Apple has suffered a bit of a setback after a US judge granted an injunction from Epic Games, preventing it from removing its Unreal Engine from the Apple developer program.
On 13 August Epic Games filed a lawsuit against Apple, after it had issued an update for Fornite that allowed players to purchase in-game currency directly from Epic, bypassing Apple and Google’s payment systems and the 30 percent commission they charge.
Apple and Google then retaliated and removed Fornite from their respective App Stores, prompting the Epic lawsuit against Apple.
But in addition to removing Fornite, Apple also said it would terminate all of Epic Games’ developer accounts and cut it off from its development tools starting 28 August.
That was going to be an even bigger problem for Epic, because despite developing its own gaming titles, it also makes tools for other game developers such as the Unreal Engine.
Epic then filed an emergency injunction to stop Apple from revoking iOS and macOS support for its Unreal Engine.
Microsoft meanwhile has publicly backed Epic Games, after Xbox head Phil Spencer said Apple’s move would damage a “critical technology” for many third-party game creators.
The Unreal engine allows millions of developers to create three-dimensional graphics, and it is also used by medical imaging companies and car designers.
Apple’s move would have meant Epic would no longer be able to keep offering the Unreal Engine for Mac and iOS operating systems, which would impact hundreds of game titles and other software.
During a hearing on Monday, Apple asked the US federal judge in California to deny Epic’s request to return its popular Fortnite game to the Apple App Store, saying Epic knowingly violated its rules.
But now US district judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers granted a temporary restraining order forbidding Apple from removing Epic’s Apple developer accounts, or denying Unreal Engine updates on Apple operating systems.
The move would lead to “potential significant damage to both the Unreal Engine platform itself, and to the gaming industry generally, including on both third-party developers and gamers,” the court document states.
But it wasn’t all good news for Epic, as the Judge also ruled that Apple won’t be required to make Fortnite available on its App Store.
“The current predicament appears of its [Epic’s] own making,” the judge ruled. “Epic Games remains free to maintain its agreements with Apple in breach status as this litigation continues.”
The two sides are expected to clash again when the case is reconvened on 28 September to argue over a preliminary injunction.
This should establish whether Fortnite and the Unreal Engine can remain on Apple’s platforms until spring 2021, when the legal case will be heard.
This legal battle has become increasingly bitter of late.
Epic chief executive Tim Sweeney said earlier this month that Epic was not seeking a “special deal” with Apple that would not be available to other iOS software makers.
But Apple challenged this claim, producing three emails from Sweeney that it said show the company was looking for an individual arrangement allowing it to bypass Apple’s built-in payment system.
In a filing on Friday, former Apple senior vice president Phil Schiller said Sweeney wrote to him and his colleagues asking for a “side letter” from Apple that would create a “special deal”, allowing users to pay the company directly.
Schiller, now Fellow at Apple, runs the company’s App Store.
Schiller said Sweeney also emailed him the morning that Epic changed Fortnite’s payment mechanism, saying the company “will no longer adhere to Apple’s payment processing restrictions”.
But Epic’s Sweeney has now publicly refuted Schiller’s claim and has published his email in full.
Sweeney took exception to Apple’s statement that Epic had tried to procure a deal for themselves, and only themselves, labelling it misleading.
Sweeney tweeted an image of the entire email he sent to Apple that is referenced in Apple’s filing, pointing out that in his letter he wrote, “We hope that Apple will also make these options equally available to all iOS developers…”
IT should be noted that Apple’s App Store practices are also currently under investigation by US and EU competition authorities.
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