Tim Sweeney

Tim Sweeney’s emails to Phil Spencer really have that ‘unpredictable friend’ vibe to them

Judging by his emails to Microsoft’s Phil Spencer, Epic Games’ Tim Sweeney seems to be living in the moment.
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Do you have one of those friends who expects you to drop everything and join them out at a moment’s notice? The kind who just assume you’ll be available to say, skip town for the weekend and fly out to Vegas? Or perhaps help them move, even though they didn’t tell you they were moving until couches were literally ready to be loaded into U-Haul trucks?

Epic Games’ Tim Sweeney may be one of those friends, judging by emails to Microsoft’s Phil Spencer that have now become public thanks to the Epic vs. Apple trial.

In one email from 2018, Sweeney emails Spencer with the subject line “Fortnite going big.” His message states that Fortnite will be launching on both iOS and Android the next month. Sweeney’s ask in the email isn’t small: he wants Spencer — and Microsoft at large — to embrace “cross-play, cross-purchase, and cross-progression” in the Xbox version of Fortnite, or risk “being siloed.” I presume he meant that Xbox players would only be able to play with Xbox players.

Again, he’s giving Microsoft roughly a month of notice on this.

In another email from August 2020, Spencer responds to another Tim Sweeney ask. Judging by Spencer’s words, Sweeney wanted Microsoft to make multiplayer gaming free for free-to-play games. According to The Verge‘s Tom Warren, Sweeney was pushing for the Xbox team to make this change prior to it challenging Apple’s App Store policies. When Spencer said he was supportive but “behind” on some of the things his team wanted to do, Sweeney replied, “Totally understood! I gather there’s a lot going on at Microsoft nowadays. Anyway, you’ll enjoy the upcoming fireworks show.”

That was August 7, 2020. On August 13, 2020, Epic started accepting direct payments from consumers in the iOS version of Fortnite. Apple blocked the app. The Nineteen-Eighty-Fortnite video premiered. And suddenly, we had a circus on our hands.

Back when it all first went down, Epic’s surprising shot at Apple and iOS felt much more calculated. I suppose the Ninteen-Eighty-Fortnite video at least proves there was some deliberation on the matter. No one made that overnight (hopefully). I think these emails paint Sweeney in a much different light, though — one that actually hurts him rather than helps him.

They make him look unpredictable and, at times, unreasonable. That’s not the look you want to have when you’re challenging something as cemented into our existence as the App Store.