‘A game of chicken’: How much Fortnite’s risky gambit could end up costing Apple


Fortnite creator Epic Games is trying to storm Apple’s App Store fortress, but some analysts aren’t convinced the titan will be overthrown that easily.

On Thursday, Epic Games, the creator of wildly popular game Fortnite, filed an antitrust lawsuit against Apple after the tech giant removed the app from its platform because Epic disregarded payment policies in the App Store.

The lawsuit is a bold (but not necessarily unusual) move against Apple’s long-challenged App Store policies.

And analysts like Wedbush’s Dan Ives aren’t exactly understating the concerns here: “It’s a big deal because Epic is striking when the iron is hot and going after Apple in light of all the antitrust woes around the App Store and the 30% fee,” he tells Fortune. “But ultimately, the App Store is fortress-like.”

Hit to revenue?

In a “draconian,” worst-case-scenario, Ives sees the lawsuit—and potential discounting of Apple’s App Store 30% fee—resulting in a 3% to 5% hit to Apple’s services revenues, which he believes will amount to $60 billion for fiscal year 2021—so, in theory, as much as a $3 billion hit, though Ives considers a 1% to 2% hit more likely. That’d be “more than a thorn in Apple’s side,” as well as a concern for investors, because “it would throw uncertainty around the App Store [which is] a crown jewel they’ve built at the heart of the iPhone ecosystem,” suggests Ives.

Ultimately, however, that worst-case-scenario may be unlikely due to the fact that it would take several things to fall into place to happen, and Apple investors view it as a “pretty contained issue,” argues Ives.

Epic, flush with $1.8 billion in new funding, is ready for a fight, but Ives points out that while the lawsuit is being battled, Fortnite won’t be on the App Store, and current users won’t be able to update the game. “It’s a pretty risky gamble, it’s a game of chicken,” for Epic, he adds.  

Meanwhile, Apple has been able to largely defend itself from previous challenges to its App Store fees and supremacy, including from the likes of Spotify and Netflix.

“That’s ultimately been a losing path for those who have challenged Apple,” Ives adds.

Antitrust worries

The bigger headwind for Apple investors, say analysts, is the heightened scrutiny and antitrust threat from Congress and the European Union hanging over the behemoth’s head right now.

While the concern is definitely real, analysts like Ives argue that this latest lawsuit a la Epic comes a bit too early to have a huge impact. “Until we get into the fall and ultimately depending on if it’s a Biden presidency or if the Senate goes blue, then antitrust really starts to gain steam,” he offers. “As of now, [the Epic Games lawsuit] was a calculated move, but I think Apple feels very comfortable fighting this.”

And even if other developers got riled up to take on the tech titan themselves in their own lawsuits, Ives says he can “count on one hand” the platforms that’d have the power to realistically take on Apple, and notes that Epic is unique in its strength backed by 350 million users for its battle royale game. Still, investors should understand that developers and app players are “watching this closely to see how it plays out in the court system, and if it’s a successful challenge, … That would have a massive ripple effect,” he suggests.

A ‘shrug of the shoulders’ for investors

As for Apple’s stock, which just hit a record high and is trading handily above $450, even a lawsuit and bubbling antitrust worries aren’t likely to dampen investors’ appetites, suggests Ives.

“I think it’s a shrug of the shoulders, it’s a headline for 24 to 48 hours,” Ives argues. “I think most Apple investors just move forward, and that’s why you’ve seen the reactions have been pretty muted.” So far on Friday, the stock is down less than 1% as of midday trading.

Adds Ives: “I don’t think [Apple CEO Tim] Cook lost any sleep last night.”

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