Fortnite battle escalates: Apple to terminate developer program membership, Epic files injunction

Epic Unreal Engine developers are now also in the firing line.

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Apple and Epic's spat over in-app payment fees has now exploded into a battle that may end up harming developers in the iOS ecosystem. 

In a court filing dated August 17 (.PDF) and shared by Fortnite developer Epic, Apple said that Fornite has been found in "direct violation of the Apple Developer Program License Agreement," and as a result, Epic's membership will be terminated in the program within 14 days.

The battle began last week when the iPad and iPhone maker removed Fortnite from the App Store. Epic had inserted its own in-app payment system for gamers in Fortnite, thereby bypassing Apple's standard 30% cut of any payments made via popular apps in the iOS ecosystem. 

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Epic attempted to lure users to use the new payment system by offering discounts of up to 20% on virtual purchases including the in-game currency V-Bucks on both iOS and Android. 

However, both Google and Apple demand a 30% cut, and once the bypass was introduced, Fornite was removed from both Google Play and Apple's App Store. 

Lawsuits have been launched against both tech giants. Epic deems the commission rate as "oppressive" and despite trying to use the massive Fortnite customer base as leverage -- alongside some rather intense public mockery -- the row now has the potential to severely impact iOS developers. 

According to Epic's injunction request, unless the alternative in-app payment system is removed, the game developer will not be able to submit apps to the App Store and access to developer tools will be revoked, including iOS SDKs, APIs, and pre-release versions of iOS, macOS, and other operating systems -- a practice to ensure developers can iron out any software issues caused by new OS versions before they become mainstream. 

In addition, any other Epic apps on iOS will be removed.

Apple also intends to block "engineering efforts to improve hardware and software performance of Unreal Engine on Mac and iOS hardware [and] optimize Unreal Engine for the Mac for creative workflows," the filing claims.

In other words, developers making use of the Unreal Engine will suffer due to the payment dispute. 

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Epic calls this a "direct attack" on the "ongoing viability" of the engine, and says that this move would make it "impossible for Epic to continue developing the engine for use on iOS and macOS devices."

"Third-party developers who rely on the Unreal Engine to power their software on Apple devices will not choose to use the Unreal Engine if it is incompatible with Apple OSs," the filing reads. "Epic has released 25 updates to Unreal Engine 4 since 2014, but on Apple products, there would be no further updates."

As the engine would also be barred from updates designed to ensure compatibility with upcoming Apple OS versions, Epic says that its developer pool will have to switch to competitors, "turning it from a widely-used tool to a niche product."

Epic is now seeking a temporary restraining order from the courts to stop Apple from continuing from making the Fornite app unavailable -- including any updates -- as well as barring the company from revoking Epic's access to the developer program. 

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"In the absence of a preliminary injunction, Apple's removal of Fortnite and other Epic apps from the App Store, blocking of further app updates from distribution through the App Store, and termination of Epic's Developer Program account, including as to the Unreal Engine, will irreparably harm Epic's reputation and cripple the Unreal Engine well before this case is adjudicated," the company says. 

In a statement, Apple said that the company wants Epic and Fortnite to return to the App Store, but in order to do so, Epic needs to "comply with the guidelines they agreed to and which apply to all developers."

An Apple spokesperson said that the tech giant "won't make an exception for Epic because we don't think it's right to put their businesses interests ahead of the guidelines that protect our customers."

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