Aug 18, 2020 - Technology

Epic Games could lose developer access as battle with Apple ratchets up

Epic Games

Photo Illustration: Rafael Henrique/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Epic Games said Monday it will lose access to Apple's developer tools later this month and is asking a court to stop that from happening, in an escalation of the already high-stakes battle between the two companies.

Why it matters: The revelation could draw more developers into the issue, beyond those who were already opposed to Apple's 30% cut on digital goods sold through the App Store. Epic is warning the move threatens not only its own games, but also others' titles that use the company's popular Unreal Engine.

Flashback: Last week, Epic baited both Apple and Google into booting Fortnite from their app stores by adding an in-app payment system. Epic then sued both companies.

  • Attention around the fight has centered on Epic's beef with Apple, as being dropped from the Google Play store doesn't stop Epic from getting Fortnite onto Android phones by other means. (Not so for Apple's more closed ecosystem.)

The big picture: Many experts believe Apple is on decent legal ground to win a lawsuit, noting that such commissions and restrictions on in-app payments are common. (Video game consoles, for instance, have long done business in this manner.)

The real risk for Apple is the larger antitrust scrutiny that this and other heavy-handed techniques will draw, especially given that regulators and lawmakers in the U.S. and Europe have already been looking at the company's practices.

  • Apple said in a statement that Epic's problems would go away if would just take out the new in-app payment option: "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."

Epic, too, faces big risks. The company can still distribute Fortnite directly on Android, but has no way to get the game to new iOS users. Plus, if Epic does lose the ability to update Unreal for iOS, much of that business could go to rivals, including Unity, maker of an eponymous competing game engine.

  • And the company’s public pressure campaign could fall flat, as it centers on ensuring Epic can keep a 100% cut of microtransactions — already controversial in-game purchases that, in Fortnite’s case, mostly amount to cosmetic character upgrades. In its doomed Fortnite update, Epic did offer a discount for using its own payment system instead of going through Apple or Google. 

What's next: The first big court ruling will likely be on Epic's request for an injunction to maintain access to Apple's developer tools, though there could be more shoes to drop before even that happens.

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