Fortnite could be banned from Apple's App Store for up to 5 years, a letter published by Epic CEO Tim Sweeney revealed last night.
While this news isn't particularly shocking – the Epic vs Apple lawsuit might have come to a conclusion earlier this month, but Epic is appealing the decision – it does show that the real loser of this protracted goliath vs slightly smaller goliath is the people who actually play Fortnite, rather than those responsible for publishing and distributing it. Wondering why you can’t play Fortnite on iPhone? It’s because this situation is going to get worse before it gets better.
Firstly, let's look at what Sweeney had to say on Twitter when he posted his correspondence with Apple for all the world to see. His tweet reads: "Late last night, Apple informed Epic that Fortnite will be blacklisted from the Apple ecosystem until the exhaustion of all court appeals, which could be as long as a 5-year process."
Late last night, Apple informed Epic that Fortnite will be blacklisted from the Apple ecosystem until the exhaustion of all court appeals, which could be as long as a 5-year process. pic.twitter.com/QCD7wogJefSeptember 22, 2021
Now, Apple's email ends on the line: "Furthermore, Apple will not consider any requests for reinstatement until the district court's judgment becomes final and nonappeable." It's a clear line in the sand, and as Sweeney points out, it could take up to five years to resolve, which is to say that you may need to wait until 2026 before you see Peely on your iPhone again.
Continuing his Twitter thread, Sweeney went on to talk about how this is an anti-competitive move from Apple, allegedly going back on its word to allow Fortnite back on the App Store should it follow the same rules as other apps. He ends it by saying: "Fortnite should not be blacklisted for challenging an agreement containing terms the court found to be unlawful which Apple forces on all developers as terms of access to iOS. We'll fight on. The need for regulatory and legislative action is clearer than ever before."
Put simply: the headline-grabbing reveal that Epic's battle royale will potentially be off one of the world's biggest platforms for five years is there to keep people paying attention to Sweeney's larger argument. And yet, for all the merit of that argument, it is once again using players' goodwill to try and win in the court of public opinion, rather than getting them back to playing the game they love. Epic's CEO will argue that it is a short-term sacrifice for a long-term benefit. Players might reasonably assume that they are now nothing more but numbers on a court document to be argued over.
This is not to absolve Apple of essentially playing up to the role that Sweeney has cast it in though. The tech giant has essentially put barbed wire up around its garden fence by telling Fortnite to stay off the lawn until this whole sorry mess has been sorted. While it has every right to block games from its platform – after all, the court sided with Apple on all but two counts in the lawsuit– the look it gives is of a sore winner taunting a rival after getting what it wanted. Quite rightly, players should be frustrated with Apple blocking Epic to further rub their noses in a ruling that might be flipped in five years' time anyway.
Fort it out
And on the sidelines of all of this are the reported 2.5 million daily Fortnite iOS players who don't know when they'll be able to play the game the way they want to again. While Fortnite can of course be played on different consoles, that will be of little comfort to the players who only have access to iOS devices, especially if they've put money into the game's battle pass and these cosmetics are now locked in a game they can't reinstall. The fact that its player base skews young only makes this situation crueler, asking teens to pick a side in a war over complicated monopoly laws that will have major and far-reaching consequences for every game publisher.
As we've also seen throughout the last 18 months, games have become one of the best ways to keep in touch with friends, so cutting off access to one of the world's most popular games on one of the world's most popular devices seems particularly short-sighted, if only from a PR point of view. Both sides could have avoided weaponizing or penalizing players to make ideological points, but instead they've encouraged them to go elsewhere and play other games.
Does Sweeney's plea for legislative change have conceptual merit? Absolutely, even if it might not be as simple as offering third-party payment. Should Apple be able to block what games are made for their platform? Yep, it’s Apple’s property after all, but shouldn't expect to get a pat on the back for doing so. Should both be measuring how big their bank accounts are by putting players in the middle of a protracted legal battle with no end in sight? Nope. In this endless legal battle, there are plenty of Ls to go around.