Apple terminated Epic’s developer account

Apple has terminated the developer account of Epic Games Sweden AB, preventing the company from developing the Epic Games Store for iOS devices in Europe. Epic Games intended to leverage the Digital Markets Act (DMA) to bring its store and Fortnite to iOS but was met with unexpected opposition from Apple.
apple and epic games logos

Epic Games alleges that Apple’s action violates the DMA, which mandates that gatekeepers like Apple allow and technically enable the installation and effective use of third-party software applications or software application stores on their operating systems. According to Epic Games, Apple’s termination of its developer account undermines competition on iOS devices and sets a precedent for retaliating against developers who are critical of Apple’s practices.

Apple cited Epic’s public criticism of its proposed DMA compliance plan for terminating the developer account. Epic contends that Apple’s justification is unjustified, especially considering their long-standing relationship, which includes releasing various apps and games on the App Store, contractual agreements, and collaborations.

Despite Apple’s assertion that Epic threatens its ecosystem, Epic Games points to its history of collaboration with Apple, including developing apps and games using Unreal Engine and participating in Apple’s events. Epic Games also highlights its ongoing efforts to support Apple platforms, such as shipping experimental support for Apple Vision Pro in Unreal Engine 5.4.

In the blog post that announces the developments and its correspondence with Apple, Epic Games vows to continue fighting for true competition and choice on iOS devices in Europe and globally, emphasizing the need to address the power imbalance that allows Apple to control competing stores and apps. Epic’s developer account was terminated after Apple initially approved it, leading to tensions between the two companies regarding compliance with developer agreements and the DMA.

The correspondence between Epic Games and Apple regarding the termination of the developer account underscores the ongoing dispute between the two companies regarding the future of app distribution on iOS devices.

On the other hand, The European Union has announced its investigation into Apple’s decision to terminate Epic Games’ iOS developer account. This move blocks the release of Fortnite and the Epic Games Store on Apple devices in Europe.

“We have requested further explanations on this from Apple under the DMA,” a European Commission spokesperson stated, highlighting concerns regarding Apple’s compliance with the Digital Services Act (DSA) and the Platform to Business Regulation (P2B).

Ahmed Sharif, CTO at Sandsoft commented on the developments:

“As a game developer, publisher, and heavy users of the Apple ecosystem we would expect any platform provider to comply with the FRAND (fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory) obligations under EU law.

It is difficult to see how Apple is not violating FRAND with this decision. If I was to assume, perhaps Apple’s justification is that because Epic’s previous behaviour led to breaches of App Store agreements, Apple can therefore pre-empt a breach of contract and use that as a justification for why FRAND obligations can be suspended.

Even if we use this thinking, Apple has plenty of experience on both sides of FRAND litigation and would most certainly understand this still flaunts EU regulation. The justification that Epic is a genuine risk to the integrity of the platform feels like a challenging case for Apple to make. Nonetheless, there is likely information we have not been exposed to with regards to Epic’s development account that may lend credence to this notion.

On the plus side for consumers, this probably means that the EU will move fast with their investigation and potentially also investigate other non-compliant policies, like Apple’s recent software install fee. In parallel, according to the New York Times, this coincides with reports from the Department of Justice being in the final stages of preparing a “sweeping” antitrust case against Apple that more or less considers iOS and Android separate markets because of how difficult and expensive it is to switch between them.”

Apple defended its action, citing court rulings from its antitrust legal battle with Epic Games. According to Apple, Epic’s breach of contractual obligations justified the termination of the developer account.

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