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Apple Subpoenaed Valve's Colossal Steam to Fight Epic Games

In a unique turn of events, Apple subpoenaed Valve for the sales figures of over 30,000 games on Steam in its legal fight against Epic Games.

Credit | Steam

A new court filing discovered by PCGamer, revealed that Apple has subpoenaed Valve in November last year, as part of its legal proceedings against Fortnite developer Epic Games. Apple demanded that Valve provided massive amounts of undisclosed sales data on over 30,000 games through the company’s Steam platform over the past few years.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with this whole legal dispute, it goes back to August 2020, following Epic Games’ decision to add an internal payment system to Fortnite on iOS devices, bypassing Apple’s 30% payment fee. Apple soon after retaliated against the company, with a platform-wide removal of Fortnite from the App Store. Epic responded to Apple’s retaliation with a 1984-inspired marketing campaign, ironic for Apple, since it’s a Fortnite version of the company’s anti-IBM commercial from 1984.

Almost immediately after the start to Epic’s marketing campaign, (as in minutes after), the company filed a lawsuit against Apple over Fortnite’s removal, which resulted in months of legal disputes and hunderds of back-and-forths between the two companies. You can check out the lawsuit here, which is long, but worth reading for a few notable points.

The most notable point is Epic’s sneaky, but definitely visible, attempt to get a court to prevent Apple from only allowing one App Store on iOS. Epic’s endgame is to give iOS and App Store users the ability to download apps from other, external, application stores, say maybe, the Epic Games Store?

This one point provides some ulterior reasoning into Apple’s sudden interest into Steam’s sales numbers, which would be similar to the Epic Games Store’s numbers, either on PC, or theoretically on iOS. If Apple could gain access to Steam’s sales numbers, they could get access into competitive practices of game platforms, which would then give them knowledge into either how much money they’d lose to a competing app store, or how much settling the lawsuit would be worth.

Apple’s reasoning

Apple’s argument was created by the law firm McDermott, Will and Lowery, and stated that Valve is more than relevant enough to the case, that Apple should get access to their sales figures. To quote Apple,

“Valve’s digital distribution service, Steam, is the dominant digital game distributor on the PC platform and is a direct competitor to the Epic Game Store; Apple and Valve have engaged in several meet and confers, but Valve has refused to produce information responsive to Requests 2 and 32.”

Request 2 is very intrusive, even though it may not seem so on first glance. The request, explained by the law firm, goes as such:

“Apple’s Request 2 is very narrow. It simply requests documents sufficient to show Valve’s: (a) total yearly sales of apps and in-app products; (b) annual advertising revenues from Steam; (c) annual sales of external products attributable to Steam; (d) annual revenues from Steam; and (e) annual earnings (whether gross or net) from Steam. Apple has gone as far as requesting this information in any readily accessible format, but Valve refuses to produce it.”

Making Games

Essentially, removing all the bloat gives you five big things that Apple wants from Valve, that Valve hasn’t provided:

  1. the yearly sales of apps and in-app purchases on, or through Steam
  2. the money Valve makes from ads on Steam
  3. the money Valve makes from Steam-related products that aren’t on Steam
  4. all money Valve makes from Steam
  5. the profit Valve makes from Steam

None of this makes sense.

Why none of this makes sense

Why would Apple need any of this? Apple wanting the total app sales from Steam, sure. That can make sense, as Epic Games would pretty much put a mini-Steam on iOS devices. Ads don’t make sense, non-Steam, but Steam affiliated products makes no sense. This doesn’t make sense. I’m legitimately confused as to why Apple would believe that they could get court approval to get this information from Valve.

Valve’s a private company, and not even their employees receive most of this information. To sum up, Request 2 makes no sense. No wonder Valve didn’t respond.

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Request 32 is even more intrusive, and could even reduce Steam’s competitive advantage:

“(a) the name of each App on Steam; (b) the date range when the App was available on Steam; and (c) the price of the App and any in-app product available on Steam.”

Yes, Apple wants the names of every single Steam app and game, the entire date range when the program was on Steam, and yes, the price of every single game and DLC. Apple wants the names, prices, and dates of every game that has every been on Steam, delivered to them by Valve, and is surprised to have not gotten this information.

I really hadn’t taken any stance on this case beforehand, but this is insane. Insider information into Steam’s entire game library that has every been is an insane amount of information to ask for. While Apple argues that this information is necessary, exclusive, and doesn’t raise risk of competitive harm, to fight Epic Games in court as equals, it really help the courts. All it does, is tell Apple how much potential money they’d lose if Epic was to actually put an iOS Epic Games Store onto iOS devices.

Valve’s response

Valve seems to seem this is ridiculous as well, as provided in a counter-argument by the company:

“Valve already produced documents regarding its revenue share, competition with Epic, Steam distribution contracts, and other documents;” — they further by explaining how ridiculous it would be “that Valve (i) recreate six years’ worth of PC game and item sales for hundreds of third party video games, then (ii) produce a massive amount of confidential information about these games and Valve’s revenues.”

Valve continues by explaining that “Apple wrongly claims those requests are narrow. They are not.” Apple apparently had demanded the data and figures for over 30,000 games on Steam, before narrowing their focus to “just” 600 games. Just think, Apple’s asking information about the names, sales figures, prices, versions, DLCs, dates, and price changes for over 30,000 games across the past 6 years, broken down individually, adding in Valve’s resultant revenue from every individual game.

Valve then explains how this entire request is completely irrelevant and impossible, as the company doesn’t “keep the information Apple seeks for a simple reason: Valve doesn’t need it.”

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