The fight between Apple and Epic is only picking up steam, and, according to Epic’s latest development, it looks like the collateral damage has begun.
Epic has now filed a motion with the court to block Apple from retaliating or taking any adverse action against Epic’s business in response to the lawsuit it filed last week.
(That earlier lawsuit accused Apple of "unfair and anti-competitive actions," and itself was a response to Apple delisting Fortnite over Epic's inclusion of an unsanctioned payment method that bypassed Apple's mandated 30 percent revenue cut.)
We’ll have more on that full motion shortly, but one piece of news from the lawsuit developers might want to keep an eye on is Epic’s mention that Apple plans to cut off Epic’s access to development tools entirely by August 28.
While Fortnite is the Epic product that kickstarted this whole very public spat, the effects of that first blow are leaking into other aspects of Epic’s business. Apple’s notice to revoke Epic’s developer resources, according to Epic’s most recent legal document, include the tools and access Epic Games uses to keep its Unreal Engine compatible with Apple platforms.
“When Epic sued Apple to break its monopoly on app stores and in-app payments, Apple retaliated ferociously. It told Epic that by August 28, Apple will cut off Epic’s access to all development tools necessary to create software for Apple’s platforms—including for the Unreal Engine Epic offers to third-party developers, which Apple has never claimed violated any Apple policy.”
The motion filed by Epic today would presumably prevent Apple from revoking that access, but until a decision is made by the courts this entire affair makes for a troubling time for game developers using Unreal Engine to develop a game for Apple platforms.
It’s not that Apple is outright removing every game that uses Unreal Engine from iOS, but for many Unreal Engine-favoring mobile devs the result may as well be the same. Without access to Apple’s development tools, which cover development for iOS as well as MacOS, Epic is then unable to keep Unreal Engine compatible with new iOS versions, a harm that trickles down rather quickly to the developers using its engine.
"Millions of developers rely on the Unreal Engine to develop software, and hundreds of millions of consumers use that software," argues Epic.
It's an impact that would be felt short term by teams with in-development projects, but one that could also negatively impact devs that have already launched Unreal-powered games on Apple platforms should Apple roll up another update that renders older games unplayable, such as recent decisions to drop compatibility for 32-bit apps on iOS and on MacOS.
Epic’s concern, as noted in the lawsuit, is that this action on Apple’s part is targeting an unrelated section of Epic’s business and that, “if the Unreal Engine can no longer support Apple platforms, the software developers that use it will be forced to use alternatives.”
"Developers that intend to sell their apps for use on iOS or macOS devices will have to forgo the Unreal Engine in favor of other engines," reads the motion. "The effects will reverberate well beyond video games; it will affect developers who use the Unreal Engine on Apple products in many fields. 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. This is quintessential irreparable harm."
Apple, for its part, maintains that Epic deliberately violated its App Store policies and that any action taken is a result of that. The company has yet to issue a statement on this latest development, but when reached for comment by CNBC Apple called back to the statement it made last week when all this first began.
“Epic agreed to the App Store terms and guidelines freely and we’re glad they’ve built such a successful business on the App Store,” reads that statement, originally issued in response to its delisting of Fortnite over Epic's addition of unsanctioned payment methods. “The fact that their business interest 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.”
“We will make every effort to work with Epic to resolve these violations so they can return Fortnite to the App Store.”
Update: (08/18/20): Apple has issued a new statement reiterating its stance that Epic can easily remedy the current situation by rolling back the Fortnite update that allowed players to make unsanctioned payments on iOS devices.
In a statement sent to Bloomberg reporter Mark Gurman, Apple explained it wants Epic to remain a part of the Apple Developer Program, but said that will only be possible if the Fortnite and Unreal Engine maker halts its attempts to become an exception to App Store rules -- which it claims help protect App Store users.
"The App Store is designed to be a safe and trusted place for users and a great business opportunity for all developers. Epic has been one of the most successful developers on the App Store, growing into a multibillion dollar business that reaches millions of iOS customers around the world. We very much want to keep the company as part of the Apple Developer Program and their apps on the Store," explained Apple.
"The problem Epic has created for itself can easily be remedied if they submit an update of their app that reverts it to comply with the guidelines they agreed to and which apply to all developers. We won't make an exception for Epic because we don't think it's right to put their business interests ahead of the guidelines that protect our customers."