Microsoft just joined Epic Games’ fight against Apple
- In mid August, the wildly popular game "Fortnite" got an update on Apple and Android smartphones that allowed players to bypass app store digital payment systems: Instead of going through Apple and Google, payments went directly to "Fortnite" creator Epic Games.
- Apple and Google subsequently pulled "Fortnite" from their digital storefronts and cited the update as a terms-of-service violation. Apple also booted Epic from the Apple Developer Program, a move that Epic said would force it to discontinue iOS and Mac support for its popular game development software Unreal Engine.
- Epic sued both companies, and filed for a temporary restraining order against Apple to keep it from "removing, de-listing, refusing to list or otherwise making unavailable the app 'Fortnite,' including any update thereof." The order would also enable Epic to continue supporting Unreal Engine on Apple devices.
- In a surprise twist, Microsoft is backing Epic in the ongoing legal spat. Microsoft general manager of gaming developer experiences Kevin Gammill officially submitted a letter to the court in support of Epic on Sunday.
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In the ongoing legal spat between Apple and "Fortnite" maker Epic Games, the latter just got an unexpected ally.
Microsoft general manager of gaming developer experiences Kevin Gammill officially submitted a letter to the court in support of Epic on Sunday. He wasn't writing because he's upset about "Fortnite" being pulled from the App Store, but because of the ripple effects of this particular legal battle between Apple and Epic.
Gammill works with game developers on behalf of Microsoft's Xbox, and he's concerned that Apple's move to cut development ties with Epic "will harm game creators and gamers."
That's because, beyond "Fortnite," Epic also makes the Unreal Engine software suite – a set of software that's used to create games, including the smartphone versions of "PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds" and, of particular note here, Microsoft-published smartphone racer "Forza Street."
When Apple yanked "Fortnite" from the App Store, the company also canceled Epic's Developer Program contracts effective August 28. Without access to Apple's developer technology, Epic says that it would be unable to issue updates to the Unreal Engine on iOS or Mac, which would in turn mean that any developer using the software would be unable to update their own games to support the new versions of iOS and Mac OS coming this year.
In short: A variety of games on Apple's App Store could be affected by Epic losing access to Apple's developer program.
"Apple's discontinuation of Epic's ability to develop and support Unreal Engine for iOS or macOS will harm game creators and gamers," Gammill said in the letter submitted to the court. He described Unreal Engine as "critical technology for numerous game creators including Microsoft," and said the move to revoke Epic's access could, "harm already-launched iOS and macOS games built on Unreal Engine."
Of note, Gammill's statement was not issued by Microsoft, and Microsoft representatives did not respond to requests for comment as of publishing.
Instead of buying in-game virtual money ("V-bucks") through Apple or Google, players could buy it directly from Epic — at a 20% discount, no less. Apple and Google said the update was a terms-of-service violation for any developer with an app on the App Store or Google Play store.
In response, the two main smartphone conglomerates pulled "Fortnite" from their respective digital storefronts. Epic Games, anticipating as much, filed suits against each company – the first public shots in an ongoing campaign from Epic CEO Tim Sweeney to change how Apple's App Store operates.
Apple said in a statement last week that it "won't make an exception for Epic" to App Store policy, which forces every app publisher to use Apple's payment systems, "because we don't think it's right to put their business interests ahead of the guidelines that protect our customers."
Apple is contesting Epic's filing for a temporary restraining order, and the first hearing is set for Monday, August 24.
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