‘Fortnite’ Maker Says Apple Is Threatening to Curb Access to Software Tools

Epic Games, the maker of ‘Fortnite,’ is seeking a temporary restraining order on Apple’s move to curb access to development tools.

Photo: Herwin Bahar/Zuma Press

“Fortnite” creator Epic Games Inc. accused Apple Inc. AAPL -0.26% of threatening to block it from making software for iOS devices and Mac computers, an escalation of a dispute that could reverberate through the global market for mobile apps.

Epic on Monday asked a federal judge to prevent Apple from terminating its software-development accounts by Aug. 28—a deadline the tech giant imposed after saying the company violated App Store rules. Epic, a closely held game studio and software developer based in Cary, N.C., argued such a move would cause “unquantifiable and irreparable” damage to its business, as well as harm its customers.

More on the ‘Fortnite’ Fight

  • Why Was ‘Fortnite’ Removed From Apple and Google App Stores?
  • ‘Fortnite’ Kicked Off Apple and Google App Stores After Epic Games Moves to Bypass Fees
  • Analysis: Apple and Google Can Hold Out Longer Than a Fortnite

In addition to “Fortnite,” which has more than 350 million registered players, Epic created the Unreal Engine, software used by millions of developers world-wide for making games, television and movie special effects and other types of digital content. It also owns the video chat app Houseparty.

Being shut out from accessing Apple’s developer tools would restrict Epic from sending updates to “Fortnite” players and users of its Unreal Engine on Apple devices.

The legal fracas marks a turn in a battle that industry observers say could have wider implications for the mobile-app economy, which recorded $120 billion in world-wide consumer spending last year, according to App Annie Inc.

Other app developers have also butted heads with Apple and Google over their marketplace policies, including Netflix Inc. and Spotify Technology SA . The tech giants’ operations have also drawn scrutiny from U.S. lawmakers as well as federal antitrust authorities. And European Union antitrust regulators have launched a probe into whether the Apple Pay service and App Store violate competition laws, though Apple has said officials were “advancing baseless complaints from a handful of companies.”

“Apple is attacking Epic’s entire business in unrelated areas,” Epic said Monday in a court filing, which seeks a temporary restraining order on restricting access to software development tools.

Apple didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Last week Apple and Alphabet Inc.-owned Google both yanked “Fortnite” from their app stores, saying Epic violated their rules by adding to the survivor-shooter game an unapproved system for in-app payments from customers for virtual currency. Epic responded by suing the companies in California federal court, accusing them of monopolistic behavior in how they distribute apps to devices and process payments for digital content.

Apple and Google have separately declined to comment on the lawsuits.

The companies have defended their app stores’ policies, saying the 30% fee they both charge developers is justified because they provide services such as e-commerce security and user privacy, and that it is in line with what most other app marketplaces charge.

Epic and its chief executive, Tim Sweeney, have been bracing for a protracted fight with the tech giants over their app-marketplace rules. The payment option implemented last week on the mobile versions of “Fortnite,” which is also on computers and game consoles, was designed to circumvent the 30% commission for in-app purchases due to Apple and Google.

Epic responded by suing the companies in California federal court, accusing them of monopolistic behavior in how they distribute apps to devices and process payments for digital content. Epic Chief Executive Tim Sweeney has been bracing for a protracted fight with the tech giants over their app marketplace rules.

Apple and Google have separately declined to comment on the lawsuits. The companies have defended their app stores’ policies, saying the 30% fee they each charge developers is justified because they provide services such as e-commerce security and user privacy, and that it is in line with what most other app marketplaces charge.

Epic said in a court filing that through Sunday more than half of iOS “Fortnite” players who made in-app purchases chose Epic’s direct payment system. The system offered players a 20% discount on the game’s virtual currency known as V-bucks, which can be used to purchase items such as virtual costumes and dance moves for their characters. “Fortnite” is free to play and generates revenue from such purchases as well as for special game modes.

The removal of “Fortnite” from Apple’s App Store and Google Play restricts new downloads but also blocks existing users from game updates, including one slated to make its debut later this month. Though the game isn’t available on Google Play, Android device users can download it through other app marketplaces. “Fortnite” is also on computers and gaming consoles.

If Epic’s access to Apple’s tools were revoked, Unreal Engine users would be able to use current software for iOS or MacOS devices, but not future iterations. The engine has undergone about 20 significant updates over the past five years and it has been used to create a variety of visual content, including training apps for astronauts and Hollywood visual effects, Epic said.

“The effects will reverberate well beyond videogames; it will affect developers who use the Unreal Engine on Apple products in many fields,” Epic said.

Epic’s Houseparty app, which it acquired last year and operates independently, remains available on iOS.

Write to Sarah E. Needleman at [email protected]

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