Epic Vs Apple: What’s the Story?

The fued between Epic Games and Apple has progressed fast, here's the rundown

Fortnite Logo on PC Screen

Epic Games, developer of hit battle royale game, Fortnite, has been in a very public row with Apple for the last month. A lot has happened in the last three weeks alone, but where did the feud originate? And what exactly is going on?

MacRumors cites that birth of this feud in a Washington Post article in June this year. Apple had come under scrutiny by a number of companies, namely Epic and Tinder’s parent company Match Group, who disagreed with the App Store’s long-standing commission policy, by which it takes between 15 – 30% from all App Store applications’ profits when a user subscribes or purchases through the App Store. 

Apple has been accused of monopolizing power and this was a particularly relevant aspect of the historical big tech hearing back in July. Such concerns were echoed by Spotify

With Epic, Apple gains a cut of the real money players spend on digital money to buy in-game items like skins. Apple told The Post that the fees are fair and help pay for the service, which it says offers a safe and secure way for customers to download apps. The company accused app developers against the fees of looking for a “free ride” and urged they wanted to “maintain a level playing field where anyone with determination and a great idea can succeed.”

But Tim Sweeney, Epic’s Chief Executive, disputed this, stating, “The iOS App Store’s monopoly protects only Apple profit, not device security.” Sweeney continued to blast Apple in interviews and on social media, claiming that it is an “absolute monopoly” and “Apple and Google make more profit from most developers’ games than the developers themselves.”

Fortnite is Banned from App Store and Google Play Store

Then came the kicker. On August 13, not even three weeks ago, Fortnite was removed from the App Store after updating the app to include a new feature allowing users to pay Epic directly through the app – a direct violation of App Store rules. Apple told MacRumors:

Epic Games took the unfortunate step of violating the App Store guidelines that are applied equally to every developer and designed to keep the store safe for our users… Epic enabled a feature in its app which was not reviewed or approved by Apple, and they did so with the express intent of violating the App Store guidelines regarding in-app payments that apply to every developer who sells digital goods or services.

“The fact that their business interests now lead them to push for a special arrangement does not change the fact that these guidelines create a level playing field for all developers and make the store safe for all users.”

The update, which became available of iOS and Android users, let players make in-app purchases directly through the app at a 20% discount. This led to Fortnite being removed from the Google Play Store, too. 

Epic had apparently been lobbying for this change for months in advance, as was evident in emails between the two companies in which Epic asked Apple to exempt it from the current policy, stating it would give consumers “an opportunity to pay less for digital products” and “developers would earn more from their sales”. They continued to ask Apple to extend this option to all developers on the App Store and threatened legal action if Apple refused to comply.

The Lawsuit

As was expected, Apple refused to comply. In the blink of an eye, Epic had filed two separate lawsuits against both Apple and Google. 

Epic filed a civil antitrust lawsuit against Apple in the US District Court for the Northern District of California, seeking to “establish Apple’s App Store as a monopoly, and the civil suit is seeking injunctive relief to “allow fair competition” in mobile app distribution,” The Verge reported at the time. 

The complaint read: “Epic brings this suit to end Apple’s unfair and anti-competitive actions that Apple undertakes to unlawfully maintain its monopoly in two distinct, multibillion-dollar markets: (i) the iOS App Distribution Market, and (ii) the iOS In-App Payment Processing Market(each as defined below).”

Epic said that, rather than seeking monetary compensation or favorable treatment, it sought, “injunctive relief to allow fair competition in these two key markets that directly affect hundreds of millions of consumers and tens of thousands, if not more, of third-party app developers.”Epic attempted to get public support to back the lawsuit using cheeky marketing tactics and attempting to get #FreeFortnite trending on social media. In announcing the lawsuit, Epic released a parody video of Apple’s iconic 1984 Superbowl commercial. “While the original framed Apple as the breaker of the aging oppressive IBM’s grasp on computing, the parody seemingly puts Apple in IBM’s place, with Epic instead being the breaker of Apple’s App Store control,” Apple Insider wrote.

Termination of Apple Development Program Account Threat

On August 17, Epic announced that Apple was planning on terminating its Apple Development Program Account, which would lose Epic access to the development tools necessary to create software for Unreal Engine that Epic offers to third-party developers for their games. Apple told Epic in a letter that it could prevent this by complying with the App Store’s guidelines. 

This was a big problem because it would have meant that all the developers using Epic’s Unreal Engine would have been severely impacted. Epic asked the court to prevent Apple from taking this action because it was already seeing developers fleeing Unreal Engine.

Microsoft stepped in to back Epic, filing a legal brief supporting the Fortnite developer’s right to carry on developing software for Mac and iOS while the case continues. Xbox gaming executive, Kevin Gammill, signed the submission which stated: “Epic Games’ Unreal Engine is critical technology for numerous game creators including Microsoft.

“Apple’s discontinuation of Epic’s ability to develop and support Unreal Engine for iOS or macOS will harm game creators and gamers.”

Microsoft has previously disagreed with Apple’s 30% commission and said it believes Apple unfairly treats games differently to non-gaming apps. 

Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers issued a temporary restraining order blocking Apple from banning Unreal Engine from the Development Program because Epic International – which is in charge of Unreal Engine – is a separate entity to Epic Games and has not breached its contract. This means that, while Fortnite is still currently blocked from the App Store, Unreal Engine and its third-party developers will be kept out of it for now.

However, the judge maintained that she would not protect Fortnite because Epic caused the situation by making a strategic move to go against the status quo: “All Epic has to do is take it back to the status quo and no one suffers any harm…Flip the switch to the way it was August 3rd and return everybody back to where they were,” she said. 

Epic Announces Fortnite’s Next Season Won’t Be Available on iOS or macOS

On Wednesday, Epic announced that Fortnite Season 2: Chapter 4 will not be available for players on iOS or macOS. Worse still, they won’t be able to access cross-play Fortnite multiplayer with non-Apple forums, reports The Verge.

An update to Epic’s FAQ about the current feud read: 

“Apple has blocked Fortnite from the App Store, removing players’ ability to install and update the game on iOS devices, while instructing Epic to “remove the ‘Epic direct payment’ feature”. Apple is keeping prices high so they can collect 30% of consumer payments made in apps like Fortnite, and is blocking Fortnite in order to prevent Epic from passing on the savings from direct payments to players. Epic has taken legal action to end Apple’s anti-competitive restrictions on mobile device marketplaces.”

The Verge states that this means Fortnite is essentially being split into two games – one for Apple players and a whole new one for everybody else. This is pretty disappointing considering Fortnite’s new seasons are usually jam-packed with updates like a new map and new in-game rewards. It’s especially disappointing that iPad, iPhone, and Mac users won’t get to see the new Marvel theme. 

The new season came out yesterday and apparently the Apple game is looking bleaker than ever. 

What Now?

The Apple Vs Epic feud has developed dramatically fast and it’s clear neither side is looking to back down anytime soon. Apple fears that Epic’s standpoint threatens the whole model of the App Store, which is set up purposefully to protect users. Backed by Spotify, Microsoft, Facebook, and even more, Epic adamantly disagrees, believing that Apple’s 30% commission policy is a tool to continue monopolizing the market. 

Until then, it looks as though Fortnite players using Apple hardware will continue to be caught in the crossfire until something can be done, unfortunately.

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