‘Fortnite’ creator says Apple is threatening to restrict access to software tools

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‘Fortnite’ creator Epic Games Inc. has accused Apple Inc. of threatening to block it from making software for iOS devices and Mac computers, an escalation of a dispute that could spill over into the global app market mobiles.

Epic on Monday asked a federal judge to stop Apple from terminating its software development accounts by August 28, a deadline imposed by the tech giant after it said the company violated App rules. Store. Epic, a closely held game studio and software developer based in Cary, North Carolina, argued that such a move would cause “unquantifiable and irreparable” damage to its business, as well as harm to its customers.

Learn more about the “Fortnite” fight

In addition to “Fortnite”, which has more than 350 million registered players, Epic created the Unreal Engine, software used by millions of developers worldwide to create games, special effects for television and movies and other types of digital content. It also has the Houseparty video chat app.

Being locked out of access to Apple’s developer tools would prevent Epic from pushing updates to “Fortnite” players and users of its Unreal engine on Apple devices.

The legal fracas marks a turning point in a battle that industry watchers say could have wider implications for the mobile app economy, which saw $120 billion in consumer spending worldwide last year. latest, according to App Annie Inc.

Other app developers have also clashed with Apple and Google over their market policies, including Netflix Inc. and Spotify Technology SA. The tech giants’ operations have also drawn the attention of US lawmakers as well as federal antitrust authorities. And European Union antitrust regulators have launched an investigation into whether the Apple Pay service and the App Store violate competition laws, although Apple said officials were “advancing baseless claims of a handful of companies.

“Apple is attacking all of Epic’s business in unrelated areas,” Epic said Monday in a court filing, seeking a temporary restraining order on restricting access to software developer tools.

The App Store is “designed to be a safe and trusted place for users,” Apple said in a statement Monday, adding that Epic was one of the App Store’s most successful developers “turning into a business.” multibillion-dollar that affects millions of iOS”. clients.”

“The problem Epic has created for itself is one that can easily be fixed if it submits an update to its app that reverts it to comply with the guidelines it agreed to that apply to all developers,” Apple said. “We won’t make an exception for Epic because we don’t believe it’s fair to put their business interests ahead of guidelines that protect our customers.”

Last week Apple and Alphabet Inc.

Google-owned Google has both removed “Fortnite” from their app stores, saying Epic violated their rules by adding an unapproved system for in-app customer payments for virtual currency to the surviving shooter. . Epic responded by suing the companies in federal court in California, accusing them of monopolistic behavior in how they distribute apps to devices and process payments for digital content.

Apple and Google separately declined to comment on the lawsuits.

Epic and its chief executive, Tim Sweeney, are preparing for a protracted fight with the tech giants over their app market rules. The payment option introduced last week on the mobile versions of “Fortnite”, which is also on computers and game consoles, was designed to circumvent the 30% commission for in-app purchases due to Apple and Google.

The companies have defended their app store policies, saying the 30% fee is justified because they provide services such as e-commerce security and user privacy, and are consistent with what they charge. most other app markets.

Epic said in a court filing that through Sunday, more than half of “Fortnite” iOS players who made in-app purchases chose Epic’s direct payment system. The system offered players a 20% discount on the game’s virtual currency known as V-bucks, which can be used to purchase items such as virtual costumes and dance moves for their characters. “Fortnite” is free to play and generates revenue from these purchases as well as for special game modes.

The removal of “Fortnite” from the Apple App Store and Google Play limits new downloads, but also blocks existing users from game updates, one of which is expected to debut later this month. Although the game is not available on Google Play, Android device users can download it through other app markets. “Fortnite” is also on computers and game consoles.

If Epic’s access to Apple’s tools were revoked, Unreal Engine users would be able to use current software for iOS or macOS devices, but not future iterations. The engine has undergone about 20 major updates over the past five years and it has been used to create a variety of visual content, including astronaut training apps and Hollywood visual effects, Epic said.

“The effects will reverberate far beyond video games; this will affect developers using the Unreal Engine on Apple products in many areas,” Epic said.

Epic’s Houseparty app, which it acquired last year and operates independently, remains available on iOS.

Write to Sarah E. Needleman at [email protected]

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