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The Epic Games vs Apple lawsuit: everything you need to know

Written by Stakester
10 May, 2021

By now, you’ve probably heard about the Apple and Epic games lawsuit — but what’s really going on?

Controversy has been heating up between Apple and Epic Games since August of 2020. Complicated legal disputes are no fun to read about, but the drama underneath definitely is! Here’s a handy timeline so you can pretend you understand everything.  

The hotfix that started it all

This giant lawsuit was sparked by a simple app hotfix (update to you and me). This new hotfix added in-app purchases, sending money directly to Epic Games while bypassing Apple and Google’s 30% commission. Simply put, The App Store and the Google Play store take a cut of the money that any app earns, and it is alleged that Epic Games violated their developer agreement by accepting direct payments.

This led to Fortnite being removed from the app store — an event that was reportedly a calculated trap laid by Epic called ‘Project Liberty’ (nothing suspicious there). In response to this, Epic Games slapped Apple with a 65-page lawsuit, and produced a video parodying Apple’s Superbowl advert. #FreeFortnite began trending and Epic Games were quickly criticised for ‘weaponizing’ their audience against the tech giants, but this didn’t stop them from pushing forward with their lawsuit.

Fortnite app store screenshot
credit: epic games

The tech titans response

In response, Apple apparently tried to terminate Epic’s developer accounts. This spelt danger to developers who used Epic’s Unreal Engine. But, in another twist to the story, Epic managed to file a restraining order allowing continued use of these tools. However, Fortnite was still blocked. Apple responded with yet another countersuit, claiming that this case is “nothing more than a basic disagreement over money.”

As for Google, they have kept a lower profile in this case (which isn’t like them) and tried to push proceedings to next year, but their attempt was rejected by a judge. The clock is now ticking for both companies!

Epic Games and Unreal Engine logos

The trial that makes Apple history

The internet has tuned in daily to the trial since day one and the first day was interesting to say the least. The trial was held via conference call, with anyone able to call in, but due to some technical difficulties, the public calls weren’t muted. Many young Fortnite fans called in, shouting for Fortnite to return to mobile — and this lasted for an incredible 20 minutes before the issue was sorted. We all know you can never win a fight with the internet.

Not only that but some documents related to the case were accidentally leaked, alongside those that the public were never meant to see. These leaks detailed the number of downloads that each free game offered on the Epic Game Store as well as what was paid to each developer. Not an ideal start to proceedings. 

So, why is this important?

You’re not here to get a law degree, so let’s put the business aside. We already know that Epic was anticipating this move from Apple, and this really represents a strategic move on their part. Most developers that publish to these app stores feel that the 30% cut is too large and especially unfair for new developers. 

If the court rules in Epic’s favour, this could see the start of a new era of online gaming and development. Companies may be required to slash the fees they charge, and open up doors for newcomers. Epic has already managed to get Xbox to drop an online membership requirement for free-to-play online games. The only thing that is certain, is that things are going to change.

Tim Sweeney, CEO of Epic Games
tim sweeney, the ceo of epic games

What comes next?

Currently, the trial could go either way. Apple is an incredibly large company worth over $2 trillion (that’s a lot of zeroes!), and that obviously means they can afford good lawyers. In Epic’s case, they’re making a stand against an expected business practice, a move that gives them the underdog status and has brought fellow developers to their defense.

With new details coming out every day as the trial continues, we’re waiting eagerly for the final results. Life might just go back to normal — 30% cuts remaining untouched — or maybe we’ll see a new shift in the industry that will liberate developers from the chains of Apple and Google.

Screenshot from 'Nineteen Eighty-Fortnite' video
from the video ‘Nineteen Eighty-Fortnite – #FreeFortnite

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