Itch.io, a digital download storefront that largely sells indie video games, launched its first-ever “Creator Day” on Friday. This one-day-only price promotion is aimed more at developers than consumers, as it comes with a twist: Itch.io will claim precisely zero dollars in service fees from its developers until the promotion ends at 2:59 am EDT on Saturday, May 15.
The sale comes as Epic and Apple, two massive players in the digital storefront space, continue to face off in court over the percentages charged to game- and software-makers for every sale of a game. Itch.io may not have wanted to become part of that argument, but the Epic Games v. Apple court case may have forced the company’s hand.
Before the lawsuit’s start, Epic announced that it would allow its Epic Games Store (EGS) users to download and access Itch.io, thus publicly proving that Epic was willing to host a competitor’s storefront. Epic’s lawsuit revolves around Apple’s unwillingness to do the same on the iOS App Store—a decision that led to Fortnite‘s delisting from the platform.
Last week, Apple’s lawyers pushed back about Itch.io’s arrangement with the EGS to make a point about Apple’s walled-garden approach to App Store content approval. An Apple attorney described a single game available on Itch.io, titled Sisterly Lust, and called it a “so-called adult game” with “a list of fetishes which include many words that are not appropriate for us to speak in federal courts.” The Apple attorney then claimed that Itch.io lets EGS users access software that Epic has not double-checked or moderated.
Apple’s lawyer did not inform the court that Itch.io games with an “18-and-up” flag require a user’s age confirmation before their details appear in the app or web storefront, and Epic General Manager Steven Allison was unable to clarify Itch.io’s moderation policies while on the stand. Nevertheless, the shot was fired, and Itch.io posted a joking response on Twitter soon after: “Guys, Apple’s lawyers just called. They said we need to turn off ALL the games.”
Unspeakably low fees
Creator Day includes no mention of Epic Games v. Apple, nor how Itch.io’s one-day-only promotion of zeroed-out fees compares to the 12 percent typically charged to devs via the EGS or the 30 percent charged via Apple’s App Store (or any other storefront’s charges). Instead, the promotion included a hint that it may return, with Itch.io saying, “We hope to make this a regular event to give developers an excuse to share and promote their works.”
This promotion may make zero difference for some Itch.io games because the company lets its developer community forgo the service’s per-purchase fees if they want to. The service initially launched with zero dev fees; in 2015, Itch.io began to allow devs to pick the same kind of “pay what you want slider” that it offers consumers. This dev fee defaults to 10 percent, which does not include the fixed processing fees required by payment operators (these fees are not waived as part of Creator Day).
As Itch.io wrote in 2015:
You might be saying, “that sounds pretty risky, what if everyone sets it to zero?” We think that’s a risk we’re willing to take in the spirit of encouraging the generous and supportive community that’s already developed around Itch.io.
Itch.io’s thousands of games are all over the map in terms of content, complexity, and tone. The storefront is wide-open enough to include options like visual novels, tabletop game rulesets, and award-winning indie fare like Celeste, A Short Hike, and Night in the Woods. Arguably its biggest promotion was June 2020’s Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality, which included over 1,700 games and exceeded $8 million in sales that went directly to charity.
Itch.io’s Creator Day promotion largely resembles “Bandcamp Fridays,” a first-of-the-month promotion that began waiving fees for all music purchases through that storefront once the pandemic began affecting its community of touring musicians. The promotion is slated to continue through 2021, with the company saying earlier this month that “although vaccines are starting to roll out, it will likely be several months before live performance revenue starts to return.”
Apple has had a long history of ever-changing moderation practices, and the company has made plenty of questionable decisions. It recently began telling users of the Discord chat service which “NSFW” channels could be accessed on the app’s iOS version. It rejected a speed-testing app that looked for net neutrality-based speed gates (though it later reversed the call). And in the App Store’s earliest days, Apple began a moderation crusade in response to issues with “adult” screenshots in app listings. The company is not always as forthright when the “offense” in question concerns hacks into users’ phones and whether to tell users about them.