Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...

These are the heated emails that killed ‘Fortnite’ on iOS

Published Aug 23rd, 2020 9:02AM EDT
Apple Vs Fortnite
Image: Epic Games

If you buy through a BGR link, we may earn an affiliate commission, helping support our expert product labs.

  • Apple today filed its response to Epic Games’ lawsuit over the removal of Fortnite from the App Store.
  • The response includes exhibits that show that Apple executives and Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney engaged in tense email exchanges in the weeks leading up to the Fortnite saga.

Apple today responded to Epic Games’ lawsuit which it initially levied after Apple kicked the popular game Fortnite off the App Store. As a quick refresher, Epic Games purposefully ran afoul of Apple’s App Store rules when it sought to avoid the 30% commission Apple charges on all in-game microtransactions.

While Epic CEO Tim Sweeney has tried to position the battle against Apple as a moral crusade meant to provide users with more choice, it’s hard to see this as anything other than a fundamental dispute over money. It’s no secret that Epic Games rakes in millions via the App Store and the company would understandably like to keep as much of that haul for itself as possible.

To this point, Apple’s response — which was first spotted by CNBC — reveals that Sweeney was hoping to strike a “special deal” with Apple that would allow Epic Games to charge users directly for in-app purchases.

In a declaration accompanying the lawsuit, Apple’s Phil Schiller wrote:

On June 30, 2020, Epic’s CEO Tim Sweeney wrote my colleagues and me an email asking for a ‘side letter’ from Apple that would create a special deal for only Epic that would fundamentally change the way in which Epic offers apps on Apple’s iOS platform.

While the outward drama between Apple and Epic Games transpired in August, the two companies had been emailing back and forth about the issue since June. Indeed, Epic had been looking for the ability to bypass Apple’s in-app payment mechanism months beforehand.

The Verge earlier today published said email exchanges — which were included as exhibits in Apple’s suit — between Tim Sweeney and Apple executives.

In an email sent on June 30, Sweeney positioned Epic’s request as something that would benefit consumers. Sweeney also asked Apple for the ability to introduce a “competing Epic Games Store” app via the App Store.

The letter concludes:

Please confirm within two weeks if Apple agrees in principle to allow Epic to provide a competing app store and competing payment processing, in which case we will meet with your team to work out the details including Epic’s firm commitment to utilize any such features diligently to protect device security, customer privacy, and a high-quality user experience. If we do not receive your confirmation, we will understand that Apple is not willing to make the changes necessary to allow us to provide Android customers with the option of choosing their app store and payment processing system.

Less than two weeks later, Apple responded with a lengthy letter to Epic’s general counsel noting that the “App Store is not simply a marketplace — it is a part of a larger bundle of tools, technologies and services that Apple makes available to developers…”

Apple added that Epic has benefited greatly from the App Store via free to download apps, exposure to millions of users, and hundreds of millions of dollars in sales from in-app content.

The letter further reads:

Epic made its own decision to utilize the App Store as another one of its channels and can hardly be surprised that this entails acceptance of a license agreement and related policies since Epic’s own developers must do the same.

Regarding Epic’s request to have its own app store within the App Store, Apple explained:

Although Mr. Sweeney represented that, if Epic offered its own iOS app store, Epic would “protect device security, consumer privacy, and a high-quality user experience,” we cannot be confident that Epic or any developer would uphold the same rigorous standards of privacy, security, and content as Apple. Indeed, since Apple treats all developers according to the same terms, Epic is essentially asking Apple to outsource the safety and security of Apple’s users to hundreds of thousands of iOS developers. Even if such a model were feasible (and it is not), we are simply unwilling to risk our users’ trust in such a way. Incorporating third-party app stores into iOS would undermine Apple’s carefully constructed privacy and security safeguards, and seriously degrade the consumer experience and put Apple’s reputation and business at risk.

Responding to Apple’s response, Sweeney fired off the following email to Apple executives on July 17:

Hi Tim, Phil, Craig, Matt, Douglas,

It’s a sad state of affairs that Apple’s senior executives would hand Epic’s sincere request off to Apple’s legal team to respond with such a self-righteous and self-serving screed — only lawyers could pretend that Apple is protecting consumers by denying choice in payments and stores to owners of iOS devices.

However, I do thank you for the prompt response and clear answer to my two specific requests. If Apple someday chooses to return to its roots building open platforms in which consumers have freedom to install software from sources of their choosing, and developers can reach consumers and do business directly without intermediation, then Epic will once again be an ardent supporter of Apple. Until then, Epic is in a state of substantial disagreement with Apple’s policy and practices, and we will continue to pursue this, as we have done in the past to address other injustices in our industry.

In light of the above, it’s somewhat ironic that Sweeney calls out Apple for being self-righteous, but that’s a topic for another day.

Flash forward to August 13, and Sweeney informed Apple executives that Epic would no longer be adhering to Apple’s App Store guidelines and that it was planning to introduce Epic direct payments.

We choose to follow this path in the firm belief that history and law are on our side. Smartphones are essential computing devices that people use to live their lives and conduct their business. Apple’s position that its manufacture of a device gives it free rein to control, restrict, and tax commerce by consumers and creative expression by developers is repugnant to the principles of a free society.

Ending these restrictions will benefit consumers in the form of lower prices, increased product selection, and business model innovation.

Henceforth, all versions of Fortnite that Epic submits to the App Store will contain these two payment options, side by side, for customers to choose among.

We hope that Apple will reflect on its platform restrictions and begin to make historic changes that bring to the world’s billion iOS consumers the rights and freedoms enjoyed on the world’s leading open computing platforms including Windows and macOS. In support of this path, Epic’s public explanation of our payment service will be neutral and factual to provide Apple with a chance to consider taking a supportive route and communicating it in a way of Apple’s choosing.

If Apple chooses instead to take punitive action by blocking consumer access to Fortnite or forthcoming updates, then Epic will, regrettably, be in conflict with Apple on a multitude of fronts – creative, technical, business, and legal – for so long as it takes to bring about change, if necessary for many years.

With that as the backdrop, Apple has since said it plans to remove Epic’s developer accounts, a move that prompted Epic Games to ask for a temporary restraining order to prevent Apple from taking such measures.

As it stands now, it doesn’t appear that either side is prepared to budge an inch, which should make for an interesting saga should this actually go to trial.

Yoni Heisler Contributing Writer

Yoni Heisler has been writing about Apple and the tech industry at large with over 15 years of experience. A life long expert Mac user and Apple expert, his writing has appeared in Edible Apple, Network World, MacLife, Macworld UK, and TUAW.

When not analyzing the latest happenings with Apple, Yoni enjoys catching Improv shows in Chicago, playing soccer, and cultivating new TV show addictions.