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Will Fortnite return to iOS? Probably not any time soon

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Epic isn’t happy with the ruling

Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales

The ruling is in on the Epic v. Apple trial. Epic won a major concession when it comes to allowing alternative in-app purchase options, but Apple won out on basically all other counts. The question now is: where does that leave Fortnite, which has been out of the iOS App Store since it first violated Apple’s rules by offering its own payment options in August 2020?

For the moment, it sounds like the game isn’t coming back right away. The judge did not say that Apple would be required to restore the game, and neither Apple nor Epic have indicated that it’ll return any time soon.

In fact, Epic seems to have indicated that it’s not satisfied with the ruling and won’t be restoring Fornite just yet. In a tweet, Epic CEO Tim Sweeney wrote that Fortnite will return “when and where Epic can offer in-app payment in fair competition with Apple in-app payment.” Plus, Epic has already said it plans to appeal the ruling, which raises the question of whether these new rules will even go into effect.

Apple has contended that Epic has been the one holding Fortnite back all along. The company said earlier today (in response to a new Korean law) that the company would “welcome Epic’s return to the App Store if they agree to play by the same rules as everyone else,” which means getting rid of its in-app payments system. Epic tried to have its app restored in Korea, but Apple rejected it again on the same grounds.

Today’s ruling requires Apple to allow apps to offer buttons and links to third-party payment options — but crucially, it’s not entirely clear whether the specific payment system Epic tried to add to Fortnite will be allowed. If apps want to use another payment system, they can send users outside the app, and Apple can’t stop them from doing so. But there’s some ambiguity on whether a full-on in-app payment alternative has to be approved.

It’s likely that Apple will make it difficult for outside payment systems to offer a smooth and integrated experience. It’s possible that gamers will still be required to pop out to Epic’s website every time they want to make a transaction. That’s better than nothing, but Sweeney’s tweet suggests he may not view it as “fair competition.”

The flip side of this is that it’s not even up to Epic when Fortnite returns. Even if Epic caves and makes the changes, Apple still needs to restore Epic’s developer account and approve Fortnite for distribution. Apple has said it’s open to this, but Apple’s still the one determining whether Epic is adhering to those rules.

There’s also the question of when and whether these rules go into effect. The ruling doesn’t go into effect for another 90 days, and that’s assuming an appeal doesn’t result in the ruling being put on hold. So the likely result is this: Fortnite won’t return at a minimum until Apple puts new rules into place. We don’t know when that’ll happen, and even then it’s up to both companies to agree that the game is compliant with the new rules. There’s a good chance that’ll take more than 90 days.