Apple says Epic’s Fortnite can come back any time it wants to play by the rules


No Fortnite, for now.


Apple’s argument with Epic Games, the company behind the popular battle title Fortnite, goes back to June, the tech giant said in a Friday filing. And it started with Epic asking for a deal to offer a competing app store and payment system, separate from Apple’s, on iPhones.

Apple said it received an email from Epic CEO Tim Sweeney on June 30, asking for a “side letter” that would create a special deal for Epic, allowing the company to break App Store guidelines other companies can’t. Among those guidelines, Apple doesn’t allow developers to create separate app stores, nor does it allow companies to offer alternative payment processing in their apps. In his email, Sweeney added he hoped Apple would offer a rule change for all other iPhone and iPad developers.

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“Sweeney expressly acknowledged that his proposed changes would be in direct breach of multiple terms of the agreements between Epic and Apple. Mr. Sweeney acknowledged that Epic could not implement its proposal unless the agreements between Epic and Apple were modified,” Phil Schiller, an Apple Fellow and former head of worldwide marketing, said in a statement filed with the court. 

“Apple has never allowed this,” Apple said in its filing. “We strongly believe these rules are vital to the health of the Apple platform and carry enormous benefits for both consumers and developers.” 

What followed, after more emails between the two companies, was an early morning message from Sweeney to Apple on Aug. 13. In it, he said Epic would break the App Store rules. A few hours later, Epic activated a hidden payments system in the Fortnite app, breaking Apple’s regulations.

The back-and-forth offers a look into the discussions between the two companies before Epic activated the code in Fortnite that lets players use its payment processing instead of Apple’s. The iPhone maker responded, booting Fortnite from its App Store, which prompted Epic to sue. Since then, iPhone and iPad users who have Fortnite installed on their phones can still play, but everyone else is no longer able to download the app.

Apple says Epic is causing its own problems, and could return to the App Store if it merely removed the offending payments system. Epic’s Sweeney says he’s advocating for all developers on Apple’s platform.

“We hope that Apple will reflect on its platform restrictions and begin to make historic changes that bring to the world’s billion iOS consumers the rights and freedoms enjoyed on the world’s leading open computing platforms including Windows and macOS,” Sweeney tweeted Friday, after Apple’s court filing.

It all boils down to money — who has how much of it, and for what reasons. Apple has stuck by its up to 30% commission for payments made in iOS apps, despite developer complaints. The company says the commission is fair and in line with fees charged by other companies, such as Google with its Play Store. But companies large and small increasingly disagree. And it’s causing regulators to take a look at the issue too.

Spotify filed a complaint with the European Union over Apple’s commission, helping to touch off an investigation into the App Store, announced in June.

Regulators in the US are also investigating Apple, and lawmakers on Capitol Hill are considering action. In a July congressional hearing on antitrust, Apple CEO Tim Cook was asked whether his company treats developers fairly and whether it retaliates against ones it doesn’t like. “We do not retaliate or bully people,” Cook said. “It’s strongly against our company culture.”

Epic argued in a filing to the court that Apple “retaliated ferociously” to its moves with Fortnite, threatening to ban Epic from its developer program. Epic says outside developers who use its Unreal Engine game developer tools would be hurt as a result. Epic has argued to the court, and in public, that Apple’s inflexible rules stifle competition and hurt app developers broadly, too. 

Epic’s lawsuit alleges that Apple has become a “behemoth seeking to control markets, block competition and stifle innovation.”

“Apple is bigger, more powerful, more entrenched and more pernicious than monopolies of yesteryear,” Epic said in its initial suit. “Apple’s size and reach far exceeds that of any technology monopolist in history.”

Bringing back Fortnite

Fortnite has become an international phenomenon, with more than 250 million players.

James Martin/CNET

Apple’s filings on Friday were in response to Epic’s request to a judge for a temporary restraining order, effectively allowing Fortnite back to the App Store even though it’s violating Apple’s guidelines. The court is planning its first hearing next week.

Apple said Epic doesn’t have legal grounds to have a court force Fortnite back onto its App Store because, as Apple said, Fortnite is suffering from “self-inflicted wounds.” “All of the injury Epic claims to itself, game players, and developers could have been avoided if Epic filed its lawsuit without breaching its agreements,” Apple said.

Apple further repeated its offer for Fortnite to come back to its App Store, so long as Epic removes the payment system breaking its rules. “All of that alleged injury for which Epic improperly seeks emergency relief could disappear tomorrow if Epic cured its breach,” Apple said in its filing. 

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