Epic Sues Apple and Google After Fortnite Gets Kicked Out of App Store

Apple and Google has kicked Fortnite off of its app store. In response, Fortnite maker Epic has filed a lawsuit arguing anti-competitive behavior.

It’s a hugely popular and well-known game. Now, if you look for it in Apple’s app store, you won’t be able to find it any more. Fortnite has been kicked out over what appears to be a Terms of Service (ToS) violation. Over top of that, Epic is also suing Google. From CNet:

At the heart of the debate is whether Epic has the right to include a direct-payments service in its Fortnite app, circumventing Apple’s and Google’s payments systems and the up to 30% charge Apple and Google levy on each transaction.

Epic’s lawsuit alleges that Apple has become a “behemoth seeking to control markets, block competition and stifle innovation.”

“Apple is bigger, more powerful, more entrenched and more pernicious than monopolies of yesteryear,” Epic says in the suit. “Apple’s size and reach far exceeds that of any technology monopolist in history.”

Epic’s lawsuit against Google accuses the tech giant of abandoning its idealistic roots and says Android’s claim that it’s an open ecosystem is a “broken promise.”

“In 1998, Google was founded as an exciting young company with a unique motto: ‘Don’t Be Evil,'” reads the complaint. “Twenty-two years later, Google has relegated its motto to nearly an afterthought, and is using its size to do evil upon competitors, innovators, customers, and users in a slew of markets it has grown to monopolize.” Google declined to comment on the lawsuit.

Apple earlier Thursday said it chose to remove Fortnite from its App Store because the game violated guidelines Apple says it applies equally to every developer and that are designed to keep the store safe.

“As a result their Fortnite app has been removed from the store,” Apple said in a statement, adding that it’ll work with Epic to resolve the issue. “Epic enabled a feature in its app which was not reviewed or approved by Apple, and they did so with the express intent of violating the App Store guidelines regarding in-app payments that apply to every developer who sells digital goods or services.”

The angle here appears to be that Apple and Google control too much of the smartphone app marketplace. This angle is probably the most likely way to make a lawsuit like this succeed.

If Epic decided to initiate action because they didn’t like the ToS of the various stores, such a lawsuit would be very likely unsuccessful. Simply put, the company sets out the rules over how it wants users to conduct themselves. Since this appears to be the grounds for why the game got the boot, then challenging the companies over the ToS would be a likely unwinnable battleground.

Another angle is that the two stores owns a monopoly of getting your game to market. That is generally not a very winnable strategy. After all, Fortnite is offered on many platforms like the Playstation 4, XBox One, the Nintendo Switch, and multiple other platforms. So, that would represent a considerable challenge for any anti-competitive complaint before the courts.

However, the angle chosen here in that Google and Apple have such a dominant share of the smartphone app market would make success plausible. A cursory search for how large the market shares are for both Google and Apple and it’s not hard to find data saying that, combined, the market share owned by the two companies is pretty overwhelming. The largest player after that is the Windows App Store followed up by the Amazon Appstore. So, getting kicked out of those two stores would mean that you have very limited options of getting your game out to market from a mobile app perspective.

There are, of course, challenges to this lawsuit. Just because the game got kicked out of those two stores doesn’t mean that they can’t get the game to market. With more modern game consoles, video games are now becoming increasingly sold virtually. For instance, the game is still available on the Playstation Store, Microsoft’s XBox store, and the Nintendo Game Store. By no means are they small platforms. With this game being on those stores, success is still more than possible.

So, as a result, I wouldn’t characterize this as a slam dunk case for Epic. Still, the angle being taken here does make legal action plausibly successful. If anything, such a lawsuit would be welcomed by critics of the tech giants in the first place. So, it’ll be interesting to see where the lawsuit actually goes because it could go either way in our view.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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