Apple threatens to cut off Epic Games’ access to developer tools that are necessary to maintain Unreal Engine

If Apple follows through, the threat will impact over 100 games on its platforms.

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Apple is threatening to ban Epic Games’ Developer Program account and cut off its access to all development tools that are necessary to create software for Apple’s platforms including for the Unreal Engine.

Apple put Epic Games on notice on August 14 – one day after Epic Games Fortnite was banned from the App Store over its launch of an in-game “Epic direct payment” system.

This system allowed players to circumvent the App Store payment system when buying Fortnite’s in-game currency “V-Bucks” which was in violation of Apple’s strict App Store rules that require app developers that sell digital apps or subscriptions to use the App Store payments system and prohibit developers from linking to alternative payment methods.

Within hours of being banned, Epic Games filed an antitrust lawsuit against Apple which argued that Apple’s restrictions and fees have harmed app distributors, app developers, and consumers.

Epic Games is now seeking a preliminary injunction against Apple to prevent it from cutting Epic Games’ access to these developer tools.

We obtained a copy of the Epic Games request for a preliminary injunction against Apple for you here.

In the filing for the injunction, Epic Games accuses Apple of “ferociously” retaliating in response to the antitrust lawsuit and notes that Apple has never claimed that any of the Unreal Engine offers to third-party violate any Apple policy.

“Not content simply to remove Fortnite from the App Store, Apple is attacking Epic’s entire business in unrelated areas,” Epic Games adds.

Unless the injunction is granted, Apple is demanding that Epic Games cure its breaches of the Apple Developer Program License Agreement by August 28 or its developer account will be banned and it will be cut off from these tools.

In a statement, Apple wrote that: “The problem Epic has created for itself can easily be remedied if they submit an update of their app that reverts it to comply with the guidelines they agreed to and which apply to all developers. We won’t make an exception for Epic because we don’t think it’s right to put their business interests ahead of the guidelines that protect our customers.”

Apple’s threat would impact more than 100 games across Mac and iOS use the Unreal Engine including PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG) (a game which is installed on over 600 million mobile devices), the Borderlands series, The Life Is Strange series, several games in the Batman: Arkham series, Ark: Survival Evolved, and Tropico 6.

It would also prevent the millions of developers that use the Unreal Engine from being able to use this engine to develop games for iPhones and iPads. While they can still continue using this engine to develop games for Mac, Mac users would have to go through several additional steps for the games to work and most average users aren’t going to be familiar with these steps.

Apple’s response to Epic Games echoes its aggressive response to the Facebook Research App scandal last year.

After it was discovered that Facebook had used Apple’s enterprise developer certificates (which are meant to be for distributing internal corporate apps to employees only) to sidestep the App Store approval process and get users as young as 13 to download a Facebook Research App and gain root access to their phones, Apple revoked Facebook’s ability to use and distribute internal iOS apps.

This caused chaos at Facebook with the decision locking Facebook employees out of early builds of Facebook, Messenger, and Instagram and preventing them from accessing internal iOS apps such as lunch menus.

While Apple’s decision had a significant impact on Facebook internally, the collateral damage was limited to the tools where Facebook had violated the terms and only affected Facebook employees.

If Apple follows through on its threat against Epic Games, the collateral damage would be much greater. The dispute is related to Epic Games violating Apple’s in-app payment rules yet Apple is threatening to pull its ability to develop a tool on Apple platforms that has never broken the rules – the Unreal Engine.

This wouldn’t just prevent Epic Games from distributing games on Apple platforms but it would also force the developers of hundreds of other games on Apple’s platforms to either abandon their games or completely rebuild them. Epic Games’ ability to license the Unreal Engine would also be diminished.

Apple has until midday on August 19 to respond and the hearing will take place over Zoom on August 24.

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