I received the press release via email on February 17. “Artie Set to Disrupt $80B Mobile Gaming Industry by Eliminating the Need for Apps,” read the subject line. The message included a lengthy list of high-profile backers from gaming, technology, sports, and entertainment, as well as its all-star staff roster including team members from Activision/Blizzard, Disney, Facebook, and others. The launch announcement came at the end of a $10 million seed round.
Artie, as the email would explain, is a Unity-compatible “technology” that will enable users to play mobile games they would typically need to download separately from app stores within other published apps such as social media, video, and messaging platforms. While the copy mentioned the value of improving play and ease of discovery for consumers, quite a bit of the company’s messaging focuses directly on providing mobile developers with a solution to app store control. “It’s becoming increasingly difficult to make the economics of the mobile games business work,” said Artie CEO Ryan Horrigan in the company’s February 17 press release. “Between the rising cost of user acquisition within the app store ecosystem, the inherent friction that comes with app downloads, and the onerous 30% cut that app stores take, it’s nearly impossible. Our platform solves this.”
It needs to be noted here that the vast majority of iOS developers now only pay 15%.
Given the timing of Artie’s announcement, it’s surprising the company wants to take such bold aim at app stores without providing more in the way of assurances. In August 2020, Apple made clear it would not allow Microsoft to distribute any App Store application that circumvented Apple’s ability to review each game made playable in the store. “The App Store was created to be a safe and trusted place for customers to discover and download apps, and a great business opportunity for all developers,” Apple told Business Insider. “Before they go on our store, all apps are reviewed against the same set of guidelines that are intended to protect customers and provide a fair and level playing field to developers.”
To be clear, streaming was not the issue. Apple updated its review guidelines to clarify:
Streaming games are permitted so long as they adhere to all guidelines — for example, each game update must be submitted for review, developers must provide appropriate metadata for search, games must use in-app purchase to unlock features or functionality, etc. Of course, there is always the open Internet and web browser apps to reach all users outside of the App Store.App Store Review Guidelines, Section 4.9: Streaming Games
In the very same month, Apple removed Fortnite from the App Store for implementing its own in-app payment system. The ensuing fallout resulted in a lawsuit between Epic Games and Apple that will go to trial in May 2021 and may very well result in a decision that changes app distribution for stores, developers, and customers.
Curious to better understand Artie’s confidence about this, I replied to the PR firm with the following:
“Given some of the issues with the App Store approval process and Fortnite’s recent delisting (we all know the stories), it sounds risky to offer games normally subject to approval and payment processing agreements within other apps at will (if I’m correctly understanding the offering). Can anyone comment on that?”
The firm acknowledged receipt and promised to keep me posted. I followed up eight days later:
“Just wanted to follow up to see if Artie had any comment on this. I’m also curious about the timing, with Apple v. Epic going to trial in May which seems like it will have a major impact on this issue.”
At the time of writing, Artie has offered no comment. On the heels of raising $10 million in funding, I’m surprised there isn’t at least a surface-level quote prepared for what seem to be the most obvious questions about skirting app store control at the least certain time in the age of smartphones. While much larger outlets have covered Artie’s launch, no one seems to be articulating even a theory about why this method of game publishing will be safe for developers and existing apps.
I’ll gladly update this post with any updates.