Why is Epic Games suing Apple and Google?

Get the lowdown on the tech-giant beatdown

Why is Epic Games suing Apple and Google?

by William Austin-Lobley |
Updated on

On August 13, something very unusual happened. Fortnite, the international best-seller and profit-machine, was removed from the Apple App Store. The decision of Apple to remove the premier gaming title from its store was followed, almost instantly, by a lawsuit from Epic Games.

Strange times got stranger when Google seemingly followed Apple’s lead by removing Fortnite from its Android Play Store. Again, Epic Games followed this decision up by filing a lawsuit against the search-engine giant.

Cut to in-game billboards referencing Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, the trending hashtag #FreeFortnite, and the gamer-sphere buzzing with Tweets around some impending business-on-business anti-monopolisation coupe, and you’d be forgiven for being left wondering… what’s going on?

Read on for a quick breakdown of events.

Why did Apple remove Fortnite from the App Store?

In a recent update, Epic Games implemented an additional feature to the Fortnite iOS app which allowed V-Bucks, the title’s in-game currency, to be purchased directly through Epic at a reduced rate of up to 20%. They weren’t shy about advertising this fact, posting on the game’s news page about the “Mega Drop” discounts.

While this may seem like an innocuous addition to the person on the street, this payment method circumvents an Apple policy which dictates all payments must be made through the App Store. Acting as the intermediary between company and user, Apple claims that this method ensures equal competition and safety for the end-user. It’s also worth noting that they take a 30% cut of the sale.

By adding in an option to directly avoid this charge, Epic Games are in direct violation of Apple’s terms and conditions. Therefore, they’ve been removed.

Why is Epic Games suing Apple?

Epic’s position is coming from a much more moralistic position, as opposed to financial. The company believes that Apple is monopolising the marketplace and creating an uncompetitive environment for its customers, who are locked into to Apple ecosystem and iOS App Store downloads. (Unlike Android smartphones, iPhones and iPads can only download apps from the App Store).

The opening paragraphs of Epic's claim reads more like a political manifesto than a business disagreement:

“Apple has become what it once railed against: the behemoth seeking to control markets, block competition, and stifle innovation. Apple is bigger, more powerful, more entrenched, and more pernicious than the monopolists of yesteryear. At a market cap of nearly $2 trillion, Apple’s size and reach far exceeds that of any technology monopolist in history.”

As BBC News notes, the lawsuit was filed within minutes of the removal, meaning that Epic knew it was coming. Epic CEO Tim Sweeney has previously publicly spoken out against Apple’s practices in a no-holds-barred tweet thread.

As Games Industry neatly surmises, Epic wants the lawsuit to provide “injunctive relief to allow fair competition for all third-party app developers across the App Store by stopping Apple from taking its 30% cut.”

Why did Google remove Fortnite from the Play Store?

Shortly after Apple decided to remove Fortnite from the App Store, Google also removed the game from the Play Store. The reasoning here is very much that of Apple’s, in that the latest Fortnite update provides a method of directly skirting around Google’s involvement in gamer-company transactions, and thus removing a transactional cut of 30%.

Android users can still download Fortnite to their smartphones via other channels, including Epic’s app.

Why is Epic Games suing Google?

Though less harsh in tone, Epic is using Google to inspire change and promote competition. As The Verge has reported, Google Play Store plays a leading role in Android app distribution, and though it is not technically a monopoly in the same way as the iOS App Store, its pervasive presence and integration into smartphone technology inhibits the use of other app-downloading channels.

Will Fortnite return to the App Store and Play Store?

According to statements by all parties involved, there is ongoing work intending to make this happen. In terms of our opinion, it seems very unlikely that once this is resolved, Epic will not want to have access to the Apple App Store and Google Play Store users.

What is #FreeFortnite and Nineteen Eighty-Fortnite?

"Nineteen Eighty-Fortnite" was a short in-game film that aired to players. In addition to the authoritarian and dystopian themes this inevitably draws, it also harks back to Apple’s TV advertisement from 1984. In this ad, Apple played on the book’s themes to position themselves as the liberating force IBM’s computer monopoly.

It has since been uploaded to the Fortnite YouTube channel:

The #FreeFortnite is of Epic Games’ making, and is intended to be used by gamers to show their support for Epic’s campaign.

The speed of the lawsuits being filed, the short film, and the hashtag all point to all of the events being predicted and planned by Epic Games. This does indeed seem to be an organised technological coup.

Some reactions from Twitter:

William Lobley is a Content Writer and reviewer for WhatsTheBest, specialising in gaming, technology and the outdoors. He also writes for Empire Online.

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