As Epic Games’ developer account termination is looming just a week away on August 28, Apple has officially responded to the Fornite developer’s lawsuit with a court filing. Despite what Epic CEO Tim Sweeney has said, Apple’s Phil Schiller says Epic asked for a special deal and revealed how Sweeney approached the situation by submitting three emails in the case.
Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney previously defended the company as Apple unofficially said it was asking for a special deal. Now in three emails shared as part of its first court filing in the case, Apple gave some evidence for the claim about how Epic asked for special treatment and is using anti-competitive practices.
On June 30, 2020, Epic’s CEO Tim Sweeney wrote my colleagues and me an email asking for a ‘side letter’ from Apple that would create a special deal for only Epic that would fundamentally change the way in which Epic offers apps on Apple’s iOS platform,” former Apple Senior Vice President Phil Schiller wrote in a declaration. Schiller, whose title is now Fellow, runs Apple’s App Store.
Explaining further, Schiller said “that Sweeney emailed him the morning that Fortnite changed its payment mechanism saying that it ‘will no longer adhere to Apple’s payment processing restrictions.'”
When announcing that Apple gave a heads up about its account termination, Epic said that the move was retaliation for protesting Apple’s App Store policies and filed another lawsuit asking the Northern District California court to prevent Apple from the termination.
Over the last two weeks, Apple has made it clear that Fortnite can return to the App Store and Epic prevent its developer account from being deleted by submitting an updated version of the popular game without the direct payment option that got it banned. Apple reiterated that and summed up how it sees the situation as part of its new filing.
In the wake of its own voluntary actions, Epic now seeks emergency relief. But the “emergency” is entirely of Epic’s own making. Epic’s agreements with Apple expressly spell out that if an app developer violates the rules of the App Store or the license for development tools—both of which apply and are enforced equally to all developers large and small—Apple will stop working with that developer. Developers who work to deceive Apple, as Epic has done here, are terminated.
Seen in one of the full emails (shown below), Sweeney did say “We hope that Apple will also make these options equally available to all iOS developers…” but the fact that it was asking for its own “side letter” to create its own app store certainly won’t help Epic keep (or gain) the support of small developers or its legal case against Apple for that matter.
Even though Epic’s position is looking weaker, one difficult aspect of all this for Apple is its special deal with Amazon that more specifics came to light about recently. That along with other examples of exceptions for other large companies like Microsoft make it difficult for Apple to claim it treats all developers equally.
Another notable detail, Apple specifically called out China-based Tencent’s big investment into Epic Games in the court filing. That’s of course while TikTok is on the verge of being banned in the US if not sold amid rising tensions with China.
Over time, in part because of the opportunities Apple made available, Epic grew to a multi-billion dollar enterprise with large investors like the Chinese tech giant Tencent pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into the company. Now, having decided that it would rather enjoy the benefits of the App Store without paying for them, Epic has breached its contracts with Apple, using its own customers and Apple’s users as leverage.
You can read Apple’s full court filing in the Epic case here.
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