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Fortnite vs Apple: The latest in Epic Games' App Store battle

Fortnite vs Apple
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Fortnite can feel like a game of milliseconds, and Apple booted the popular online game from its App Store in a similarly quick amount of time. And so a new digital war began, with Epic Games, the company behind Fortnite, challenging Apple (which is threatening to kill off Fortnite on iOS altogether). It's the natural conclusion of Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney's long standing fight against Apple's business practices in the iOS App Store. 

Apple kicked Fortnite out of its App Stores on August 13, hours after Epic Games added a new way to pay for items inside of its iPhone and Android apps. This violated of Apple's rules because it goes right past Apple's payment processing, so Epic doesn't have to share the standard 30% of its sales with the iPhone maker. 

Apple isn't the only one to take action against Epic and Fortnite. Google removed the game from Google Play as well, citing the same issue with in-app purchases as Apple.

If you're wondering why Epic would try to avoid giving 30% of its sales to Apple and Google, a SensorTower report found that Fortnite raked in more than $1 billion USD in the iOS and Google Play stores.

Latest Fortnite vs. Apple news

In Northern California, a judge has blocked Apple from terminating Epic Games' account in the Apple Developer Program. This is seen as a way to protect development of the many games that use Epic's Unreal Engine on iOS. 

Apple had threatened Epic Games that its developer accounts for iOS and macOS will be shut down on August 28.  Epic publicized that move in a tweet.

Epic reacts with "Nineteen Eigthy-Fortnite"

It appeared that Epic and Fortnite were already prepared for this reaction, announcing Nineteen Eigthy-Fortnite, a short you can watch below. In the clip (an obvious riff on Apple's 1984 Super Bowl commercial, which positioned the company as revolutionary) an Apple-headed man on a series of monitors celebrates the "anniversary of the platform unification directives" and proceeds to yell about how "they" (app developers, it seems) have given labor and dreams, and in exchange the company has taken control and profits. 

When the voice says "we shall prevail," a rainbow-haired Fortnite character breaks the screen by throwing a unicorn-headed pickaxe into it. It's almost a shot for shot remake of the old ad. 

It continues to replicate the older ad, saying:

"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.'"

For those too young to remember, here is the original Apple 1984 ad:

Apple responds

An Apple spokesperson told The Verge that “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.”

Epic punches back

Shortly thereafter, Epic announced it would be taking Apple to court, tweeting a link to its legal filing. Here's a brief taste:

“Rather than tolerate this healthy competition and compete on the merits of its offering, Apple responded by removing Fortnite from sale on the App Store, which means that new users cannot download the app, and users who have already downloaded prior versions of the app from the App Store cannot update it to the latest version. This also means that Fortnite players who downloaded their app from the App Store will not receive updates to Fortnite through the App Store, either automatically or by searching the App Store for the update. Apple’s removal of Fortnite is yet another example of Apple flexing its enormous power in order to impose unreasonable restraints and unlawfully maintain its 100% monopoly over the iOS In-App Payment Processing Market."

What Google did

As Apple and Epic exchanged accusations, Google took action of its own, removing Fortnite from Google Play. According to a Google statement, "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."

You're still able to sideload Fortnite onto your Android phone by installing it directly from Epic's webiste. (In fact, initially, that was the only way to download the Android version of Fortnite a few years back.) The app remains available from Samsung's Galaxy Store.

What happens next

On Aug. 17, Epic revealed that Apple will be shuttering Epic's developer accounts and its iOS/macOS development tools. This would be a huge deal for Epic as a company, as it would negatively impact every iOS and macOS game that uses Epic's Unreal Engine tools, which could be a huge dent in Epic's bottom line.

Epic Games filed to stop Apple from terminating the developer accounts, and its filing includes the following note:

"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 is also rallying users to protest Apple's decision with its #FreeFortnite campaign, and the company also shared an FAQ about the whole situation to tell its side of the story.

The timing of all of this feels incredibly intentional on Epic's part, testing how Apple would respond to a breach of its payment rules while it's under increased scrutiny. This past June, the European Union opened antitrust investigations to analyze how Apple conducts business in the App Store.

Epic isn't the only team pushing at Apple's rules, as Basecamp's Hey email app also tried to break the rules about how you list an app on the App Store. Soon, Hey found a workaround by giving people burner email accounts to test stuff out, and Apple let them back in the App Store.

Apple was also one of the companies under scrutiny from the U.S. Government when Tim Cook (along with Amazon's Jeff Bezos, Google's Sundar Pichai and Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg) was questioned by lawmakers on Capitol Hill at the end of July. 

In an interview with CNBC earlier this year, Sweeney made his criticism for Apple clear, calling the App Store an "absolute monopoly."

Amazon and Spotify's exceptions

As reported by The Verge, Apple's not exactly strict with its 30% rule, cutting Amazon a deal for half that rate, only taking 15% of Amazon purchases made in its iOS and iPad apps. Spotify is also getting a lower rate, as Apple revealed in 2019 that it collects a 15% fee on payments made by Spotify subscribers who signed up between 2014 and 2016.

It's unclear which steps Apple and Epic will take next, but we'll be keeping an eye on things to see who budges first. Stay tuned to Tom's Guide for more about Fortnite's Epic fight against Apple's rules.