Fortnite affair: “Who watches the watchers?”
On January 22, 1984, during the final stages of the Super Bowl, Apple released the famous TV commercial conceived by TBWA and directed by Ridley Scott, announcing the arrival of Macintosh.
The film became a piece of advertising history winning numerous awards including a Lion at the Cannes Film Festival and a Clio Award. In 2007 it was recognized as the best Super Bowl commercial in forty years of championship history. Those who, like me, have studied communication, will most likely have already analyzed the case from a semiotic point of view in some academic textbook.
In short, the concept was based on a similarity between the homologation of the IT market of the time, dominated by IBM, and the Orwellian dystopian world. In this scenario Apple presented Macintosh as an unconventional and liberating technological tool which was able to break the monopolistic distortions imposed by IBM. The famous "Think different" campaign, also designed by TBWA in '97, belonged to the same nonconformist message.
Today the issue is theatrically overturned by Epic Games, producer of the well-known video game Fortnite, which accuses Apple and Google of abusing their dominant positions in the duopolistic regime established through iOS and Android.
For those who do not know the details of the story, in these days Epic has put in place a blatant battle at a legal, commercial and marketing level against Apple, which applies a fee of 30% on each purchase via app. A contractual condition that nowadays doesn’t suit Epic, which last year on August 13 introduced a new direct payment method that bypasses the App Store. Apple then immediately blocked the Fortnite app from its devices and therefore Epic undertook a series of pre-calculated counter movements, including a legal action accusing Apple of monopoly and an online protest campaign called #FreeFortnite.
In this conflicting context, Epic published a parody of the famous Apple commercial in which the heroine of Fortnite frees the slaves from the technological regime established by the Big Brother of Cupertino.
In this contemporary commercial battle what becomes clear is that, contrary to what is described both in Scott's film and in his contemporary parody, it’s never been a battle against the technological monopoly, conformism or unique thinking. The only aim is, and always has been, commercial.
This whole story doesn't affect the outstanding creativity nor the formal quality of Ridley Scott's famous commercial. It does much more than that, it questions the authenticity of Apple's message. After all, is it possible to argue that you want to fight a monopoly if you don't waive to establish a new one as soon as the first one falls? Mind you, in the technological field the question of oligopolies is complex and companies certainly are not interested in solving it. In this case it would be better to at least be more transparent about it.
Having said so, is Epic the winner of the dialectical clash? No. The #FreeFortnite campaign that portrays Apple as the despotic company that prevents the Fortnite community from playing together is now less credible than ever. The reasons behind this are once again, as expectable, purely economic. And once again, a little more transparency would be appreciable.
The alternative is a sort of Hunger Games ending, where President Coin from rebel leader and champion of democracy turns into the new dictator once she comes to power.
Credits: - English version by Paris Nobile
- Cover image: "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay" - Production: Color Force - Distribution: Lionsgate
- Internal images and videos: Apple and Epic Games