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Epic Games sues Apple to end what Epic calls 'unfair and anti-competitive actions'

This morning's Fortnite update is looking more and more like a coordinated attack from Epic Games against Apple with each passing hour.

Alissa McAloon, Publisher

August 13, 2020

4 Min Read

This morning’s Fortnite update is looking more and more like a coordinated attack from Epic Games against Apple with each passing hour.

The Fortnite developer has now filed a lawsuit against Apple, only maybe an hour after Apple pulled Fortnite from the App Store for flagrant rule breaking, with Epic accusing the platform holder of unlawful, unfair, and anti-competitive actions through its App Store policies.

For a quick bit of background on today’s developments:

This all started this morning when Epic Games updated Fortnite to include a payment method that bypassed the usual platform fees taken out of in-app purchases. (More on that here.)

Apple fired back this afternoon by pulling Fornite from the App Store, claiming that payment scheme and update violated its App Store Guidelines. (And, more on that here.)

Moments ago, Epic broadcast an in-game short to Fortnite parodying an Apple commercial and displaying the message “Epic Games has defied the App Store Monopoly. In retaliation, Apple is blocking Fortnite from a billion devices. Join the fight to stop 2020 from becoming 1984.” (Found here.)

Looking back to today’s lawsuit, Epic Games says its ultimate goal is to “end Apple’s unfair and anti-competitive actions that Apple undertakes to unlawfully maintain its monopoly” both on the iOS platform where the App Store is the only sanctioned app distribution option, and in the iOS payment processing market that locks developers into funneling payments through Apple and forfeiting 30 percent of revenue in the process.

However, Epic maintains that this isn’t strictly retaliation for the still-warm remains of Fortnite’s App Store page. That calculated challenge against Apple’s policies and Fortnite’s swift (and seemingly expected) removal at Apple’s hands were merely the catalyst Epic used to challenge the very principles powering Apple’s tight control of its iOS ecosystem.

Per the lawsuit: “Epic is not seeking monetary compensation from this Court for the injuries it has suffered. Nor is Epic seeking favorable treatment for itself, a single company. Instead, Epic is seeking 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 is taking aim at Apple’s App Store policies and saying that the anti-competitive attitudes powering them causes “sweeping harms” to developers as a whole by dampening competition, denying devs the ability to choose storefronts or payment processing options, and forcing them to pay a 30 percent revenue “tax” to reach Apple’s millions of iOS users. It argues that many of those same harms impact other platform holders and payment processors by denying both the chance to compete on iOS. This trickles down to iOS users too, argues Epic, by denying consumers choices or any of the benefits healthy store competition on iOS might offer them in terms of app or in-app purchase pricing, for instance.

Epic's Nineteen Eighty-Fortnite video takes aim at Apple's own origin story.

Fortnite makes for an excellent illustration of Epic Games’ complaints against Apple, which is no doubt the reason behind today’s theatrical back-and-forth. Epic CEO Tim Sweeney himself has often spoken out against the 30 percent cut platform holders like Apple (and Google on Android) mandate for apps on their storefronts. But, unlike Google, Apple does not allow companies to host their own app stores on its operating system, a system that currently claims a userbase of over one billion users according to Epic.

If it did allow third-party stores, Epic says it would have launched its own Epic Games Store app on iOS which, without a Apple 30 percent revenue tax, would allow it to charge Fortnite users less for in-app purchases and allow them to use a variety of payment processing tools.

That lower IAP price isn’t entirely hypothetical either; Epic planted that seed earlier today when it patched its own payment processing method into Fortnite and charged players less for purchasing premium currency through that Apple-bypassing method. 

Epic’s ‘direct payment’ ploy survived on the App Store for mere hours, a fact Epic is gleeful to highlight in its lawsuit as proof that Apple cannot “tolerate this healthy competition and compete on the merits of its offering.” The company also calls attention to the fact that it has spoken and attempted to negotiate with Apple privately to no avail, leading to today’s lawsuit.

New users won’t be able to download Fortnite on iOS now that its been forcibly delisted.  Existing Fortnite users are able to still play and purchase currency (through either Epic or Apple’s payment processing options!) but won’t be able to receive future game updates for the massive and consistently updated online game. 

Epic points to this retaliation and its direct impact iOS-favoring Fortnite players, as a direct example of the dangers of the monopoly it says Apple has on iOS, saying: “Apple’s removal of Fortnite is yet another example of Apple flexing its enormous power in order to impose unreasonable restraints and unlawfully maintain its 100 percent monopoly over the iOS In-App Payment Processing Market."

Still, the company isn’t seeking any monetary damages for itself and instead asks the court to strike down Apple’s “anti-competitive restrictions on the iOS ecosystem” and “and ensure that Apple mobile devices are open to the same competition as Apple’s personal computers.”

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