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Here's everything we know about the Epic vs Apple lawsuit

Fortnite Impostors
(Image credit: Epic Games)

The lawsuits and legal filings between Apple and Epic Games look to be finally nearing a conclusion, with a trial set for May 2021. 

The past few months have certainly been a wild series of events between the two corporations. There have multiple lawsuits from both Apple and Epic Games, and it all started over the circumvention of Apple's 30% transaction fee on the App Store.

In this article, we'll look back on the entire series of lawsuit filings from both Apple and Epic. We'll take you through all you need to know, before the trial between the two corporations, expected to take place in May 2021.

Epic Games circumvents Apple's App Store fee

This entire saga kicked off on August 13, when Epic Games introduced an update to Fortnite on iOS and Android devices. This update gave players the option to purchase V-Bucks directly from Epic Games themselves, instead of going through the App Store on iOS devices, and the Google Play Store on Android devices.

Whenever you purchase anything on either the App Store or Google Play Store, Apple and Google charge a 30% transaction fee. By introducing a way to pay Epic directly for V-Bucks, Epic was effectively circumventing this transaction fee, reducing the price of V-Bucks for players on mobile devices because they didn't have to pay the transaction fee to Apple or Google.

Apple delists Fortnite from the App Store

As you might imagine, Apple was incredibly quick to respond. Later that same day on August 13, Apple immediately delisted Fortnite from the App Store, and shortly after, Google followed suit by removing the game from the Google Play Store. 

It was hardly a surprising move from Apple. Taking away Apple's source of revenue from one of the most popular games in the world was always going to draw a response, and it Epic reacted to Apple delisting Fortnite just as quickly.

Fortnite's 1984 parody video

It felt like like barely any time had passed at all before Epic's extensive response to Apple was released. The 'Nineteen Eighty-Fortnite' video aired that same day, a trailer from Epic Games in which Fortnite parodied an Apple ad warning of looming corporations holding dominance over life.

The Nineteen Eighty Fortnite video was certainly a statement from Epic. Positioning itself as a corporation that could fight another corporation over dominance of the market, Epic took the fight right back to Apple after Fortnite was delisted from the App Store.

Epic sues Apple over App Store dominance

The Nineteen Eighty Fortnite video took a bit of attention away from Epic's ensuing lawsuit against Apple. Filing a lawsuit against Apple in California, Epic asserted that it would launch its own app storefront on iOS devices, were it not for Apple's policies. 

Epic stated that it felt obligated to charge more for V-Buck purchases on iOS devices due to Apple's transaction fees through the App Store. It all boils down to this: Epic's lawsuit is aimed at getting their own storefront onto iOS devices, separate from the App Store, which would in turn open up similar options for other developers.

Microsoft files support for Epic against Apple

Interestingly enough, Microsoft was vocal in its support of Epic's lawsuit against Apple. Microsoft filed a letter of support for Epic's lawsuit against Apple, which mainly centred around Apple's decision to block Epic from accessing the Unreal Engine and updating it for iOS devices.

Microsoft alleged that this would have a catastrophic effect for games on iOS devices that relied on the Unreal Engine. It would mean that games using the Unreal Engine would no longer be updated, so existing bugs and glitches wouldn't be fixable.

There was also Microsoft's own history with Apple to consider. Earlier in the year, when xCloud was in beta, Microsoft was only able to provide one game - Halo: The Master Chief Collection - for testing on iOS devices, in stark contrast to the tens of games released for the Android beta.

When beta testing for xCloud concluded, it was clear that Microsoft's streaming service would never be able to launch on Apple, due to the platform holders policies on having to check and certify each individual game. xCloud has now launched in full on Android devices, bringing hundreds of games to the platform through the cloud, but it was shot down by Apple. If Epic's lawsuit against Apple was successful, and a third-party storefront was allowed on iOS devices, Microsoft would no longer be bound to Apple's rules for launching xCloud on iOS devices.

Apple's temporary triumph over Epic in court

In late August, a judge ruled in Apple's favor - but only temporarily. US District Court Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers sided with Apple, and ruled that they did not have to immediately reinstate Fortnite onto the App Store.

However, the judge also ruled that Apple could not block Epic's access to the Unreal Engine. Stressing that the ruling wasn't a "slam dunk" for either side, the judge allowed Epic to continually update the Unreal Engine, even if Fortnite wasn't reinstated on the App Store.

Apple and Epic head to court for a showdown

On October 7, it was announced that Epic and Apple would be heading to court for a trial next year. The trial in particular, which is due to explore Apple's dominance as a monopoly over app distribution, is set for May 3, 2021.

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Epic has filed two new lawsuits, this time in the UK, against Apple and Google. The suits, filed in December, claim that both companies have "abused [their] dominant position" and "engaged in anti-competitive agreements/concerted practices" in both the United Kingdom and the European Union. Epic's hoping to stop Apple from preventing players from downloading the Epic Games Store on Apple devices, and wants Google to stop enforcing the pre-installation of Google Play on Android devices.

The new lawsuits don't change much about the overall situation - Fortnite is still unavailable on the iOS store, pending a trial in May, and Epic isn't seeking damages from either company in the UK. The company told GamesIndustry.biz that "it is simply seeking fair access and competition that will benefit all consumers." Apple meanwhile, claimed that it "look[s] forward" to arguing its case to UK courts.

You'll want to keep an eye on the trial next May for a few key reasons. One, and most obviously, it'll dictate whether one of the most popular games in the world can ever return to iOS devices.

Two, it'll likely decide whether Epic can maintain access to the Unreal Engine on iOS platforms. As Microsoft noted, this will have a massive impact over iOS games that use the Unreal Engine, and really could be a major factor for a lot of smaller games looking to launch on iOS.

Three, the trial will decide whether third-party app storefronts can launch on Apple devices. This is huge, because if Epic succeeds in proving Apple's dominance as a monopoly in app distribution, any publisher could potentially create their very own storefront on iOS devices, opening up a pathway for potentially endless games to come to iOS platforms without Apple's approval.

There's a lot at play here with Epic's lawsuit against Apple, and it could have far-reaching consequences throughout the entire games industry. 

Epic vs Apple ruling made

On September 10 Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers issued an injunction that meant Apple would have to allow developers the ability to pay for things in apps through a different client should they so choose. It specifies that Apple is "hereby permanently restrained and enjoined from prohibiting developers from (i) including in their apps and their metadata buttons, external links, or other calls to action that direct customers to purchasing mechanisms, in addition to in-app purchasing and (ii) communicating with customers through points of contact obtained voluntarily from customers through account registration within the app."

However, while this is central to Epic's lawsuit, the court ultimately sided with Apple. The conclusion to the judge's statement reads: "Ultimately, Epic Games overreached. As a consequence, the trial record was not as fulsome with respect to antitrust conduct in the relevant market as it could have been. Thus, and in summary, the Court does not find that Apple is an antitrust monopolist in the submarket for mobile gaming transactions. However, it does find that Apple’s conduct in enforcing anti-steering restrictions is anticompetitive." 

In response, Tim Sweeney tweeted: "Today’s ruling isn't a win for developers or for consumers. Epic is fighting for fair competition among in-app payment methods and app stores for a billion consumers."

Apple's response can be seen in the tweet below. 

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Hirun Cryer

Hirun Cryer is a freelance reporter and writer with Gamesradar+ based out of U.K. After earning a degree in American History specializing in journalism, cinema, literature, and history, he stepped into the games writing world, with a focus on shooters, indie games, and RPGs, and has since been the recipient of the MCV 30 Under 30 award for 2021. In his spare time he freelances with other outlets around the industry, practices Japanese, and enjoys contemporary manga and anime.