October 13, 2020
In the latest update to the ongoing battle between Apple and Epic Games, Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers of the Northern District of California ruled that Apple does not have to reinstate Epic’s game “Fortnite” in its App Store. Epic Games, to avoid Apple’s 30 percent commission on apps sold in its store, offered its users a way to download the game on its own site. In retaliation, Apple banned “Fortnite” from the App Store. Gonzalez Rogers said Apple could continue to ban “Fortnite” because Epic violated its contract.
The New York Times reports Gonzalez Rogers “also said that Apple could not ban Unreal Engine, Epic’s developer tools, from its platforms because of the ‘potential significant damage to both developers and gamers’ who rely on the software’.”
NYT notes that, “the mixed ruling showed the high cost of taking on a tech behemoth like Apple, even for an established company like Epic.” As Epic and Apple are preparing for a May trial, the 116 million “Fortnite” gamers who accessed it via Apple will “continue to be kept away.”
The ruling could have been averted last month when “Apple said it was willing to reinstate ‘Fortnite’ to its App Store before a trial if Epic would return to complying with its rules.” Gonzalez Rogers proposed that Apple’s fees be placed into an escrow account until after the trial, but “Epic refused, arguing that doing so would be complying with a contract it views as unlawful.” Gonzalez Rogers stated that, “I didn’t buy that argument before … I’m not particularly impressed with it now.”
Both Apple and Google have a “tight grip over smartphone apps in their app stores … [and] require that developers use their payment systems and pay a 30 percent cut of any money they make in their apps.” Epic chief executive Tim Sweeney said his company came “gradually to the realization that we had to fight this, not just by words, but also by really broad actions.”
What Sweeney wants is for “Apple to change its requirements that apps use its payment system and shell out a 30 percent fee … [and] it also wants to operate its own app store within Apple’s.” The companies began fighting in August, “when Epic violated Apple’s and Google’s rules by directing ‘Fortnite’ users to its own payments service.”
As the battle has heated up over the past few weeks, others have joined Epic’s side, with Microsoft filing a declaration in support of the company and issuing developer-empowering principles for its own app store. Facebook also voiced its opposition to Apple’s 30 percent commission, and “smaller app makers, normally wary of angering the tech giants, have found strength in numbers.” In September, a group of 12+ small app developers formed the Coalition for App Fairness, a non-profit group “to push for changes to the app stores.”