Even if you’ve been living under a rock with only your computer-illiterate grandparents and the TI-84 calculator you all huddle around each night for warmth, you’ve probably heard that Apple is removing Fortnite from the App Store. Now developer Epic says that Apple is going after every part of its App Store presence, including the Unreal Engine, and has asked the court to legally prevent Apple from doing so.
Today, Epic said that it’s asked the court for a temporary restraining order and a longer-term preliminary injunction that would effectively stop Apple’s removal plans dead in their tracks. In an email to Kotaku that included newly filed legal documents, an Epic representative called Apple’s plan to remove Fortnite and restrict Epic’s access to development tools an “outrageous retaliation.” The legal documents explain the company’s rationale.
“When Epic sued Apple to break its monopoly on app stores and in-app payments, Apple retaliated ferociously,” the documents read. “It told Epic that by August 28, Apple will cut off Epic’s access to all development tools necessary to create software for Apple’s platforms—including for the Unreal Engine Epic offers to third-party developers, which Apple has never claimed violated any Apple policy. Not content simply to remove Fortnite from the App Store, Apple is attacking Epic’s entire business in unrelated areas.”
Epic’s Unreal Engine is one of the most ubiquitous game development tools in the world. At GDC 2019, Epic CEO Tim Sweeney said that over 7.5 million developers use it.
In Epic’s latest batch of court documents, the company goes on to say that it’s acting under the assumption that its broader suit against Apple will succeed, but it will take time. During that time, it believes that it should be able to continue updating Fortnite and the Unreal Engine on iOS and MacOS platforms due to the harm Epic would otherwise suffer in the intervening period, as well as for the sake of public interest.
“Technology markets move swiftly,” wrote Epic. “Left unchecked, Apple’s actions will irreparably damage Epic’s reputation among Fortnite users and be catastrophic for the future of the separate Unreal Engine business. If the Unreal Engine can no longer support Apple platforms, the software developers that use it will be forced to use alternatives. The damage to Epic’s ongoing business and to its reputation and trust with its customers will be unquantifiable and irreparable. Preliminary injunctive relief is necessary to prevent Apple from crushing Epic before this case could ever get to judgment.”
Epic is not wrong to point out that the inability to update Unreal Engine, especially, could seriously harm not just the Fortnite developer, but also many others. However, while a savvy maneuver, this echoes Epic’s tactic of weaponizing angry gamers to fight for its cause. Just as developers stand to gain a fair amount if Epic’s larger suit succeeds, they also stand to lose a lot here—likely more than Epic, given that Unreal Engine does much of its business on other platforms. Epic clearly wants that to be publicly known and felt. If nothing else, here’s hoping the company doesn’t make another “1984" commercial about it.