A district judge ruled that Apple could continue to keep the popular game Fortnite from the iPhone maker’s app store. Fortnite’s maker, Epic Games,in an effort to get the game restored to the iPhone’s download hub.
The multi-player game, in which players compete in a last-person-standing shootout set in a cartoonish world, has not been available in Apple’s app store since mid-August. The game was removed after Epic Games enabled a function that let users make in-game purchases for virtual weapons or other items directly from Epic, rather than through Apple’s payment system. Apple, which charges as much as a 30% commission on transactions, requires developers that use its app store to route all payments through Apple’s systems.
Google has also removed Epic’s hit game from its app store over direct-payment disputes. As of right now, neither Apple nor Google are allowing users to download and install Fortnite on phones through their digital marketplaces. Epic has filed a suit against Google as well.
The growing fight between Epic and Apple as well as Google has drawn the interest of antitrust experts, who have been increasingly concerned about the growing control Apple, Google and other tech giants have over the U.S. economy. Congress held a high-profile hearing last month, featuring the CEOs of Apple and Google parent Alphabet, as well as Amazon and Facebook, about whether the nation’s largest tech companies should face harsher antitrust regulations.
Epic’s lawsuit against Apple seems to reinforce that narrative. In its lawsuit, Epic argues that Apple is engaging in anti-competitive behavior in its app store, which is a major distributor of games and apps for Apple devices. The game maker also took to social media to rally fans to its cause, tweeting that Epic “defied the App Store Monopoly.”
The issues Epic raises in its suit are in line with the concerns that lawmakers touched on in their recent hearing, said antitrust expert Eleanor Fox, a professor at the New York University School of Law, The problem, Fox said, is that antitrust laws as they are formulated now favor market-dominant firms, and do little to regulate prices.
“If all that Epic’s case is about is whether Apple charges too much, then that’s allowed under antitrust laws,” said Fox. “Antitrust laws do not block price-gouging.”
In a preliminary hearing late Monday, U.S. District Court Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers said that Apple would be allowed to keep Fortnite off its app store while Epic’s case against the iPhone maker proceeds. The judge, though, said her ruling was limited to Fortnite, and Apple’s decision to remove another of Epic’s offerings, the Unreal Engine, a tool popular with other app developers, was not allowed, along with other forms of retaliation.
“Apple has chosen to act severely, and by doing so, has impacted non-parties, and a third-party developer ecosystem,” said Rogers in her ruling.