- In mid-August, the wildly popular game “Fortnite” got an update that allowed players to submit payments directly to Epic Games, rather than go through app stores’ payment systems on Apple and Android.
- Apple and Google subsequently pulled “Fortnite” from their digital storefronts, citing the update as a terms-of-service violation, and Epic sued both companies.
- New documents show that in late June, Epic’s CEO asked Tim Cook to publish a “competing Epic Games Store app available through the iOS App Store.”
- The Epic Games Store would have provided an alternative option to Apple’s App Store for iPhone and iPad users. Most importantly, it wouldn’t allow Apple to take 30% of every sale, as it currently does.
- Apple declined through its lawyer, with a lengthy letter saying why such an option “would undermine Apple’s carefully constructed privacy and security safeguards, and seriously degrade the consumer experience and put Apple’s reputation and business at risk.”
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A month and a half before “Fortnite” maker Epic Games declared war on Apple over its App Store policies, the game developer pitched Apple on a bold idea: an alternative app store for iPhone and iPad users, operated by Epic Games.
Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney wrote on June 30 that the company wanted to offer “a competing Epic Games Store app available through the iOS App Store and through direct installation that has equal access to underlying operating system features for software installation and update as the iOS App Store itself has, including the ability to install and update software as seamlessly as the iOS App Store experience.”
The emails were revealed in a recent court filing made by Apple. In short: Epic asked to publish an iOS version of its Epic Games Store app, an Epic-operated digital storefront that already exists on Mac and PC. Sweeney also asked Apple for permission to add “competing payment processing options other than Apple payments.”
By proposing those features, Epic set an “antitrust trap” for Apple, which has faced ongoing scrutiny for the way its App Store operates. Tim Cook even faced questions from Congress over the issue during a congressional antitrust hearing earlier this summer.
The proposed features would make Apple’s iOS devices “as open and competitive as it is on personal computers,” Sweeney wrote in his June 30 email to Apple’s chief executives: Cook, then-marketing lead Phil Schiller, Vice President of Software Craig Federighi, and App Store Vice President Matt Fischer.
Apple declined Epic’s offer through a July 10 letter from its legal counsel, which said consumers expect that “every app available via the App Store meets Apple’s exacting standards for security, privacy, and content.” Approving a third-party store, such as the one Epic proposed, would harm “the health of Apple’s ecosystem,” Apple’s Chief Legal Counsel Douglas Vetter said. “Apple has never allowed this. Not when we launched the App Store in 2008. Not now,” he added.
Vetter’s response emphasised security, saying that “because of Apple’s rules and efforts, iOS and the App Store are widely recognised as providing the most secure consumer technology on the planet.”
In denying Epic’s requests, Vetter wrote: “We understand this might be in Epic’s financial interests, but Apple strongly believes these rules are vital to the health of the Apple platform and carry enormous benefits for both consumers and developers.”
Sweeney responded on July 17, thanking the Apple executive team for their “prompt response and clear answer,” but he also said it was “a sad state of affairs that Apple’s senior executives would hand Epic’s sincere request off to Apple’s legal team to respond with such a self-righteous and self-serving screed.”
He added: “Only lawyers could pretend that Apple is protecting consumers by denying choice in payments and stores to owners of iOS devices.”
Sweeney said in closing: “Epic is in a state of substantial disagreement with Apple’s policy and practices, and we will continue to pursue this, as we have done in the past to address other injustices in our industry.”
A month later, on August 13, Sweeney sent Apple’s leadership team an early-morning email before Epic updated the wildly popular “Fortnite” app with a feature to bypass payments systems on both Apple and Android app stores, skirting the 30% fees Apple and Google typically collect.
“I’m writing to tell you that Epic will no longer adhere to Apple’s payment processing restrictions,” Sweeney wrote in the email, adding, “We choose to follow this path in the firm belief that history and law are on our side.”
The “Fortnite” update forced the fight between Epic and Apple that was made public when Apple removed the app from its App Store. Google also removed the app, but Android users can still access the game through a direct download. Epic has since filed suits against both Apple and Google.
Epic also filed for a temporary restraining order to stop Apple from “removing, de-listing, refusing to list or otherwise making unavailable the app ‘Fortnite,’ including any update thereof.”
The order would get the game back on Apple’s App Store and enable players to get updates, including the upcoming season. The first hearing is set for Monday.
Read the full email exchange between Epic and Apple dating back to June 30 right here:
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