Last week Epic Games fired a shot across the bow of big tech firms Apple and Google and the situation has evolved.
The latest development in Epic Games’ battle against app stores and the cut that Google and Apple take from app developers sees Apple threatening to revoke Epic Games’ developer tools.
In a letter sent to Epic Games (included in the developer’s latest court filing here) Apple states that the Fortnite move last week is in violation of the Apple Developer Program License Agreement.
As such, Epic Games’ membership in the developer program has been suspended as of 14th August. Apple is willing to lift the suspension so long as changes are made to Fortnite.
That is to say that, if Epic Games removes the option to bypass the App Store for in-app payments, it can go back onto the App Store.
That means that Epic Games has until 28th August to make a call on whether it wants to take a stand against Apple, or admit that it has punched up and can’t survive without Apple and its App Store.
We don’t say that lightly either.
While Fortnite leaving Apple’s platform is a big deal, the even bigger deal is that should Epic Games let this ban from the App Store go through, it won’t be able to continue working on the Unreal Engine on macOS and iOS hardware.
“Left unchecked, Apple’s actions will irreparably damage Epic’s reputation among Fortnite users and be catastrophic for the future of the separate Unreal Engine business. If the Unreal Engine can no longer support Apple platforms, the software developers that use it will be forced to use alternatives. The damage to Epic’s ongoing business and to its reputation and trust with its customers will be unquantifiable and irreparable. Preliminary injunctive relief is necessary to prevent Apple from crushing Epic before this case could ever get to judgment,” Epic Games’ legal team wrote in its filing.
While Epic Games has something of a point there, it doesn’t change the fact that it knowingly violated the terms and conditions of using Apple’s platform.
Of course there is a larger discussion to be had about the closed-off, walled garden approach Apple has as regards its mobile ecosystem, but surely Epic Games could’ve had that conversation without putting its business at risk.
“Epic has been one of the most successful developers on the App Store, growing into a multibillion dollar business that reaches millions of iOS customers around the world. We very much want to keep the company as part of the Apple Developer Program and their apps on the Store. The problem Epic has created for itself is one that can be easily remedied if they submit an update of their app that reverts it to comply with the guidelines they agreed to and which apply to all developers. 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,” Apple said in a statement sent to Bloomberg journalist Mark Gurman.
And that’s really the crux of the matter here.
Since last week many have claimed that Epic Games is trying to help smaller developers who can’t pull a move such as this against Apple.
While Epic Games surely does have the weight to argue for changes to the Apple App Store and Google Play Store, is sneaking a payment change into an application the best way to do that?
We’d argue that it isn’t and that Epic Games did this as some part of a publicity stunt. Of course that is speculation but the fact that a court filing was ready to go along with that 198-Fortnite video has us wondering what Epic Games’ real intentions are.
While making app store’s kinder for smaller developers might be the play here, if Epic Games isn’t granted an injunction, we suspect we’ll see a different tune coming from the developer in the weeks to come.