Fortnite and Unreal Engine maker Epic Games and Apple will have their first day in a California court Monday. At the heart of the lawsuit is how much Apple charges developers to sell apps, in-game content, and enhancements on its Apple App stores, the de facto marketplace controlled by the platform owner for its mobile devices such as the iPhone and iPad.
On Sunday, Epic founder and CEO Tim Sweeney summed up his general feelings about the court case on social media:
“The early days of Apple played a profound role in shaping my life and views on computing. Every Apple ][+ booted up to the BASIC programming language, and everyone was free to create and share software, and to grow businesses on their own volition.
“Epic is a company built on the aspiration of serving a new generation of developers and customers as openly and supportively as Apple did in the era when they invented personal computers. As we go into court tomorrow, it is for those original digital freedoms that we fight.”
In August of 2020, Epic added an in-game link to buy content for its Fortnite mobile game, circumventing both Apple App Store and Google Play, Google’s app store for Android mobile devices. Apple saw this as an attempt by Epic to dodge paying the 20 – 30% commission on each sale, and after a contentious back and forth email exchange, Apple banned Fortnite from its platform. Epic, expecting this to happen filed a lawsuit shortly thereafter; first in an attempt to get the app reinstated, and also to take aim at Apple in court over its app store practices.
In late September of 2020, Epic said that it wanted to have a jury trial, taking the decision-making process out of the hands of U.S. District Court Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers, who will oversee the case.
At around the same time, Apple banned Fortnite in August 2020, it also attempted to revoke Epic’s developer status on the Apple platforms, which would have made it so that any updates to the game engine would not be able to be deployed for existing apps that use the technology to build games. Games like PUBG Mobile and Peacekeeper Elite (both developed by Tencent and/or its in-house studios) use Unreal Engine.
While the court would not remove the Fortnite ban from iOS devices, it did stay Apple’s attempt to mess with Unreal Engine, as it would affect an inordinate number of developers that use the technology.
In October of 2020, the court set May 3, 2021, as the start date for the trial.
Epic’s lawsuit against Apple alleges that the Apple App Store owner is operating a monopoly and violating antitrust laws by forcing developers to pay steep royalty fees, and use products and services that are tied in or bundled together, such as the in-app payment system. Epic is also suing Google in a separate lawsuit for similar practices on Google Play for Android devices.
Epic has sued Apple in other regions such as the UK, Australia, and the European Union. Epic’s lawsuit has also caught the attention of lawmakers around the world, who have started to dig into what platform owners, particularly those that are walled gardens or mandatory marketplaces, charge developers.
The Esports Observer will continue to follow this story as it develops.
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