Epic Games have successfully scored a temporary restraining order to stop Apple’s plan to terminate their developer accounts on Friday, a move that would’ve stopped them from continuing to support Unreal Engine on Mac and iOS. Apple threatened this after Epic bypassed the App Store’s payment systems in Fortnite, and Apple also ejected the battle royale shooter from their walled garden. Epic told the courts that this would harm the many developers who rely on Unreal Engine, and the judge agreed. But Epic didn’t get all their wishes, so Apple don’t have to let Fortnite back on iOS.
So. Sick of Apple and Google taking a 30% cut of all sales through their app stores, Epic gave Fortnite a new microtransaction payment option running through their own system on August 13th. This being against store rules, Apple and Google promptly kicked Fortnite out. Epic responded with lawsuits accusing both of “monopolistic” and “anti-competitive” behaviour, plus a daft propaganda video mocking Apple. Then Apple said they’d revoke Epic’s developer accounts, and Epic said whoa hang on let’s not be hasty. On the 17th, Epic filed for a temporary restraining order hoping to keep their dev accounts active and Fortnite on the App Store. Losing their developer accounts would make no more updates for Unreal Engine on Mac or iOS, which would have dire consequences for developers who build games on Unreal – even Microsoft agreed.
On Monday, a judge backed some of Epic’s requests. For now, Epic’s developer accounts are to stay active. Partially it’s because Epic’s corporate structure means the company behind Unreal Engine “appears” to have separate licenses from the one behind Fortnite, and it seems only the Fortnite gang might have breached their licenses. Partially it’s because damn, killing all Epic’s dev accounts would cause unfathomable trouble.
“The record shows potential significant damage to both the Unreal Engine platform itself, and to the gaming industry generally, including on both third-party developers and gamers,” district judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers said in the ruling. “The public context in which this injury arises differs significantly: not only has the underlying agreement not been breached, but the economy is in dire need of increasing avenues for creativity and innovation, not eliminating them. Epic Games and Apple are at liberty to litigate against each other, but their dispute should not create havoc to bystanders.”
Epic had also argued that Apple shouldn’t be allowed to shut down Fortnite on iOS but the judge disagreed, saying the company had “not yet demonstrated irreparable harm” would follow. She also observed, “The current predicament appears of [Epic’s] own making.” It does.
She also wasn’t swayed by the fact that, y’know, Fortnite players want it back on iOS. Despite recognising that players are “passionate supporters” who “eagerly anticipate its return”, and that “virtual escapes” are valuable in these pandemic days, she ruled that “the showing is not sufficient to conclude that these considerations outweigh the general public interest in requiring private parties to adhere to their contractual agreements or in resolving business disputes through normal, albeit expedited, proceedings.”
What’s next? After a bit of paperwork, the court will start a hearing on Epic’s desired preliminary injunction on Monday the 28th of September. That’ll focus on the issues of developer accounts and Fortnite’s removal. This is separate to Epic’s lawsuits against Apple and Google over their alleged monopolies, which may be far bigger and longer battles.