Apple has followed through on its threat to terminate the developer account of Epic Games. That means games like Fortnite and Infinity Blade are no longer available on Apple devices. If you've never downloaded them, you won't be able to. And if you have downloaded them before but have since deleted them, you won't be able to re-download them like you normally can with other iOS or Mac apps. The two companies are locked in a legal battle over in-app payments that Epic does not want to share with Apple.
Here's Apple's statement on the matter:
We are disappointed that we have had to terminate the Epic Games account on the App Store. We have worked with the team at Epic Games for many years on their launches and releases. The court recommended that Epic comply with the App Store guidelines while their case moves forward, guidelines they’ve followed for the past decade until they created this situation. Epic has refused. Instead they repeatedly submit Fortnite updates designed to violate the guidelines of the App Store. This is not fair to all other developers on the App Store and is putting customers in the middle of their fight. We hope that we can work together again in the future, but unfortunately that is not possible today.
The case began when Apple removed Fortnite from the App Store after Epic released a new version of the game that bypassed Apple's payment system and allowed users to buy in-game currency directly through Epic's own site at a discount, sidestepping the 30 percent commission that Apple normally takes on in-app purchases. Even then, users who had deleted the game but previously downloaded it were able to re-download it from the "Purchased" tab in the App Store. Now they can't.
A judge recently split their decision down the middle, saying that Apple couldn't block Epic from access to tools needed to release new versions of its Unreal Engine that other developers use to make games, but that Apple could block its games until a decision is reached in the in-app payments dispute.
Apple's platform power — Other developers including Microsoft, Facebook, and Spotify have also come out against Apple, saying the company has too much control over other businesses that rely on iOS devices to distribute their apps. Apple dictates the rules in the App Store and doesn't allow users to install apps from anywhere else, meaning developers are at the mercy of Apple and must do what it says or risk being locked out of the mobile operating system that commands 50 percent of the U.S. smartphone market.
Facebook in particular slammed Apple this week after it hurt the ability for advertisers to track users for the purpose of showing them targeted ads. CEO Mark Zuckerberg told his employees that Apple has a strangehold on software for iPhones and blocks innovation. Of course, Facebook attacking someone else over platform power is a bit hypocritical, but it doesn't mean he's wrong.
Epic's lawsuit was sort of seen as a stunt to intentionally push Apple for better terms as industry sentiment turns against it. The developer even launched a #FreeFortnite campaign to rally its users. Epic can still re-instate in-app purchases for the time being while its case works through the court, and Apple may allow it back in the App Store if it does.
Innovation suffers — Apple says its rules and fees are intended to create a safe App Store free of malicious or shady apps. Lawmakers and developers think it's anticompetitive, however, because Apple can block innovative apps or competitors based on the rules it alone sets. Microsoft has been unable to launch its xCloud game streaming service on iOS, for instance, because Apple has said it would be unable to review games on the service beforehand. Apple offers its own game subscription service called Apple Arcade. Even when it allows competitive apps like Spotify — which competes with Apple Music — the company demands a cut of sales that its own apps don't have to pay.
On macOS, users are allowed to download apps from anywhere and there have not been widespread complaints of malware there. Critics of Apple say its decision to block apps outside the App Store is evidence that it only restricts iOS because the App Store is a lucrative moneymaker at a time when the company says services are an increasingly important part of its revenue.
Current antitrust law forbids any behavior that stifles innovation, raises prices, or makes it difficult for competitors to succeed in an open marketplace. But it doesn't seem like Apple is worried any fresh legislation will come its way anytime soon and force it to revise its App Store policies. Even if it does, the company has no incentive to comply before it's forced to. Worse than showing weakness, that would mean leaving money on the table.