Following Epic’s release of its own direct payment method for Fortnite on Apple and Android mobile devices this morning, Apple has removed the popular battle royale from its store. In response, Epic has filed a legal injunction against Apple.
All games on the App Store are required to use Apple’s payment system for any in-game purchases — including, until this morning, buying Fortnite’s in-game V-Bucks currency, which can be spent on skins, items, and the game’s battle pass. Epic has long complained that Apple’s requirement, which results in 30% of all payments going to Apple, is unfair. This morning, Epic started selling V-Bucks in the mobile versions of Fortnite at a discount via a new option to buy them from Epic directly. This violated Apple’s rules and resulted in Apple kicking Fortnite out of the store. There’s no doubt Epic knew this would happen, as they had a lawsuit, a commercial, and a pre-planned social media hashtag all prepped to complain about Apple as soon as it happened.
Apple explained its removal of Fortnite in a statement to The Verge:
Today, Epic Games took the unfortunate step of violating the App Store guidelines that are applied equally to every developer and designed to keep the store safe for our users. As a result their Fortnite app has been removed from the store. Epic enabled a feature in its app which was not reviewed or approved by Apple, and they did so with the express intent of violating the App Store guidelines regarding in-app payments that apply to every developer who sells digital goods or services.
Epic has had apps on the App Store for a decade, and have benefited from the App Store ecosystem – including it’s tools, testing, and distribution that Apple provides to all developers. Epic agreed to the App Store terms and guidelines freely and we’re glad they’ve built such a successful business on the App Store. The fact that their business interests now lead them to push for a special arrangement does not change the fact that these guidelines create a level playing field for all developers and make the store safe for all users. We will make every effort to work with Epic to resolve these violations so they can return Fortnite to the App Store.
(Update — As reported by The Verge, Google has followed suit, kicking Fortnite off the Google Play store. Google has similar rules to Apple regarding its store. Fortnite is still available on Android through Epic’s app or the Samsung store for those devices, with Google writing, “While Fortnite remains available on Android, we can no longer make it available on Play because it violates our policies. However, we welcome the opportunity to continue our discussions with Epic and bring Fortnite back to Google Play.”)
In response, Epic filed a complaint of legal injunction against Apple, explaining in a statement to Kotaku that “Epic has taken legal action to end Apple’s anti-competitive restrictions on mobile device marketplaces.” In the complaint, Epic takes issue with Apple’s dominance over games on iOS mobile devices, writing that “There is no procompetitive justification for Apple’s anti-competitive conduct in the iOS App Distribution Market” and noting that Mac computer users are not subject to these restrictions, calling into question why these practices are necessary on mobile devices. The complaint reads that “Epic is not seeking monetary compensation from this Court for the injuries it has suffered. Nor is Epic seeking favourable treatment for itself, a single company. Instead, Epic is seeking injunctive relief to allow fair competition in these two key markets [the App Store and in-app payment processing] that directly affect hundreds of millions of consumers and tens of thousands, if not more, of third-party app developers.”
(Update #2 — Epic is now filing a complaint for injunctive relief against Google as well).
While Apple removing one of the biggest video games in the world from its store is a shock, this fight isn’t surprising. Epic CEO Tim Sweeney has long railed against both Apple and Google’s 30% cut of app store purchases, which Epic called “exorbitant” in a now-updated FAQ about the new payment options today and which its legal complaint calls “oppressive.” V-Bucks were “up to 20%” cheaper via Epic direct payment than through Google and Apple’s stores, and Epic writes in the FAQ that the company believes “all mobile developers and consumers have the right to choose alternate payment providers that charge less.” Apple currently finds itself under heightened scrutiny over ongoing antitrust concerns, which Epic’s legal response addresses, reading in part,
Apple has become what it once railed against: the behemoth seeking to control markets, block competition, and stifle innovation. Apple is bigger, more powerful, more entrenched, and more pernicious than the monopolists of yesteryear. At a market cap of nearly $US2 ($3) trillion, Apple’s size and reach far exceeds that of any technology monopolist in history.
As pointed out by Eurogamer’s Tom Phillips, while iOS players can currently still play Fortnite, the removal from the store might affect their ability to play the game once the new season begins later this month. Epic also notes this in a blog, writing, “Because Apple has BLOCKED your ability to update, when Fortnite Chapter 2 – Season 4 releases you will NOT be able to play the new Season on iOS.” Epic encourages players to rally around a hashtag, #FreeFortnite, and to complain to Apple to “make your voice heard in the fight against the app tax.” It’s a clever move on Epic’s part — while players might not care about Tim Sweeney’s crusade for the free market, they’ll certainly care if they can’t play the game.
Fortnite’s Party Royale showed a short video at 4pm today parodying Apple’s “1984” television commercial, which is also mentioned in Epic’s legal complaint. The video ended with text reading “Epic Games has defied the App Store Monopoly. In retaliation, Apple is blocking Fortnite from a billion devices. Join the fight to stop 2020 from becoming ‘1984.’”
We’ve updated this story with further developments about Epic’s response, including information about the company’s injunction, its in-game parody of Apple’s advertising, and its FreeFortnite website.