Epic Games managed to save the future of their proprietary Unreal Engine. Following the Court decision, Epic’s 3D visual-motor will continue to support Apple so it will work iOS devices. Moreover, this decision is permanent.
Fortnite won’t return to the App Store, though. At least not right now and not until Epic takes back their first-party payment option.
The case is taking baby steps, so it’s safe to assume it will go on for more than a year. As the story advances, though, we need to look at the bigger picture.
The legal feud between Epic and Apple
Let’s make a quick rundown of what we’ve seen so far between these two tech behemoths.
The feature allows users to buy V-Bucks directly from Fortnite’s creator. The result is that the prices are about 20% lower, but Apple doesn’t take its much-needed fee! Currently, the new payment system is running on PS4, Xbox One, PC, Nintendo Switch, and Android.
Apple decided to kick Fortnite off its App Store for breaking the rules. All developers must forfeit a 30% fee for app purchases and in-app purchases as well.
Epic responded with a civil lawsuit against the tech giant. At the same time, they steered a PR campaign claiming Apple has monopolistic practices on the iOS ecosystem.
The Unreal Engine faced iOS extinction
Apple’s first decision on the case was looking to hurt the business of a lot of people who had nothing to do with the matter at hand.
A couple of days later, Epic revealed Apple threatened to end Epic’s developer account. That means no more iOS software tools for Epic and Unreal Engine devs.
That would stop the game maker from creating any future software for Mac or iOS.
Simultaneously, any software and game developer working on Epic’s Unreal Engine would suffer the same consequences. Worldwide software companies of all sizes could become collateral damage.
In particular, we’re talking about Apple’s SDK (Software Developers Kit). Every developer trying to create an app for iOS or macOS needs SDK support from Apple.
Right there and then, Epic filed for a restraining order. They wanted to protect the Unreal Engine against Apple’s retaliation.
Epic CEO Tim Sweeney adds Apple also controls everything about its phones and tablets. The company has a massive influence on what and when its users see. And there are over one billion iPhone users.
Higher prices and unfair commercial practices are just the tip of the iceberg of the problems with Apple's app distribution monopoly. Here we see Apple dictating editorial decisions to social apps regarding content that's lawful in the US. https://t.co/NFkEaX6O0W
— Tim Sweeney (@TimSweeneyEpic) October 8, 2020
Epic’s First Victory Leads to Unreal Engine protection
In truth, Epic got in trouble against both Apple and Google. Still, they decided to go all-in against Apple while forgetting about Google.
As of right now, Fortnite is not available on the Play Store. Google kicked out the app on August 17 as well. However, you can still download the Battle Royale through other means to play on Android.
Fortnite is currently running on Chapter 2, Season 4.
It’s not the same on Apple, though. Apple’s store is the only way of getting apps for iOS devices.
Even developers who own their own stores need to submit their individual products to Apple, wait for their approval and expect the fee cut.
Amazon managed to make its cloud gaming service Luna available to Apple. We don’t know what it took to convince Apple. However, we do know that the store will work through the Safari web browser.
Apple is probably going to take a cut from Luna either way.
The lack of competing app stores on iOS devices is what Epic took to empower their case. On August 24, both companies had their first preliminary hearing.
So far, it seems the Court partially agreed with Epic. But neither side is getting a full victory yet.
Needless to say, the game developer won the restraining order against Apple. Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers ruled the phone-maker can’t end Epic’s SDK support.
However, the Court also deemed Epic the culprit in the case as they could simply roll back their troublesome new payment system. So, no, the law didn’t restore Fortnite’s position on Apple.
Yet, Epic doesn’t believe it’s fair that Apple takes such a large cut from developers. Reviewing the app and approving it for iOS is not enough of an argument for Epic.
Let's math this. 500 reviewers * 40 hours per week / 100,000 apps = 12 minutes of review time per app.
— Tim Sweeney (@TimSweeneyEpic) September 24, 2020
Apple continues to push
Epic is only asking Apple to lay down its “unfair business practices.” Apple, though, is decidedly more lethal.
Apple sued Epic back, seeking monetary compensation for the contract breach. In particular, Apple says their rivals started the legal battle to draw attention to the failing Fortnite IP.
Apple still took matters into their own hands. They banned Epic titles away from their iPhones and iPads, which means both current and future games.
Epic responded quickly. They filed a new set of documents to the Court to restore Fortnite to Apple’s mobile devices.
In other words, Apple terminated Epic’s account. iOS Fortnite users are unable to update or download the game.
Another costly consequence was the iOS-exclusive Infinity Blade trilogy. A title that pushed the mobile gaming industry forward is dead.
Apple might as well block the Web but allow individual pages back if each update go through Apple certification and pays them 30%.
Any principle that supports Apple’s app distribution and payments monopoly also supports an Apple web monopoly. The fight is for basic freedoms.
— Tim Sweeney (@TimSweeneyEpic) September 11, 2020
Judge Rogers received arguments from both companies and recommended a full jury trial. The Goliath vs. Bigger Goliath trial could take place on July 2021.
However, both parties said they would prefer the case to be resolved by a judge.
Court Favored in Favor of the Unreal Engine
Judge Yvonne Gonzales Rogers denied Epic’s primary claim. The game developer wanted to force Apple to reinstate Fortnite on their mobile devices.
And while Apple can’t take any action against Unreal Engine, the Court doesn’t say anything about other games from Epic.
That also means the status quo stays the same. Epic is banned from publishing games on iOS and can no longer distribute Fortnite. If anything, they need to push back the Epic Payment System to change the state of affairs.
Another thing to note is that the Court’s decision doesn’t ensure that Epic receives Apple’s SDK.
More importantly, Epic claims Apple’s review process is also unfair. While they take the “reviewing” as the primary reason for the 30% fee, Apple house apps don’t have a review on the store.
App Store review guidelines 4.9.1: Every streaming game must be submitted as a separate app, so it's subject to user reviews & ratings. But Apple immunizes its own apps – making it the ONLY software developer whose apps are listed without any negative feedback or comments. pic.twitter.com/Mzutn6WLS7
— Ben Volach (@benvol) September 14, 2020
Something else is happening in the US Congress. There’s a debate going on that deems Apple’s practices harmful for both consumers and developers.
In essence, consumers receive higher prices and lowered offers from Apple. At the same time, Apple uses their privileged position in the market to easily vanquish its competition.
According to congress, Apple “exerts monopoly power in the mobile app store market,” which “has resulted in harms to competitors and competition, reducing quality and innovation among app developers, and increasing prices & reducing choices for consumers.” https://t.co/SR7H51LCuP pic.twitter.com/CBrTjEoMLN
— Riles 🦄 (@rileytestut) October 6, 2020
The future of the case
The fate of the Unreal Engine is safe. That’s good news for many developers working with the proprietary tech.
You have to know there are hundreds of games running on Unreal Engine 4, not to count the prior versions of the software. Gears of War 4, Hellblade, Dead by Daylight, Kingdom Hearts III, and Days Gone are fine examples.
An Epic spokesperson cleared the company’s thoughts on the matter:
“We will continue to develop iOS and Mac under the court’s protection, and we will pursue all avenues to end Apple’s anti-competitive behavior.”
Tim Cook’s company also addressed the issue. They claimed, once again, that every developer living in the iOS ecosystem must follow the same rules:
“Our customers depend on the App Store being a safe and trusted place where all developers follow the same set of rules,”
Apple and Epic will meet in Federal Court by August or September 2021.
The position of the judge
According to CNN, Judge Rogers mentioned that a 30 percent sales fee is the standard for the video-game industry. Sony, Microsoft, Nintendo, and Steam, the four largest gaming storefronts, follow the same rules.
The Epic Games Store benefits developers more, but they still take a 22% cut approximately.
Rogers also believes Epic poses a threat to iOS security. If there can be one developer challenging Apple’s fees as a distributor, there can be many.
On Epic’s part, they asked the Cupertino company to allow other app stores on their iOS system. For example, a user could download the Epic Games Store on their iPhone and enjoy different offers, prices, and products than what he sees on the App Store. Isn’t that what capitalism is all about?
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The future of Epic’s legal feud
No wonder Epic’s legal fight has weakened third-party developers’ relationship with the iPhone creator. Even Microsoft has taken the opportunity to complain about Apple’s restrictive store. Not even their xCloud cloud gaming service works on iOS.
Apple recently underwent some policy changes to “allow” Microsoft’s gaming service on their iOS devices. However, they ask Microsoft to submit every individual title of the Xbox Game Pass Ultimate service as a separate app on the App Store for review.
Even though Microsoft has taken a long time to get their Xbox Store in shape, Apple’s solution would destroy their efforts. According to Microsoft, it would make for a horrible consumer experience. So, they are not launching xCloud for iOS yet.
Apple’s policy “clarification” for streaming services like xCloud retains their curation monopoly and implies a horrible fee structure: 30% to Apple, 30% to the streaming service, and 40% trickling down to actual creators. Of course the costs would be passed on to consumers. https://t.co/CGRwIY7kal
— Tim Sweeney (@TimSweeneyEpic) September 11, 2020
Other companies that have joined the fight include Epic, Tile, Spotify, Deezer, The Match Group (Tinder’s owner), and others. According to Epic’s CEO Tim Sweeney, these companies created the Coalition for App Fairness.
“The Coalition for App Fairness is an independent nonprofit organization founded by industry-leading companies to advocate for freedom of choice and fair competition across the app ecosystem.”
The Coalition “defends the fundamental rights of creators to build apps and to do business directly with their customers.” It’s a rally against the App Store’s policies.
Many other small game and software developers are also joining the feud. They claim Apple’s policies are withholding technological advancement. An example? Cross-play and overall cloud gaming are not possible on Apple’s devices.
Opening up Apple’s iOS mobile devices seems in the best interest of many.
I don’t want to make this article any longer. If you’re interested, I advise you to press the button below to check what the Coalition has to say about Apple: