Lawyers representing Apple and Epic Games appeared before a judge via Zoom on Monday to settle the first big showdown of their lawsuit: Epic’s temporary restraining order against Apple, which has plans to revoke Epic’s developer account and remove the Unreal Engine from its platforms in addition to Fortnite. Epic is arguing it would be “irreparably harmed” if Fortnite was removed and its developer account was terminated on August 28, because the lawsuit proper won’t be heard in court until April of 2021.
The results are in, and they’re mixed for Epic Games: US district judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers has granted a temporary restraining order forbidding Apple from removing Epic’s Apple developer accounts, or denying Unreal Engine updates on Apple operating systems.
The move would lead to “potential significant damage to both the Unreal Engine platform itself, and to the gaming industry generally, including on both third-party developers and gamers,” the court document reads.
On the other hand, Apple won’t be required to make Fortnite available on its App Store. “The current predicament appears of its [Epic’s] own making,” the judge ruled. “Epic Games remains free to maintain its agreements with Apple in breach status as this litigation continues.”
In their arguments, Epic’s lawyer reiterated the harm that will be caused to Epic Games if Fortnite and the Unreal Engine were removed from the App Store, pointing to customer complaints as damage to its reputation and claiming developers are already abandoning Unreal. Apple repeated its message that Epic’s injury was self-inflicted, and that it simply needed to return Fortnite to its “status quo”—the version of the game that complied by Apple’s in-app payment rules. On this, Apple and the judge is in agreement.
Apple’s argument for removing the Unreal Engine partially hinged on a technicality—whether Epic Games is a singular entity. Essentially, the contract for Fortnite on the App Store is with Epic Games, while the contract for the Unreal Engine is with Epic Games International S.a.r.l., which Apple is claiming is just a shell corporation.
This is just the opening round of Apple and Epic’s legal battle; their lawyers will be reconvening on September 28 to argue over a preliminary injunction, which should establish whether Fortnite and the Unreal Engine can remain on Apple’s platforms until next spring, when the case will be heard.