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‘Fortnite’ maker Epic Games says Apple’s actions will cause ‘irreparable harm’

Screenshot from a "Fortnite" video game.
Epic Games says it will suffer irreparable harm unless a court orders Apple to restore its access to developer tools. Above, a screenshot from a “Fortnite” video game.
(Image courtesy of Epic Games )

Apple Inc. threatened to remove Epic Games Inc.’s developer account, cut off its developer tools and limit its ability to supply key graphics technology to other apps, the latest skirmish in a battle over app store fees.

The iPhone maker’s plans were disclosed in a court filing by Epic Games on Monday. The developer has asked a federal court in California to block Apple’s removal of the popular Epic Games title “Fortnite” from the App Store. The game company sued Apple last week over the move.

Epic Games also asked the court to stop Apple from terminating its developer account Aug. 28. Epic Games said it will probably suffer irreparable harm if the court doesn’t order the “Fortnite” game app to be made available to smartphone users.

“The court cannot, on today’s motion, level the playing field against Apple,” Epic Games’ lawyers wrote in the filing Monday. “But the court can order that while its practices are being litigated, Apple cannot retaliate by blocking Fortnite and tools for the Unreal Engine and harm the hundreds of millions who — especially in this time of social distancing — use Epic’s software to play, build and stay connected.”

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This represents a major escalation of an antitrust dispute that has been building for more than a year. Epic
Games’ Unreal Engine is a suite of software tools used by millions of developers to build 3-D games and other products.

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

“I do think that is likely to be perceived as an overkill response. They are supersizing the confrontation,” said Lewis Ward, research director of gaming at IDC.

Apple didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

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The removal of Epic Games’ developer account would mean that the company can’t sell new apps to more than 1 billion iPhone, iPad and Mac users. It could mean the removal of the company’s other games. It sells one game on the Mac App Store called “Shadow Complex Remastered” and another iPhone and iPad game called “Battle Breakers.”

The disagreement stems from a longstanding Apple App Store rule saying that games must bill their subscriptions and in-app purchases through Apple’s billing system, which charges a 30% fee. On Thursday morning, Epic Games began offering customers a way to directly buy items for Fortnite and circumvent the fees. Hours later, Apple pulled the app. Google followed suit later in the day, removing “Fortnite” from its Play app store.

In its court filing, Epic Games highlighted comments from Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook from a recent antitrust hearing in Congress. Cook was asked by lawmakers whether Apple has ever retaliated against a developer who complained publicly about the App Store. Cook said his company doesn’t “retaliate or bully people,” according to the filing.

“But Apple has done just that,” Epic Games wrote.

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Bloomberg writer Olga Kharif contributed to this report.


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