A US federal judge has granted Epic Games a temporary restraining order against Apple which will prevent the iPhone maker from cutting off Epic’s computer graphics software Unreal Engine.
The Unreal Engine and its license is relied upon by hundreds of app developers, not just Epic, and would cause enormous disruption in the gaming industry.
The judge ruled that, as the dispute is between Fortnite, Epic’s marquee game, and Apple, there is no basis to remove access to other branches of its business, which are used by numerous parties who are not involved in the litigation.
This comes just one day after Microsoft sent a statement to the California court in support of Epic, saying the Unreal Engine is critical technology for game creators and would be put at risk if the developer licence is revoked.
Microsoft said the move would hurt at least one of its own game titles called ‘Forza Street’ that uses the engine for the iOS version of the game.
However, District Court Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers stopped short of forcing Apple to allow Fortnite back on to the App Store.
Epic has recruited the public in its move to expose Apple’s alleged antitrust behaviour via a prominent social media campaign dubbed #FreeFortnite. But a court ruling will not force Apple to reinstate the game onto the App Store
‘Epic Games and Apple are at liberty to litigate against each other, but their dispute should not create havoc to bystanders,’ Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers wrote in a ruling late on Monday.
The legal battle arose after Apple this month removed Epic’s ‘Fortnite’ game from Apple’s App Store.
Apple made the decision to ostracise Fortnite because the makers of the battle royale game rolled out its own method of in-game purchases.
The company objected to being forced into paying Apple a commission of between 15 and 30 per cent and instead launched its own system to bypass this. This goes against the terms and conditions laid out by Apple.
After Apple booted Fortnite off the App Store, it also took its punitive action one step further and went after the Unreal Engine.
Apple had intended to cut off access to development tools used within the Unreal Engine as of August 28 and restrict access to the App Store for apps made using Unreal.
This would have meant hundreds of game developers would be cut off from one of their largest sources of revenue almost overnight.
The ruling from Judge Gonzalez Rogers, however, protects them from this fate, at least temporarily.
The temporary restraining order reads: ‘Apple and all persons in active concert or participation with Apple, are temporarily restrained from taking adverse action against Epic Games with respect to restricting, suspending or termination any affiliate of Epic Games, such as Epic International, from Apple’s Developer Program, including as to Unreal Engine.’
The restraining order will hold until the wider case, in which Epic accuses Apple of antitrust practices, is resolved.
Epic has recruited the public in its move to expose Apple’s alleged antitrust behaviour via a prominent social media campaign dubbed #FreeFortnite.
The long-term fate of both Fortnite and Epic will now remain in purgatory util the antitrust case concludes.
Apple has retaliated against Epic Games after being served a lawsuit for pulling the wildly popular video game Fortnite from the App Store. On August 28, Apple planned to remove Epic Games’s developer account from the platform – banning the firm from designing apps for the App Store in the future
Fortnite was not reinstated because ‘the current predicament (with ‘Fortnite’) appears of its own making’, said Gonzalez Rogers.
As a result, she refused to order its reinstatement, but did allow Unreal Engine to continue powering iPhone apps.
The crux of this is that she saw Apple’s actions against Fortnite as justified, but deemed Apple’s actions against Epic’s affiliates as too severe because they had not breached the iPhone maker’s policies as ‘Fortnite’ had.
During a terse exchange with Apple counsel Richard Doren at a Zoom hearing on Monday, the judge said she saw ‘no competition’ to Apple’s App Store on the iPhone.
‘The question is, without competition, where does the 30 per cent (App Store commission) come from? Why isn’t it 10? 20? How is the consumer benefiting?’ she asked.
Doren replied that consumers had choices when deciding to buy an Android device or an iPhone.
‘The competition is in the foremarket,’ he said, reiterating an argument that has been central to Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook’s defense during Congressional antitrust hearings.
Gonzalez Rogers replied that there was ‘plenty of economic theory’ to show that switching brands imposed costs on consumers.
She at one point muted Doren in the virtual proceedings. Doren later said that Apple would prove at trial that ‘people switch all the time’.
Timeline of Epic Vs Apple
Epic GAmes CEO Tim Sweeney tells Washington Post the App Store monopoly protects only Apple’s profit, not device security.
Sweeney tweets that opening up iOS and Android ‘as truly open platforms’ ‘is the only way’ to ensure a competitive, healthy, and fair app economy’
Sweeney tells CNBC the App Store is an ‘absolute monopoly’
Sweeney calls Apple one of the best companies to ever exist but says it is ‘fundamentally wrong’ in blocking competition via App Store.
Also says Apple and Google make more via the 30% cost than most developers do. Says the fees hold up technological progress and are ‘terribly unfair and exploitative’.
War of words escalates into the first direct action from Epic as it introduces direct payment in Fortnite App, bypassing Apple.
Customers were given a discount if they went direct to Epic and avoided Apple’s system and subsequent fees.
Epic calls the 30 per cent slice of in-app purchases ‘exorbitant’.
Apple responds firmly by pulling Fortnite from the App Store.
Says Epic ‘took the unfortunate step of violating App Store guidelines’.
Epic files an antitrust lawsuit against Apple.
Epic takes the fight into the public realm by sharing a video called ‘Nineteen Eighty-Fortnite’ mocking Apple.
Encourages the use of the #FreeFortnite hashtag on social media in a bid to put pressure on Apple.
Spotify comes out in support of Epic.
Google remove Fortnite from the Play Store.
Epic files a similar lawsuit against Google,
Epic CEO Sweeney says the company is not pursuing a ‘special deal’ but will instead fight for more significant changes to benefit all developers.
Apple threatens to terminate Epic’s Apple Developer Program on August 28.
This would prevent Epic from accessing key software which it uses to build its Unreal Engine.
Epic launches a #FreeFortniteCup event in the game
Apple calls Epic’s behaviour akin to shoplifting
Epic argues in a court filing that Apple’s plan to cut off access for the Unreal Engine to Apple’s Developer Program is a step too far and unlawful
Microsoft comes out in support of Epic
US federal judge grants Epic a temporary restraining order against Apple to prevent the August 28 cut off coming into force
Means Unreal Engine will continue to have access to Apple’s Developer Program until the larger antitrust case is resolved.
Fortnite is not reinstated to the App Store by the judge