Apple vs Epic Games: Unreal Engine Might Be Protected But Not Fortnite

Apple vs Epic Games: Unreal Engine Might Be Protected But Not Fortnite
Image: Epic Games

The first court hearing between Apple and Epic Games was held this week. While things are still looking dicey for Fortnite, Unreal Engine may be protected from an Apple ban.

What’s going on with Apple and Epic Games?

This hearing is the result of Apple kicking Fortnite off the App Store several weeks ago for policy violations. Fortnite was also removed from Google Play.

This came about after the creator, Epic Games, enabled players to purchase Fortnite’s in-game currency directly from the mobile apps on iOS and Android. This meant skipping the regular in-app payment method that Apple gets a 30 per cent cut of. Epic further enticed players to pay directly by offering a 20 per cent discount on this payment method.

Epic quickly filed a lawsuit against Apple for “anti-competitive restrictions”. This is also known as the Apple Tax, which has been gaining negative attention this year.

Things got even messier last week when Apple threatened to terminate Epic’s developer accounts and remove access to software developer tools such as Unreal Engine. This is a big problem for Epic as it offers Unreal Engine to third party developers on iOS and MacOS. If blocked from the Apple ecosystem it wouldn’t be able to be used by developers for cross platform development of apps and games.

This resulted in Epic updated its court filing against Apple.

Unreal Engine might be spared

Tuesday’s hearing was used to determine whether Epic Games’ developer status should be legally protected by a temporary restraining order. Epic is also seeking a preliminary injunction that would protect its status during the trial. And it just might be successful.

U.S. federal judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers said she will not rule on this issue immediately, however, she is “inclined” to protect Unreal Engine. While Apple argued Epic could transfer its behaviour to Unreal Engine if it stayed on its platforms, the judge referred to Apple’s attempts as “retaliatory” and an “overreach”.

“The contract with Epic International has not been breached. Apple reached beyond its one contract with Epic Games and is using its hard leverage. It’s slammed Epic Games with this additional penalty. It does to me look retaliatory. I don’t see any harm to Apple to restrain you from not impacting the Unreal Engine on that platform or the developer’s engine. It looks like overreach to me.”

But Fortnite may not be so lucky.

“I am not inclined to grant relief with respect to the games,” Judge Rogers said. “But I am inclined to grant relief with respect to the Unreal Engine.”

According to The Verge, the Judge was concerned with Epic’s role in bringing about the Fortnite ban from Apple. She also questioned whether Epic would be able to restore a previous version of the app that didn’t offer an alternative payment system.

Epic’s representation, Katherine Forrest, agreed but not for technical reasons.

“We can’t just flip a switch and reenter an anti-competitive environment. There’s no technical reason it can’t be done, but it’s something the law does not and should not require.”

Forrest also stated that restricting Unreal Engine will make it unusable and claimed that developers are already “fleeing the Unreal Engine”.

Judge Rogers said she will be issuing a written order on the issue soon.