Epic asks court to block Apple's 'retaliation' as Fortnite, Unreal Engine face consequences

Epic is asking a California court to protect it from what the company describes as retaliation from Apple over the escalating conflict between the two massive tech companies.

Epic is asking a California court to protect it from what the company describes as retaliation from Apple over the escalating conflict between the two massive tech companies.

It’s the latest development in a dispute that rapidly unfolded late last week and ultimately saw Epic Games filing a lawsuit against both Apple and Google for allegedly unfair and anti-competitive actions relating to each platform holders' handling of third-party storefronts and payment options. 

It’s a lot to catch up on, so here’s a quick summary: 

This all started August 13 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 that afternoon by pulling Fornite from the App Store, claiming that payment scheme and update violated its App Store Guidelines. (And, more on that here.)

Soon after, 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” to players. 

Around that same time, Epic filed a lawsuit against Apple arguing its App Store policies were unlawful and anti-competitive. (More on that here.)

Much later into the day, Google also opted to remove Fortnite from Android’s Google Play store. That action was similarly followed up with a lawsuit, though the examples at the core of Epic’s issue with Google differ slightly due to the platform’s more open nature. (More here.)

That brings us to today where Epic Games has revealed that Apple’s action against it extends much further than simply delisting Fortnite.

As stated in this recent filing, Apple has decided to revoke Epic Games’ entire developer account, preventing Epic both from having apps on the App Store and making it impossible for the company to keep iOS and MacOS support up to date in Unreal Engine.

That, as explored more in-depth here, would prevent external developers from creating iOS or MacOS games through Unreal Engine or updating existing games down the line, while Epic itself won’t be able to update its Unreal Engine client on MacOS either.

Though Apple has yet to make a statement on this most recent development, its comments from last week seems to indicate that Apple views its reaction as a natural consequence of Epic Games’ decision to knowingly violate the App Store guidelines with the controversial Fortnite update.

Epic disagrees, and is asking the court to bar Apple from taking what it views as retaliation against Epic’s lawsuit against Apple. From today’s motion: “Not content simply to remove Fortnite from the App Store, Apple is attacking Epic’s entire business in unrelated areas.”

As such, Epic is asking the court to prevent Apple from delisting or refusing to list Fortnite or any of its future updates on the basis of Epic’s payment processing options, from removing or modifying versions of Fortnite already present on players’ devices, or from taking any “adverse action” against Epic (like the decision to cut its developer tools access) over Epic's decision to include payment processing options.

“When Epic gave users of its app Fortnite a choice of how they wanted to make purchases, Apple retaliated by removing Fortnite from its App Store,” reads Epic’s motion. “Then 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.”

Epic argues that it stands to face significant harms in the short term if Apple is allowed to carry out its alleged retaliation. Part of its argument in favor of the motion hinges on the fact that Epic believes it is “likely to succeed on the merits of its antitrust claim” given antitrust rules outlined in Section 1 of the commerce-regulating law The Sherman Act.

But even if Apple were to come out on top, Epic argues any damages against Apple could be “redressed monetarily” while the harms Epic says it will endure in the meantime could not be fixed through the exchanging of funds.

Part of that is because of the reputational harms Epic says it faces by Apple’s actions against it and its properties, both with the player base of Fortnite users and with the community of external developers that use Unreal Engine in their day-to-day. 

On the Fortnite side of things, iOS users already can’t receive any of Fortnite’s frequent updates and, once they fall behind, will lose the ability to play with the full pool of up-to-date Fortnite players on other platforms. This stands to, from Epic’s perspective, destroy the trust between Epic and players, “a loss that is impossible to quantify.”

The potential harm Epic perceives against external developers that either use Unreal Engine to create iOS and Mac games or the devs who primarily work in Unreal Engine from a MacOS-powered device has already been stated. “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,” reads the motion. “This is quintessential irreparable harm.” 

In Epic’s words: “Without [an injunction], millions of players will lose their ability to stay connected on Epic games, and an entire ecosystem based on the Unreal Engine will collapse.”

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