How much information should a legal conflict between Apple and Epic Games reveal about Steam? Apple seems to think the answer is “a lot,” according to a report from PCGamer, but Valve maintains that its platform isn’t directly related to the dispute.
The companies made their positions clear in a joint discovery letter filed with the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California on Thursday. Lawyers for both companies said they “have been unable to reach an agreement” on the issue.
Let’s back up a bit. This all started in August 2020 when Epic Games claimed Apple and Google’s app distribution policies and monetization were anti-competitive. The developer has since made similar complaints in the UK, Australia, and EU.
Apple subpoenaed Valve in November 2020 to gather information about Steam that might help its case. The letter filed yesterday made it clear that Valve provided some of this information but was unable or unwilling to provide everything Apple wanted.
It’s not hard to guess why. This is how Apple characterized two of its requests:
"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.
“Request 32 asks for documents sufficient to show: (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. This is basic information relating to the identity and availability of games over time on Steam, is necessary to determine the scope and breadth of the digital distribution marketplace, and is 'relevant to showing competition’ between these platforms.”
See? All the company’s looking for is detailed information about everything sold on Steam and how much money Valve has made from sales via the platform. Apple seems to believe that isn’t a big request; Valve has disagreed. The company said:
”In response to Apple’s 46 documents requests, Valve already produced documents regarding its revenue share, competition with Epic, Steam distribution contracts, and other documents. Apple was not satisfied and demands—without offering to cover Valve’s costs, which would be significant—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 objected.”
Valve also noted that it’s being drawn into a legal conflict that’s primarily about mobile app distribution and monetization, even though its focus is on PC gaming. (With the notable exception of a Steam Link app that’s had its own troubles.)
The letter made it clear that Apple wants the court to force Valve to share more info about Steam. Valve, meanwhile, said that “Apple’s demands for further production should be rejected.” Now it’s up to the court to decide who’ll get their way.
If I were Valve, I'd be very concerned that Apple wants to get in on the PC gaming market, especially given all the rumors of a new Apple VR headset and controllers. Steve Jobs made a decision about gaming a long time ago, and Tim Cook might be looking to change direction.