Breaking Boundaries: Microsoft’s App Store and the Epic vs. Google Ripple Effect

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It has been an earth-shattering few weeks in the app ecosystem. First, in a groundbreaking move that has sent shockwaves through the tech industry, Microsoft has announced its plans to launch an app store within the Apple App Store – a move that holds significant implications for app developers, especially those in the gaming industry. Apple, traditionally resistant to the idea of third-party app stores, is now under pressure from the European Union’s Digital Markets Act (DMA), which seeks to break the “monopoly” of “gatekeepers” like Apple. Meta could be soon to follow with an app store of its own within Apple’s. Then on December 11, the jury in the District Court case of Epic vs. Google ruled that Google turned its Google Play app store and Google Play Billing service into an “illegal monopoly.” 

Economic Impact on the Gaming Industry

The ramifications of Microsoft’s bold venture, whether intentional or not, are closely tied to the ongoing legal battles within the app market. The Epic vs. Google court case, which centers on antitrust issues and app store monopolies, has set a precedent that Epic had hoped its case against Apple three years ago would have set. The ruling emphasizes the need for more competition – opening the door for alternative app stores (paging Meta…) and challenging the established norms of dominant players like Apple and Google.

Microsoft’s entry into Apple’s App Store signifies not only a challenge to Apple’s pre-existing stronghold but also an opportunity for game developers to work around the burden of the 30% in-app purchase tax (aka app store fees paid to Apple for in-app purchases). These taxes have been onerous for app developers and the new prevailing assumption is that additional app stores might offer lower fees or even operate with no fees at all. This translates to higher profit margins for developers, a critical factor in the game economy. A higher margin opens doors to more gaming apps and studios, fostering innovation and diversity within the industry. As the Lifetime Value (LTV) of users increases, the Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC) can also rise, benefiting publishers and ad networks. The economic ripple effect of Microsoft’s move could reshape the gaming landscape, offering a more fertile ground for creativity and competition.

The ruling in the Epic vs. Google case has set the stage for a potential transformation in the economic landscape of the gaming industry, empowering developers with the prospect of higher profit margins.

Niche-Centric Strategy and the Impact on Marketers

Microsoft’s focus on gaming within its app store aligns with the niche-centric approach that has proven successful in the tech industry. This strategic move indicates a concerted effort to capture a specific market segment—gamers. Marketers and advertisers stand to gain significantly from this specialization.

Phil Spencer, CEO of Gaming at Microsoft, has led the initiative to position their app store as a specialized hub for gamers, suggesting a strong commitment to the community and endearing goodwill. This niche-centric approach could make the Microsoft App Store the preferred destination for gamers, thereby challenging Apple’s dominance in the gaming app market.

The Epic vs. Google ruling further emphasizes the importance of a competitive market. With Microsoft’s gaming-focused app store and potential entries from other major players like Meta, advertisers now have diverse platforms to target specific audiences. This diversification provides marketers with more choices, enabling them to tailor their strategies and tap into niche markets that might have been overshadowed in the duopoly of Apple and Google.

While the prospect of new app stores entering the scene is exciting, Apple’s App Store still holds several advantages. Recognized for its stringent security measures, privacy features, and app validation processes, Apple’s ecosystem is trusted by tens of millions of users worldwide. Moreover, the App Store comes pre-installed on every iPhone, giving it an inherent advantage in terms of accessibility. Never underestimate the value of making things easy on consumers.

Control of Demand and Advertising Dynamics

Another player expected to enter the app store arena is Meta, though no official announcement has been made for iOS yet. App discovery can often be one of the more expensive campaign types, but if Meta establishes its app store, it could leverage its massive user base and advertising capabilities to redirect users away from Apple’s ecosystem and onto its own. 

As Microsoft, Meta, and other potential contenders step into the app store arena, control of demand for apps continues to shift away from the Apple App Store and Google Play Store. This change carries profound implications for advertisers.

The Carrot and the Stick

Apple’s strict guidelines and the threat of app removal from the App Store have long been the stick that ensured developers comply with their rules. The prospect of new app stores, including Microsoft’s, diminishes the magnitude of this stick. While expulsion from the App Store remains a substantial setback, it is no longer the death sentence it once was – and there’s a big advantage for being Epic- or Microsoft-sized and picking this fight compared to a mid-sized app. This shift in power dynamics may prompt Apple to reevaluate its approach and introduce more enticing incentives – the carrot – to keep developers within its ecosystem.

This is a moment where it feels like we’re very much on the precipice of a changing app economy from which we’ll be reading books about a decade from now. Microsoft’s entrance into the Apple App Store marks a pivotal moment in the app industry. And similarly, Epic’s win over Google in its monopoly lawsuit that has broad ramifications for the app gaming developer community. The economic implications for developers, especially in the gaming sector, are substantial. 

The confluence of Microsoft’s launch of their app store (and possible foray into Apple’s App Store), the Epic vs. Google court case ruling, and the potential entry of other major players like Meta heralds a new era in the app economy. For developers, gamers, marketers, and advertisers alike, these developments present opportunities to break free from established norms, fostering a more competitive and dynamic app market where innovation and diversity can flourish. The evolving landscape underscores the need for adaptability and strategic thinking as stakeholders navigate this transformative chapter in the tech industry.

Roy leads the product efforts for AppsFlyer's iOS solutions. Prior to AppsFlyer, Roy served as CEO & Head of Product at Mego - a startup aimed to solve eCommerce deliveries pains.
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