Apple and Google remove Fortnite video game from app stores

Move over payment guideline violations prompts maker Epic Games to take legal action

Apple and Google have removed the enormously popular video game Fortnite from their app stores for violating their in-app payment guidelines, prompting the maker, Epic Games, to take legal action challenging the tech giants’ iron grip over the industry.

Its removal from Apple’s App Store and Google’s Play Store came after Fortnite circumvented the companies’ in-app payment system and hefty fees, encouraging users to pay the gaming company directly.

Epic responded to the removal by announcing legal action against the iPhone maker and Google, and calling on supporters to “join the fight” against Apple in a video spoof of the tech giant’s famous “1984” commercial.

The original advertisement, which ran during the 1984 Super Bowl, announced the arrival of Apple’s Macintosh computer and intended to criticise powerful, large companies such as IBM. Epic suggests in its advertisement and in its legal filings that Apple has become the very kind of monopoly it once opposed – a “behemoth seeking to control markets, block competition and stifle innovation”.

Epic said in a statement: “Apple’s removal of Fortnite is yet another example of Apple flexing its enormous power in order to impose unreasonable restraints and unlawfully maintain its 100% monopoly over the iOS in-app payment processing market.”

Apple takes a cut of between 15% and 30% for most payments made inside apps, although there are some exceptions for companies that already have a credit card on file with iPhone customers if they also offer an in-app payment that would benefit Apple.

Google subsequently followed Apple’s lead and moved to remove Fortnite from its app store, Google Play, citing the same violation of rules requiring developers to use its in-app billing system for products within video games.

“We welcome the opportunity to continue our discussions with Epic and bring Fortnite back to Google Play,” said Dan Jackson, a Google spokesman.

Epic’s dramatic move represents one of the most public challenges yet of Apple’s allegedly monopolistic practices. In usurping the payment methods in the App Store, the game company essentially dared Apple to make a move that would compromise its argument that it does not have disproportionate control over the apps.

Fortnite, produced by Epic, is one of the world’s most popular video games, particularly among young people, and announced in May it had reached more than 350m registered players.

The App Store has been a focal point in recent antitrust hearings in Congress. At a historic hearing Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO, and other tech leaders including Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, Sundar Pichai of Google and Jeff Bezos of Amazon, faced a grilling from lawmakers over the companies’ dominance of the online world.

In one line of questioning, the representative Hank Johnson of Georgia told Cook that Apple’s rules for the App Store represent “an enormous amount of power”.

Cook argued the App Store does not constitute a monopoly because it does not charge the vast majority of apps to list there. He said 84% of apps are not charged anything and Apple has not increased commissions on apps since 2008.

Following the removal, Epic received support from many in the tech space. A spokesman from Spotify told the reporter Nilay Patel the company “applauds the decision to take a stand against Apple and shed further light on Apple’s abuse of its dominant position”.

In its complaint, Epic has requested the court issue an injunction against Apple preventing it from removing the app. Apple said in a statement that Epic was removed for making in-app changes with “the express intent of violating the App Store guidelines”.

The spokesman said: “Epic agreed to the App Store terms and guidelines freely and we’re glad they’ve built such a successful business on the App Store. The fact that their business interests now lead them to push for a special arrangement does not change the fact that these guidelines create a level playing field for all developers and make the store safe for all users.”

Agencies contributed reporting

Contributors

Kari Paul and Mark Sweney

The GuardianTramp

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