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That was quick: Apple’s latest Epic Games ban prompts EU investigation

Published Mar 7th, 2024 10:30AM EST
Thanos and the Infinity Gauntlet in Fortnite. iPhone Fortnite
Image: Epic Games

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I didn’t expect an Apple vs. Epic Games rematch so soon, especially around the March 7th deadline for the Digital Markets Act (DMA) compliance. But it happened nonetheless. Apple suspended Epic’s developer account this week, effectively preventing the company from deploying an app marketplace for iPhone in Europe.

On Thursday, the European Commission (EC) confirmed that it will investigate Apple’s treatment of Epic under the DMA and other regulations in the region. Even though Apple already has to answer for its actions, and I’m sure it already has answers for EU officials, this new development means it’ll be a while until we see Fortnite on the iPhone again (in Europe). 

More importantly, it’ll be even longer before an Epic Games Store app can be available on the iPhone. And make no mistake, Epic is just dying to bring its app store to the iPhone. Why else criticize Apple’s handling of DMA compliance with such fervor? 

That’s what got Epic in hot water to begin with, its relentless attacks on Apple’s DMA-mandated measures for the App Store. Epic CEO Tim Sweeney has been quite vocal on social media. He attacked Apple from the moment the iPhone maker announced its plans to comply with the DMA. 

Despite its dislike of Apple’s App Store changes in Europe, Epic then announced it would launch its own app marketplace on iPhone. It happened a few weeks ago when the company’s developer account was approved.

Europe’s antitrust chief Margrethe Vestager might want to edit the tweet above, as Fortnite won’t be back on iPhone soon. And by the way, a single chat app is also a bad idea.

Epic’s history with Apple didn’t help. As a reminder, Epic purposely broke the rules of Apple’s developer contract. This triggered a ban on Epic’s account and the removal of Fortnite from the App Store. Epic used this ploy to sue Apple, and it lost that case in a big way. The court agreed with Apple that it had every right to ban Epic. Apple is relying on that argument and the company’s distrust of Apple to ban Epic once again. 

So why did Apple approve Epic’s new developer account for Europe to begin with? As TechCrunch points out, Apple said on Wednesday that no executive had actually reviewed Epic’s application to the new Apple Developer Program License Agreement. This could have happened via a click-through agreement. 

The EU has already caught wind of the matter, and that’s not surprising. Again, the DMA went into force on March 7th. The EC is watching. A spokesperson told TechCrunch and The Associated Press that it has “requested further explanations on this from Apple under the DMA.”

Furthermore, the EU is looking at Apple’s actions in relation to other local regulations. That’s the Digital Services Act (DSA) and the Platform-to-Business Regulation (P2B). 

The App Store is a gatekeeper service under the DMA and a very large online platform (VLOP) under the DSA. Under the DMA, Apple has to open the App Store to competitors. The DSA should safeguard consumers from the “arbitrary application” of a tech company’s terms and conditions. 

The slightly older P2B regulation should improve platform transparency and prevent unfair practices. 

The EC could always impose fines for DMA and DSA infringements. The P2B law is subject to Member State enforcement rather than the Commission. 

Apple has already won a big victory against Epic in the US, though that’s a different jurisdiction. It has every right to terminate Epic’s developer accounts, at least in the US. 

Epic, meanwhile, has been quite vocal against Apple’s DMA compliance, joining other critical voices of Apple’s way of implementing iPhone sideloading support in Europe. The EC would likely have investigated Apple’s DMA compliance either way. The Commission will probably do so with all gatekeeper services. 

I’ll also point out that the EU handed Apple a massive $2 billion fine in a music-centric case that Apple will fiercely contest. The stance on Epic also proves Apple isn’t backing away from this or any kind of fight.

I think that any platform provider can have a say in whether it wants or doesn’t want to support apps from third-party developers. I never liked the cheap tactics Epic used to become the “victim” in its fight with Apple. After all, the company is hunting profits too. It just wants to be in charge of its own app store and pay as little as possible in fees to Apple, while potentially charging other developers for access in the Epic store. 

It’ll be interesting to see what the EC thinks of Apple’s Epic ban when looking at it through all the laws it designed to govern the relationships between big tech, competitors, developers, and consumers.

What all this means is that it’s very complicated. It’ll probably take months to years for some of these conflicts to be completely resolved. As for Fortnite on iPhone, it will likely be available via streaming apps and third-party app marketplaces that will welcome Epic’s game. It’s unclear what those platforms will be. 

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.