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The Epic vs. Apple court has a great definition of video games

Much better than Tim Sweeney's, anyway

A fantastical group of characters flying around a Roblox mountain range. At the centre of the group is a chibi unicorn.
Image credit: Rumble Studios

Epic's court case against Apple reached a conclusion yesterday, at least temporarily, but the judge's ruling didn't only address the big issues of app stores and payment systems. Judge Yvonne Gonzalez also offered an answer to a question raised during the trial: what is a game? Most surprisingly, Gonzalez's definition is pretty great.

The definition of what consitutes a game was important to Epic's case against Apple, because whether something is a game or not determines how it's treated in Apple's rules regarding in-app purchases. The developers of Roblox argue that the games you play within their ecosystem are not actually games, but "experiences."

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As the court ruling states however, "Unfortunately, no one agrees and neither side introduced evidence of any commonly accepted industry definition" of video games. The document then quotes the definition offered by Epic co-founded Tim Sweeney during the trial:

"I think game involves some sort of win or loss or a score progression, on wheter it is an individual or social group of competitors," said Sweeney. "With a game you're trying to build up to some outcome that you achieve, as opposed to an open-ended experience like building a Fortnite Creative island or writing a Microsoft Word document. There is no score keeping mechanic and you are never done or you never win."

This seemed like a severely narrow definition of what a video game is, limiting it only to scored or linear experiences. Thankfully, the court agreed.

On page 68 of the full ruling, the court offers its own definition of a videogame:

"At a bare minimum, video games appear to require some level of interactivity or involvement between the player and the medium. In other words, a game requires that a player be able to input some level of a command or choice which is then reflected in the game itself. This gaming definition contrasts to other forms of entertainment, which are often passive forms enjoyed by consumers (eg. films, television, music). Video games are also generally graphically rendered or animated, as opposed to being recorded level or via motion capture as in films and television."

The document goes on to note that, "Beyond this minimum, the video gaming market appears highly electic and diverse. Indeed, neither Mr. Sweeney's nor Mr. Kosmynka's descriptions, which focus on linear narratives and competitive modes, captures the diversity of gaming that appears to exist in the gaming industry today."

I think that's a pretty fair, and kind, definition of the breadth of video games. There are even footnotes attached which offer further clarification. For example, on the issue of games being "generally graphically rendered or animated," the judgement notes that "the Court understands that some games, such as older Mortal Kombat games, have utilized motion capture technology in rendering graphics and animations in the game." Presumably no one has shown Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Her Story.

Epic's court case against Apple ended with a near total victory for Apple, though the single ruling in Epic's favour could have huge consequences.

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