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Epic grills Apple expert on "frictionless" outside-app spending

Economist unable to back up claims about apps allowing users to make transactions through browsers

Much of the Epic v. Apple antitrust trial so far has consisted of expert witnesses called by the two companies to explain why their position is right, and that's led to each side doing their best to attack that expertise.

Apple has specifically questioned the credibility of Microsoft VP of gaming, media and entertainment Lori Wright, and in today's testimony, Epic returned the favor by undermining one of Apple's witnesses.

Under cross-examination, Epic's counsel questioned University of Pennsylvania Wharton economist Professor Lorin Hitt about his testimony on the friction developers would face if they tried to move customers to a different platform in the event of Apple raising its prices.

Hitt had looked into how easy it was for customers to purchase content for iOS games outside of the App Store -- for example buying Fortnite currency from Epic's website instead of through the app when it was on iOS -- and found there to be very little friction.

Hitt had found that eight of the top 25 App Store games by revenue allowed customers to circumvent Apple's in-app purchasing system (and its 30% revenue share) this way, but Epic's counsel took exception to that, and tried to demonstrate it in court using one of those eight games, Candy Crush Saga, as an example.

Epic's counsel tried to purchase items in Candy Crush outside of the app by going to King.com, where there were a number of prompts to play the game on various platforms, including the App Store, Google Play, Facebook, and on King.com itself.

However, when they attempted to play the game on King.com or Facebook, they were met with the notice "only available on desktop." Hitt reiterated that it was possible to conduct a Candy Crush transaction through a browser, but was unable to suggest how, saying it was his research team that had established it was possible, not him personally.

Then Epic's counsel went to the official website of another title on Hitt's list, Clash Royale, where he pulled up the parent's guide and found developer Supercell explicitly stating, "We do not store any credit card information related to in-game purchases as the payment transactions are completed through Apple's App Store or Google Play (depending on your device)."

"Yet you believe that your team managed to go to a website and buy legitimate Clash Royale money and go back to the app?" Epic's lawyer asked Hitt. "That's your testimony?"

Hitt replied, "I'd have to follow the links, but my research team identified the links that would enable you to do so. I'd have to go back and look to be sure."

Unsatisfied with the explanation, Epic's counsel responded, "You understand, sir, that the typical user of Clash Royale doesn't have a research team, correct?"

"I would think so, yes," said Hitt.

"And so as part of the 'frictionless' process," Epic's lawyer continued, "they cannot go to a research team of five PhD economists and ask them to please find how to conduct the transaction, correct?"

"They wouldn't have a research team, that's correct," Hitt confirmed.

Epic's lawyer suggested that setting up the external browser-based solution is such a burden that only the largest and most successful developers would consider doing it, noting that of all the games on Hitt's list, his team was only able to find three that actually allowed transactions through a browser: PUBG, Roblox, and Fortnite, which is no longer even on the App Store.

Hitt could only say that he stood by his research team's findings.

When Apple's lawyer was allowed to re-cross-examine, she revisited the issue with Hitt, who emphasized that it was "very, very easy" in some cases to buy games through the browser, noting the process takes just a minute or two in Fortnite.

Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers interjected here, asking, "Did you try it for anything else, because it looked pretty difficult given the examples provided?"

Hitt again said his team had looked into it, and Gonzalez Rogers asked if he had "any logical explanation" for why he wasn't able to identify how to do so moments earlier.

"There were a number of other links in there," Hitt replied. "I recall going through this in detail with my research team who would show me games that are either very similar, or they'd go through and find a way to do it."

You can follow all of our Epic vs Apple coverage here, or read the highlights in our ongoing roundup.

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