Epic says that Apple has threatened to cut off its access to all iOS and Mac developer tools as retaliation for sneaking a new payment option into Fortnite last week — a stunt that ended in the app being banned from the App Store and Epic filing a blockbuster antitrust lawsuit against Apple, claiming it places illegal restrictions on the distribution of iOS apps.
Apple will terminate Epic’s inclusion in the Apple Developer Program, a membership that’s necessary to distribute apps on iOS devices or use Apple developer tools, if the company does not “cure your breaches” to the agreement within two weeks, according to a letter from Apple that was shared by Epic. Epic won’t be able to notarize Mac apps either, a process that could make installing Epic’s software more difficult or block it altogether. Apple requires that all apps are notarized before they can be run on newer versions of macOS, even if they’re distributed outside the App Store.
Epic has filed for a preliminary injunction against Apple, asking the court to stop the company from cutting it off. Epic says it will be “irreparably harmed long before final judgment comes” if it does not obtain the injunction. “Apple’s actions will irreparably damage Epic’s reputation among Fortnite users and be catastrophic for the future of the separate Unreal Engine business,” Epic writes. Epic also asks for Fortnite — with its lowered prices and alternate payment option — to be returned to the App Store.
Apple declined to comment on the motion. A spokesperson for the company pointed to a statement Apple released last week, saying that Epic “took the unfortunate step of violating the App Store guidelines” and that it would “make every effort to work with Epic to resolve these violations.”
Cutting Epic out of the developer program entirely would be a significant escalation in an already high-stakes battle. The developer program is the gateway to publishing apps on Apple’s platforms, and the ubiquity of Epic’s Unreal Engine could lead to problems that reach far beyond Epic itself. The Unreal Engine is a hugely popular free-to-start game engine that’s widely used by developers. Many games inside Apple’s own Apple Arcade subscription service rely on the Unreal Engine, and theoretically, those developers would struggle to build new iOS games or create updates if Apple cuts off access to the software.
It’s hard to know exactly how damaging the move would be (the tools would still be available on Windows), but Epic paints it as grandiose and dire. “The cascading effect of losing ongoing Unreal Engine compatibility will threaten the viability of the engine and disrupt development of a constellation of apps and uses that rely on its graphics to render hundreds of video games, the human brain, Baby Yoda and space flight,” the company writes in the motion today.
Apple seems to have come at Epic with every possible violation of the agreement it could find. The company cites not just the “Epic direct payment” feature — which kicked off this whole conflict — but also a lack of descriptiveness in Fortnite’s app update notes, saying it used too much of a “generic statement.” Apple sent its warning letter on August 14th, giving Epic until August 28th to make the changes.