Epic Games kicked off 2021 by expanding its ongoing legal feud with Apple and Google to the U.K.
The company behind Fortnite and the Unreal Engine filed new complaints with the U.K.’s Competition Appeal Tribunal against the two companies over their decision to remove Fortnite from the App Store and Play Store. Specifically, Epic accused Apple of abusing its “dominant position” in the market.
Epic highlights three accusations against Apple in the complaint. First, the company alleges Apple reserved the sole method for distributing apps to iPhone and iPad devices, processing payments for the apps and content within apps for itself. Epic also accused Apple of using its position to charge developers unfair prices for these systems. Finally, the filing highlights Apple’s response to Epic adding a competing in-app purchase system into Fortnite as evidence of the antitrust claims. Epic’s filing about Google covers much of the same ground.
The complaint goes on to seek relief from the U.K. tribunal by asking it to declare Apple’s removal of Fortnite as “unlawful” and to issue an order requiring that Apple removes restrictions on third-party in-app payment methods.
Epic issued the following statement to 9to5Mac:
“Epic Games has launched legal proceedings against Apple and Google in the United Kingdom, expanding its fight to advance fair digital platform practices for consumers and developers.
“The legal proceedings, filed in London’s Competition Appeal Tribunal, allege the conduct of both Apple and Google in their respective app stores is an abuse of a dominant position and in breach of the UK’s competition laws, substantially reducing competition in app distribution and payment processes.
“We believe that this is an important argument to make on behalf of consumers and developers in the UK and around the world who are impacted by Apple and Google’s misuse of market power. We look forward to making our case on January 21.
“Epic is not seeking damages from Apple or Google in the UK, Australia or the US, it is simply seeking fair access and competition that will benefit all consumers.”
Epic’s U.K. complaint is the latest effort to get Fortnite back on app stores
Epic Games has been locked in legal battles with Apple and Google over its Fortnite game since August 2020. Epic started the fight by pushing out a Fortnite update that added a new in-app payment method for buying content in the game that bypassed Apple and Google’s payment processing systems. Using other payment processing systems is against the rules of both stores. Apple and Google responded by booting Fortnite from their respective app stores.
Epic then launched lawsuits accusing the companies of abusing their power over app distribution platforms to prop up monopolies over the ecosystem. With Apple’s iOS, the only way to make software available to consumers is through Apple’s App Store — Apple holds the power to block or restrict access to the store, which means developers have to do as Apple says or risk losing access to customers who use iPhones or iPad. Apple, however, says this approach allows it to protect iOS users from dangerous software better.
The situation is similar with Google, the Play Store and the Android ecosystem. However, a crucial difference is that Android does allow installation of apps from third-party sources. Epic argues that apps installed from sources outside the Play Store are subject to restrictions that make Play Store installations preferable. It’s worth noting that many of the restrictions on third-party app installations are in place to protect users. For example, Android has a built-in toggle that prevents individual apps from installing software. If someone wanted to install an app by downloading the file from the web with their browser, they would have to grant the browser permission to install apps. The toggle keeps installed apps from being able to download and install other software without user permission. While the process isn’t difficult, it is less convenient than just downloading an app from the Play Store.
Since Fortnite was removed from the App Store and Play Store, Epic has tried to leverage the courts to force Apple and Google to reinstate Fortnite to their stores until the courts reach a final decision. However, U.S. courts decided against that course of action, reasoning that Epic could earn its way back to the App Store and Play Store by removing the new in-app purchase system. However, courts have issued orders to Apple to prevent it from targeting Epic Games’ other developer accounts, such as the one for Unreal Engine, that aren’t directly tied to Fortnite.
Alongside the court battle, Epic and Apple have engaged in various petty squabbles. Epic launched a public relations campaign mocking Apple, which included a parody of the company’s famous ‘1984’ advertisement as well as a Fortnite cosmetic that resembled Apple CEO Tim Cook. Apple countersued over the campaign. Although we likely won’t see a verdict until later in 2021, Epic’s stance has become central to complaints about Apple’s App Store. Others have taken issue with Apple’s rules, including Microsoft.