Apple wins first round of Epic battle to keep Fortnite off App Store

The game developer, however, was granted the right to continue offering its Unreal Engine graphics technology to other apps

Apple and Epic Games are locked in a dispute over the distribution of income from in-app purchases of the game Fortnite. EPA
Apple and Epic Games are locked in a dispute over the distribution of income from in-app purchases of the game Fortnite. EPA

Apple was spared from having to immediately reinstate Epic Games’ Fortnite on its App Store, an early court victory for the iPhone maker in an intensifying battle over the tolls charged to app makers.

But US District Judge Yvonne Rogers’s ruling late on Monday was not a total loss for Epic, as she granted the company’s request for a temporary order that blocks Apple from limiting the game developer’s ability to provide Unreal Engine, its key graphics technology, to other apps.

The mixed ruling comes as Apple faces a backlash from some app developers who say its standard App Store fee of 30 per cent and other policies are unfair and designed to benefit the iPhone maker’s own services.

The fight blew up on August 13 when Epic told customers it would begin offering a discounted direct purchase plan for items in Fortnite. Apple then removed the game app, cutting off access for more than a billion iPhone and iPad customers.

Apple had no immediate comment on the ruling. Epic did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Ms Rogers said at a hearing earlier in the day that the case was not a “slam dunk” for either side and cautioned both sides that her temporary restraining order would not dictate the outcome of the litigation.

She set a September 28 hearing on Epic’s request for a preliminary injunction.

Epic breached its agreements with Apple by trying to make money on Fortnite purchases while using Apple’s platform free of charge, but did not breach any contracts related to its Unreal Engine and developer tools, Ms Rogers ruled.

By limiting Unreal Engine, “Apple has chosen to act severely”, hurting third-party developers who use Epic’s technology platform, Ms Rogers said.

“Epic Games and Apple are at liberty to litigate against each other, but their dispute should not create havoc to bystanders,” she wrote.

Epic’s Unreal Engine is a software suite used by developers to build 3D games and other products.

Cutting off Epic from Apple’s iOS and Mac developer tools would mean the gaming company can no longer distribute Unreal Engine to other developers, Epic said on Sunday in a legal filing.

Microsoft, which makes the Xbox, uses the technology for games developed for consoles, PCs and mobile devices, and is backing Epic in court.

Apple said that Epic chief executive Tim Sweeney sought a “side” deal seeking an exclusive storefront for Fortnite, a move that Apple executives argued would fundamentally upend how the App Store works.

Mr Sweeney maintains he was not asking for special treatment but for Apple to make the same option available to all developers.

Of the 2.2 million apps available on the App Store, the 30 per cent fee is billed to more than 350,000. Apple reduces the fee to 15 per cent after a consumer uses a subscription for more than a year.

Updated: August 25, 2020 03:39 PM

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