September 23, 2020

Epic Games Goes to War With Apple and Google Over App Store Policies

Yes, you can get Fortnite on the Epic Games store. Epic Games’ beef with Apple...

Yes, you can get Fortnite on the Epic Games store.

Epic Games’ beef with Apple and Google has escalated quickly in the last 24 hours. The events of yesterday led to Fortnite’s removal from both the App Store and the Play Store, lawsuits against both Google and Apple, and lots of Twitter hashtags. 

Things started to snowball when Epic updated Fortnite with a direct payment option early on Thursday. This was an intentionally flagrant violation of both Apple’s and Google’s policies. What happened next was inevitable, and indeed, Epic seems to have planned ahead: Apple and Google booted Fortnite, and Epic filled lawsuits against both of them.  

Epic had the legal documents ready to go suspiciously soon after Fortnite’s removal. It also released a video mocking Apple called Nineteen-Eighty-Fortnite and started a Twitter hashtag campaign within hours. It didn’t have any venom ready for Google, though.  

In the Apple suit, Epic’s arguments are familiar and compelling to many consumers. Apple has a total monopoly on iOS app distribution, and Epic doesn’t think it should. There is no way to get apps from outside the walled garden short of jailbreaking the phone. Epic says that if Apple loosened up a little, it would create an iOS app store of its own. 

With Google, things are a bit more complex. You can use third-party app stores on Android, but Epic alleges Google essentially bullies smartphone makers to dissuade them from pre-loading Epic’s storefront. Epic claims it had an agreement with OnePlus to pre-load its app store, but Google forced OnePlus to cancel the deal. The document says similar things happened at other OEMs as well. If this is accurate, it’s a potentially huge problem for Google. Epic also complains the process for sideloading apps is too complex and “threatening.” 

Epic’s vision for mobile app distribution calls for major changes: “There is no reason that downloading and installing an app on a mobile device should differ from downloading and installing software on a personal computer.” That would amount to a huge change in the security model of mobile platforms. Is it necessary? That probably depends on how you feel about the state of the market. Together, Android and iOS make up virtually all smartphones, and given that, should Apple and Google have so much control over content distribution? It’s a hard one to answer.

According to the filings, Epic is not seeking monetary damages. Instead, it wants to open up mobile app distribution for all developers. Coincidentally, that would also really help Epic’s bottom line. Funny how that works. 

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