January 19, 2021

Epic Games says Apple threatened to revoke developer account

Epic Games said on Monday that Apple has threatened to revoke its developer account, meaning Epic will no longer be able to make apps for the App Store, the only way for consumers to install software on an iPhone. 

The escalation comes the week after Epic Games, makers of the popular Fortnite video game, released a new direct payment mechanism inside the game designed to bypass the App Store’s payment system, from which Apple takes 30%. Apple then removed Fortnite from the App Store, saying Fortnite violated its rules, and Epic Games sued it in an attempt to force it to change its business practices.

Epic is one of several companies currently engaged in high-profile disputes over Apple’s control of the App Store and its 30% fee. Spotify, Match Group, and Facebook have all publicly criticized Apple’s App Store policies recently. Congress probed Apple CEO Tim Cook in a hearing in July about the App Store’s fees and policies. 

Epic Games said on Monday that Apple had given it until August 28 before removing the game makers’ developer accounts, which would make it unable to release new games or publish updates to its current apps. Currently, Epic Games publishes one game on the U.S. App Store, a puzzle game called Battle Breakers.

Epic Games also makes the Unreal Engine, software which many iPhone and Android games use to integrate realistic graphics and physics. In its filing, Epic says that Apple’s move to remove its developer accounts represents an “existential threat” to Unreal Engine.

“Then when Epic sued Apple to break its monopoly on app stores and in-app payments, Apple retaliated ferociously,” Epic Games lawyers wrote in a Monday filing. “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 Games is claiming that Apple is “attacking Epic’s entire business in unrelated areas.” It’s seeking an injunction that will “preserve status quo” and permit the company to continue to sell apps, including Fortnite, on the App Store. 

Last week, Epic Games also rolled out a marketing campaign encouraging players to “join the fight” against Apple. The short video made by Epic Games included an unflattering caricature of Cook as a rotten apple.

Epic Games also sued Google last week. Google runs the Play Store for Android phones. It has similar policies to Apple on in-app purchases and fees, but the Android operating system provides ways to install software outside of Google’s marketplace, including third-party app stores.

In a late Monday statement, Apple said it wants to keep Epic and its apps in its store, but won’t make an exception for the company.

“The problem Epic has created for itself is one that 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,” Apple said. “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.”

— CNBC’s Josh Lipton contributed to this report.

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