The controversy surrounding Epic Games’ Fortnite app store ban from Apple’s iOS took a surprising turn. Lawyers representing Apple and Epic Games attended the proceedings before a judge via Zoom on Monday. The judge ruled partially in favour of both the parties rendering the first showdown between these Big Tech in a split.
The whole fiasco started when Epic Games challenged Apple’s policies regarding in-app payments by offering an option to purchase the V-Bucks feature in the iOS version of Fortnite directly from the developer. Apple, who charges 30% commission on any in-app purchases responded by banning Fortnite indefinitely. Epic games responded by unleashing a series of PR campaigns and filing a lawsuit.
“Apple’s retaliation represents an existential threat to Epic’s Unreal Engine,” Epic’s lawsuit says. “OS providers like Apple routinely make certain software and developer tools available to software developers, for free or a small fee, to enable the development of software that will run on the OS. Apple intends to deny Epic access to that widely available material.”
The first showdown resulted in Epic games gaining a slight edge over rivals Apple. Epic games argued that Apple’s ban was just a retaliatory move by the tech giants that would impact developers “well-beyond video games.”
The court decision granted a partial restraining order against Apple which means Epic Games will be able to continue active development of the Unreal Engine on iOS and macOS.
Epic founder Tim Sweeney repeated that point in a declaration included with the lawsuit, saying that the consequences of losing access to Apple’s Developer Program will be “devastating.”
“Developers invest considerable time and resources learning to use and to develop games based on Unreal Engine, often with the expectation that those games will be supported on Apple’s platforms,” Sweeney said. “This is particularly true because the mobile gaming category is substantially larger than computing or console gaming, and mobile remains a high-growth area in the gaming industry.
In an eight-page ruling following oral testimonies and arguments over Zoom, U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers said that while Epic’s claim of antitrust against Apple is not yet proven to have any merits, “serious questions do exist” about Apple’s App Store policies. Gonzalez Rogers said Epic “has made a preliminary showing of irreparable harm” when it came to the possibility of being blocked from Unreal Engine development
Epic Games’ lawyers argued that revoking the company’s access to developer privileges would make the Unreal Engine unusable on Apple platforms. They also pointed out that several other developers have already started fleeing from using it.
“The ensuing impact on the Unreal Engine’s viability, and the trust and confidence developers have in that engine, cannot be repaired with a monetary award,” the lawsuit says. “This is quintessential irreparable harm.”
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However, Epic Games’ Fortnite will stay banned from Apple and Google’s play store.
Despite those potentially very dire consequences, Sweeney doesn’t sound like he’s quite ready to throw in the towel on the Goliath vs Bigger Goliath fight just yet.