Maker of Fortnite Sues Apple for Using App Store as a Monopoly

This March 19, 2018, file photo shows Apple’s App Store app in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

(CN) — Epic Games, the maker of the popular video game Fortnite, filed antitrust suits against Apple and Google in federal court on Thursday after the tech giants kicked the video game off their app stores due to an ongoing dispute over commissions. 

The tussle began Thursday morning when Epic Games began to encourage its users to pay it directly for in-game upgrades instead of using Apple, which earns a 30% commission of all app payments. 

The controversial policy is not only decried by Epic Games but has been at the center of a slew of lawsuits from app developers that claim Apple is using its app store to exert monopolistic power over the market. 

“Apple imposes unreasonable and unlawful restraints to completely monopolize both markets and prevent software developers from reaching the over one billion users of its mobile devices (e.g., iPhone and iPad) unless they go through a single store controlled by Apple, the App Store, where Apple exacts an oppressive 30% tax on the sale of every app,” Epic Games said in a lawsuit filed in the Northern District of California.

Apple said in a statement on Thursday it was committed to resolving its dispute with Epic Games and said it kicked the video game maker off its device due to violations of its terms of service. 

“Epic enabled a feature in its app which was not reviewed or approved by Apple, and they did so with the express intent of violating the App Store guidelines,” Apple said. “We will make every effort to work with Epic to resolve these violations so they can return Fortnite to the App Store.”

Google released a statement mirroring Apple, saying the video game violated its rules regarding in-app purchases. 

“For game developers who choose to use the Play Store, we have consistent policies that are fair to developers and keep the store safe for users,” the company said.

The lawsuits come amid an atmosphere where lawmakers in Washington D.C. are increasingly eyeing Big Tech with suspicion, particularly as it relates to antitrust considerations. Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple, joined other executives from companies like Amazon, Facebook and Google at a hearing in late July. 

Epic Game also followed up with a similar lawsuit against Google on Thursday, claiming the company uses the Google Play Store for the same monopolistic purpose as Apple. 

“Google’s actions force app developers and consumers into Google’s own monopolized “app store” — the Google Play Store,” the company said in the lawsuit. “Google has thus installed itself as an unavoidable middleman for app developers who wish to reach Android users and vice versa.”

The makers of Fortnite are just the most recent in a spate of app developers who complain they have no choice but to give a portion of their in-app proceeds to Apple and Google, which also creates its own apps to compete with outside developers. 

Apple contends its pricing structure is fair and that it expends significant dollars to ensure the App store is regularly updated, which in turn, creates business opportunities for developers like Epic Games. 

“Epic has had apps on the App Store for a decade, and have benefited from the App Store ecosystem,” Apple said in a statement on Thursday. “The fact that their business interests now lead them to push for a special arrangement does not change the fact that these guidelines create a level playing field for all developers and make the store safe for all users.”

Fortnite is an immensely popular video game, particularly its battle royale format, where up to a hundred players can interact in a virtual world competing to see who will be the last one standing. 

The game has proved one of the linchpins of the esports movement, where professional video game players compete against each other for large purses. In July 2019, Epic Games hosted a tournament called the Fortnite World Cup, which involved $30 million. 

In 2019, Fortnite garnered $1.8 billion in proceeds for Epic Games, according to Nielsen. The CEO of Epic Games, Tim Sweeney, reported that Fortnite has attracted more than 250 million players. 

Epic Games seeks an injunction declaring Apple and Google’s business practices as unlawful under the Sherman Act, while seeking an end to such practices. 

The lawsuit against Google in particular emphasized the company was not seeking a monetary award, but court-ordered changes to the business structure of both app stores. 

“Epic seeks injunctive relief that would deliver Google’s broken promise: an open, competitive Android ecosystem for all users and industry participants,” Epic Games said in the complaint. 

Users who have already downloaded the Fortnite app can still use it, but anyone attempting to download it to iPhones will discover it is no longer available after today. 

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