing that computers are or be the ultra locked down thing game consoles are.

            I do agree with your premise that this is sort of like the gaming equivalent of that disastrous Tidal ad which purported to be artists fighting for their rights but really was a roundtable of millionaires complaining they don't make more money

            https://metro.co.uk/2015/04/21/this-spoof-tidal-ad-asks-music-fans-to-stop-poor-multi-millionaires-from-suffering-5160227/

            Epic is only in this fight because Fortnite was this surprise success and they made so much money with it they decided to get into the gaming space and spend money to do it in the form of lowering their cut. They for years ran an asset store (still do, I think) for Unreal games that took the 30% cut then dropped it down to the 12% cut they're famous for. And to their credit they went back and retroactively gave that 18% back to the creators of the trees or whatever they put in their games. But this move still comes across as someone who has a fuckton of money and wants even more. It has as much impact as when a wealthy musician makes an "eat the rich" song like they're the little guy.

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              February 19, 2021 8:58 AM

              i honestly don’t think tim sweeney is doing it for the money. it’s an understandably cynical view, but reading his comments on the matter make me think (right or wrong) he honestly believes it’s an important cause.

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            February 19, 2021 9:03 AM

            > approach should be tackling the laws that allow this system to operate in such a way that causes problems at scale.

            This is more where I land as well: Epic should have collaborated with other large developers, built a consortium of groups that didn't like the practices of walled gardens, then petition for laws to change -- IF Apple/Google/MS/Sony/etc didn't make change.

            Epic went the business route of "sue the guy with the biggest wallet" first, vs. attempting any form of groundswell support.

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              February 19, 2021 9:09 AM

              there are already laws preventing anticompetitive behaviour, the basis of the lawsuit is that apple is violating these laws.

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            February 19, 2021 9:31 AM

            Maybe after Valve they'll go after Dave and Busters and those DIY car washes that require you to "buy" their custom tokens. "how much are you guys making, asking for a friend"

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        February 19, 2021 7:36 AM

        Apple blocked xcloud so fuck them

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        February 19, 2021 7:42 AM

        Ooph Apple is crossing a line here.

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        February 19, 2021 8:15 AM

        Epic shouldn't have an issue with this.

        Epic's lawyers: "So Valve, even with those profit numbers, are you able to prevent the Epic Store from operating in the same space as Steam? I see, fascinating!"

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          February 19, 2021 8:24 AM

          Epic should ask Apple when it will be allowed to open a competing Appstore for iOS.

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            February 19, 2021 8:29 AM

            Yeah it just feels like how much Valve makes is irrelevant when the EGS is operating as a direct competitor to Steam in that market.

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        February 19, 2021 8:34 AM

        In response Epic should subpoena Apple and Valve about all communications related to the Steamlink app, and why it was approved then denied back in 2018, and why it got approved again in 2019.

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        February 19, 2021 9:21 AM

        It will help Apple argue that their exclusivity is not harmful by showing their fees are competitive against a parallel marketplace with more competition.

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          February 19, 2021 12:02 PM

          Yeah, except steam doesn't block (or directly manage) in-app sales in their marketplace.

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            February 19, 2021 12:47 PM

            Yes they do

            Your product must use Steam Wallet for any in-game transactions.
            This means that your product cannot link to other store pages that does not offer Steam Wallet.


            https://partner.steamgames.com/doc/store/review_process

            This isn't to say no one breaks the rules, and there's probably negotiated exceptions like EA Pass or whatever, but it's absolutely the case that IAP in Steam games have to go through Valve.

            It's one of the reasons Mojang never put Minecraft on Steam, they didn't want to share revenue for the IAPs they had in mind

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              February 19, 2021 12:50 PM

              Oh, I could have swore I've seen unfettered mtx in steam games, but I guess I was wrong. Thank you for clarifying.

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                February 19, 2021 12:55 PM

                np, and like I said it's possible/likely that some games have skirted it. But I guarantee you if Fortnite was on Steam and skirted it, Fortnite would be banned, which is why it's not on there in the first place.

                Plus there might be some interpretation of "your product cannot link to other store pages that does not offer Steam Wallet" that could mean you just have to offer Steam Wallet as an option, not the only option. Dunno.

                But this is also why EA started pulling their shit from Steam years ago and made Origin. They didn't want to share. They've since decided it's not worth the hassle and Origin is basically an also-ran at this point.

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                  February 19, 2021 1:18 PM

                  In the past at least, the agreement required that everything your company does with a Steam-linked user and ingame purchases gives Valve the cut, even if it has nothing to do with Valve. Which makes sense, from Valve's end.

                  The first I saw of that was Elite Dangerous years ago - when they made it available on Steam, they initially walled Steam accounts away from FDev accounts / existing Elite owners, and later explained that was why. People were understandably pissed though, and they opened it up, but explained "once you've linked your account to Steam, Valve takes their % for everything you do going forward. Even if you purchase a skin directly from our website, Valve still takes their cut. Please keep us in mind before you decide to link your FDev account to Steam!"

                  Wargaming likely hit a similar thing with World of Warships - the game itself is fully compatible, but they locked Steam accounts into a separate account/payment bucket from Wargaming accounts. If FDev's account above is accurate/still in place, once 'xsoulbrothax' connects the Wargaming account to Steam to download/play WoWs via Steam, Valve would now get a cut of the 'xsoulbrothax' Wargaming account - even for games like their cash cow World of Tanks that *weren't* on Steam (yet). They haven't budged on this in years though, and show no sign of doing so.

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            February 19, 2021 12:55 PM

            But if they prove they charge industry standard rates they degrade the argument that they are abusing they're monopoly over Apple products. They can combine that with the argument they don't have a phone monopoly since Android and that if they were raising prices consumers can go to another platform if the costs are lower

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          February 19, 2021 4:16 PM

          Except it's not parallel at all because if someone doesn't want to do that they can go to other distribution platforms and still release on PC. Nobody is forcing Steam Wallet on them because they have other distribution options on the platform.

          On iOS they're absolutely locked into the Apple Store for distribution and have no other options. It's a very false equivalency to try to compare the two.

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            February 19, 2021 5:33 PM

            Monopolies have to be abusive. The last part is my point that apple is going to argue.

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              February 19, 2021 8:07 PM

              The cut they're taking isn't the abusive part. That there's no option to use another distribution platform is the abusive part and ultimately the point Epic is trying to make.

              Epic likely couldn't give two shits about Apple's cut if they were allowed to sell directly to the consumer in their app.

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          February 19, 2021 5:41 PM

          Seems a bad comparison.

          Windows is the platform - which there is no restricted marketplace for applications.

          Steam is one of like... half a dozen or more _optional_ storefronts available for Windows-based games.

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      February 19, 2021 5:27 PM

      roushimsx refuses Apple subpeona of his Steam purchase history and trophy data.

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