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Valve pushes back against Apple's attempt to rope it into the big Epic v. Apple dispute

Valve pushes back against Apple's attempt to rope it into the big Epic v. Apple dispute

February 19, 2021 | By Alissa McAloon

A joint letter spotted by the folks at PC Gamer has revealed another interesting development in the ongoing legal battle between Epic Games and Apple: Valve's potential and begrudging involvement.

The case itself has little to do with Valve, at least at first brush. The larger dispute sees Epic Games making the argument that Apple should allow third-party payment processors and app stores on the platform to foster a more competitive, and thus consumer friendly, environment.

Apple currently allows only its own App Store and takes up to 30 percent of any revenue generated by devs on iOS, something Epic very publicly rebelled against last year.

It's an argument that currently concerns only mobile platforms, but the joint letter penned by the legal teams for Apple and Valve debates if data for other storefronts like Steam is necessary to better understand the digital distribution landscape as a whole.

In it, Apple argues that it needs data from Steam -- specifically data about yearly sales of "apps", IAPs, and external products as well as details about Steam's revenue -- in order to gauge the size of Epic's available digital distribution channels.

"[This request] is crucial for calculating the total size of the market for Epic’s available digital distribution channels, which this Court already has found highly relevant to this case," reads Apple's portion of the letter. Apple also notes that it made a similar request of Samsung that the court ultimately found relevant to the issue at hand.

"Valve’s Steam undoubtedly is a digital distribution platform that competes to distribute games like Fortnite, and its total yearly sales, advertising, and revenue information, uniquely in Valve’s possession, are directly relevant to establishing the strength of competition for consumers and app developers for Steam."

Valve, meanwhile, says that the data being requested is irrelevant, confidential, and difficult to round up: "Apple’s demands would impose an extraordinary burden on Valve to query, process and combine a massive amount of to create the documents Apple seeks—materials that Valve does not create or keep in the ordinary course of business—and with little or no value, as Valve does not compete in the mobile app market at issue."

It's worth noting that some documents were provided by Valve with data pertaining to Apple's asks, though the final result was, in Apple's words, heavily redacted and hardly usable thanks to that. Valve meanwhile adds that Apple did scale down its request for data from the initial blanket request to only include 436 Steam games, but that gathering the needed figures, including historic prices and gross revenues, is still an exuberant request.

Beyond its argument that gathering the data is immensely complicated (and especially so for a company not directly involved in the lawsuit), Valve says it doesn't see why the data is necessary to begin with.

"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," argues Valve. "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."

The results of the joint letter, which was filed in November 2020 and made available to the public this week, aren't immediately clear but will one way or another play a part in the larger case when it goes to trial later this year.

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