Apple ordered to not block Epic Games’ Unreal Engine, but Fortnite to stay off App Store

A district court denied Epic Games’ motion to temporarily restore the Fortnite game to the iOS App Store, but also ordered Apple to not block the gaming giant’s ability to provide and distribute Unreal Engine on the iPhone-maker’s ecosystem in a mixed-ruling delivered Monday evening.

U.S. District Court Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers said Apple can’t retaliate against Epic Games by blocking the gaming firm’s developer accounts or restrict developers on Apple platforms from accessing the widely used Unreal Engine tools.

“The record shows potential significant damage to both the Unreal Engine platform itself, and to the gaming industry generally, including on both third-party developers and gamers,” she said, adding that even as Epic Games violated App Store’s guidelines, it did not breach any contracts related to Unreal Engine and developer tools.

“Apple has chosen to act severely, and by doing so, has impacted non-parties, and a third-party developer ecosystem,” said Rogers.

But the ruling was not a complete win for Epic Games, which had also requested the sleeper hit title Fortnite to be restored on the iOS App Store. Rogers said the game will remain off the App Store unless Epic Games attempted to bring it back in accordance with App Store guidelines.

The Monday ruling caps — for now — the high-stakes public battle between giants Apple and Epic Games over the fundamental rules of iPhone’s App Store. Epic broke Apple’s and Google’s app stores guidelines earlier this month when it provided Fortnite users on iOS and Android the ability to pay it directly.

Apple and Google require developers on their platforms to use their respective payment processing systems and comply to paying a commission — which for games, is 30% of the transaction amount.

Epic’s move prompted Apple to remove Fortnite, perhaps the best selling mobile game to date, from its App Store. Anticipating what Apple will do, minutes after Fortnite was pulled from the App Store, Epic Games filed a lawsuit against Apple and kickstarted one of the weirdest — or boldest (depending on who you ask) — marketing campaigns.

The following day, Apple informed Epic Games that, based on its breaches of the App Store guidelines and the developer program license agreement, it would be revoking all developer tools, which would preclude updates for other programs, including the Unreal Engine, by August 28. Epic Games later filed a motion for an injunction against Apple.

Unreal Engine is a widely popular suite of creation tools for gaming developers. In recent years, its offerings have become so compelling that it has been used in commercial movies and TV shows, such as Disney+’s “The Mandalorian.”

Epic Games claimed last week that developers were already leaving Unreal Engine as uncertainty loomed over its future on the Apple ecosystem. Kevin Gammill, Microsoft’s general manager of Gaming Developer Experiences, declared his support for Epic in an additional filing appended to Epic’s request for a restraining order over the weekend.

Phil Spencer, the head of Xbox, also tweeted: “[…] We filed a statement in support of Epic’s request to keep access to the Apple SDK for its Unreal Engine. Ensuring that Epic has access to the latest Apple technology is the right thing for gamer developers & gamers.”

It’s worth pointing out that Microsoft and Apple are locked in a side battle of their own.