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What is a Game?

Roblox's changes to App Store terminology during the Epic v Apple legal battle

What is a Game?

Last week, Apple claimed in court against Epic Games that Roblox isn't breaking the App Store policies due to being a collection of experiences and not games. This brought out a really interesting (and odd) debate in court as lawyers from both sides tried to define what a game is. The reason this is important is that if Roblox is a platform of games then they should be forced to abide by the same rules as Fortnite - which they currently are not doing. Fortnite wants to leverage Creative Mode and have a catalog of games, similar to Roblox but isn't able to due to this being seen as a violation of Apple's policies. Roblox isn’t even in this battle (technically) but this is important to them since they generate around $100m in revenue per month on mobile (Sensor Tower).

Throughout the contentious debate, Apple’s Marketing Manager, Trystan Kosmynka, did attempt to define a game as something that has “a beginning and end...there are challenges in place.” (Adi Robertson). Kosmynka was attempting to state that Roblox is not a game and just an app. This statement is pretty objective, because Roblox is the destination where millions of games (experiences?) are hosted. This is where the debate stems. The policy that is in question here is that Apple will allow for these types of services as long as every game is individually submitted as it’s own app, which for Fortnite or Roblox wouldn’t make sense. This would mean every new game and every update to individual games would require individual review by Apple. Roblox, for example, has 18m games. Discoverability and distribution is key for UGC platforms, and if each game needed to be its own application then the value proposition of being a platform is destroyed.

Why Fortnite and Roblox are viewed differently isn’t clear to Judge Gonzalez Rogers (or us). It appears Apple even viewed Roblox as a game, or atleast a collection of games until it wasn't convenient for them. Until May 7th, Roblox was in the "Games" category before being put in the “Action” category. Throughout the last week, Roblox has made a number of changes to be seen more as a collection of experiences and not games (at Apple’s request?). Here are some of the changes Roblox made on their platform to try and fit the “experiences” narrative:

  • Games -> Experiences
  • Continue Playing -> Continue
  • Friends Playing -> Friends Visiting
  • Games (as a label at the top)-> Discover
  • Join Game -> Join
  • Playing -> Active

In the coming months, Judge Gonzalez Rogers will give her verdict. Expectations are that neither party will get what they want and will be appealed by both sides.To make this even more exciting, here is how important these two apps are to the App Store in 2019 which has 1.85m total apps available (Business of Apps):

  • Robux 2019 iOS revenue: $146.46M
  • Robux 2019 iOS fees paid to Apple: $43.9M
  • Fortnite 2019 estimated iOS fees paid to Apple: $180M
  • Fortnite fees as a share of App Store revenue: ~0.93%
  • Roblox fees as a share of App Store revenue: ~0.22%

Two apps, Fortnite and Roblox, accounted for roughly 1.15% of the App Store's revenue in 2019. Note: Fortnite was removed from the app store in August 2020. 2019 was the last full year Fortnite and Roblox were both available on the App Store.