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Tim Sweeney's comments set Twitter on fire

Epic Games founder Tim Sweeney, who has been in the spotlight plenty recently due to his company's legal fight against Apple, has ignited more controversy with comments he made this week, likening his legal struggle over App Store commissions to the fight for civil rights. 

The standoff between Epic Games and Apple started in earnest this past August, when Epic Games implemented a direct payment system on iOS and Google Play devices that bypasses the 30 percent fee the platforms charge for transactions. Apple retaliated by taking Fortnite down from the App Store, and Epic Games filed a lawsuit to stop Apple. While the court has sided with Epic in forbidding Apple to act in a similar way against Epic's Unreal Engine, Fortnite remains missing from the App Store. This week, Epic Games filed another suit in Australia, taking the confrontation international.

From the beginning, fans have been split over who is in the right in the battle between two corporate giants. Some welcome Epic's intervention on behalf of smaller developers who find a 30 percent take to be exorbitant. Others think Epic is just being greedy. However, the longer the legal proceedings go on, the "less noble" Epic Games looks, as pointed out by VentureBeat commentator Jonathan Harrop.

And now, Sweeney might just have used up any credit he has with gamers. At the New York Times' Dealbook event this week, he called it "everybody's duty to fight" against policies such as Apple's. 

"If we had adhered to all of Apple's terms and, you know, taken their 30% payment processing fees and passed the cost along to our customers, then that would be Epic colluding with Apple to restrain competition on iOS and to inflate prices for consumers," he said, as reported by TechCrunch. "So going along with Apple's agreement is what is wrong. And that's why Epic mounted a challenge to this, and you know you can hear of any, and [inaudible] to civil rights fights, where there were actual laws on the books, and the laws were wrong. And people disobeyed them, and it was not wrong to disobey them because to go along with them would be collusion to make them status quo."

He's basically comparing the battle for commissions on the App Store and Google Play to the civil disobedience of the '60s, which led to human rights improvements for Black citizens in the U.S. on a legislative and judicial level. And on Twitter, he doubled down on the statement: "When the rules were wrongful, it was right to disobey them. That's the comparison to the civil rights movement," he said. 

In response, fans are deriding the statement while throwing down a bit of shade in Sweeney's direction. "Listen here, if Tim Sweeney isn't allowed to make hundreds of millions of dollars off of the Apple store, then we will never truly have equality," joked @JohnnyA82946845.

Twitter user @mrtanner69 pointed out the fallacy of Sweeney's argument: "That's gotta be one of the most amazing false equivalency arguments ever made," he posted. "A CEO of a billion dollar company claiming the fact he has to pay a store to distribute his product is like the fight for a black person to be treated as an equal human." While Sweeney said he wasn't making a comparison to the importance of the struggle but to the methods being used, others pointed out that he was likening Apple's rules to Jim Crow laws, which codified racial apartheid in the U.S.

Even some who agree with Sweeney about Apple's rules tried to get him to understand that the comparison was, as @Toadsanime put it, "offensive and over-the-top." @LeibeeJustin and others also pointed out that Epic Games signed the App Store's agreement and then deliberately broke the rules, while people of color didn't choose to be discriminated against. Basically, Twitter commenters are calling him "insensitive, disrespectful, and crass" with arguments that are "out of place" and "tone deaf."

In the meantime, Apple has agreed to lower the 30 percent commission fee to 15 percent for developers that make under $1 million a year starting in January, but that change hasn't moved Sweeney either. He tweeted that Epic's lawsuit ultimately wasn't about fighting for a lower commission. "Epic is fighting for fair competition among mobile platform companies, stores, and payment processors," Sweeney said. "If iOS were open to competing payments and stores, we'd happily return, even if Apple's own payment service still charged 30%."

The trial between Apple and Epic remains forthcoming. It is due to convene in May 2021.