Apple has taken another shot at Epic Games. Following the banning of Fortnite from the iOS app store (and Epic’s subsequent lawsuit), Apple announced that it will terminate Epic’s developer accounts and cut off their developer tools for Mac and iOS on August 28.
Initially reported by esports insider Rod “Slasher” Breslau on Twitter, the move means that Apple is also revoking the use of Epic’s Unreal Engine for iOS. This is significant, as other developers also use Unreal Engine for their own games.
Unreal blocked from Apple devices
Epic’s Unreal Engine is currently one of the most used 3D game engines on the market. The engine powers not only Epic Games’ own Fortnite but also other well-known games such as Tekken 7, Minecraft Dungeons, Valorant and even Fortnite competitor PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds. In addition, the engine has seen use in film and television where it’s used to create real-time virtual sets for shows such as the Mandalorian.
Unreal’s success is also a driver for Epic’s recent growth. When the company was valued at $15 billion in 2018, it was largely on the strength of the engine. The engine is also seen as part of the reason why companies like Tencent and Sony have invested in Epic.
Part of Unreal’s success has been due to Epic’s generosity when it comes to using the engine. Currently, developers do not have to pay Epic royalties on their first $1 million in revenue. This has made it attractive to use for many studios, both big and small.
Given the widespread reach of Unreal Engine, blocking it from iOS and Mac looks to have a significant negative impact on Epic’s business.
In response, Epic has asked the court to stop Apple from terminating its developer account and revoking access to Unreal Engine.
“The court cannot, on today’s motion, level the playing field against Apple,” wrote Epic’s lawyers in the filing Monday. “But the court can order that while its practices are being litigated, Apple cannot retaliate by blocking Fortnite and tools for the Unreal Engine and harm the hundreds of millions who—especially in this time of social distancing—use Epic’s software to play, build and stay connected.”
As part of the filing, Epic pointed to Apple CEO Tim Cook’s recent grilling in Congress over antitrust matters. Here, they highlighted comments that Cook made that said that Apple did not “retaliate or bully people.”
“But Apple has done just that,” Epic wrote.
Move threatens developers other than Epic as well
Revoking Unreal Engine for iOS threatens not only Epic’s business but possibly that of other developers as well.
With Unreal Engine cut off from iOS and Mac developer tools, developers will no longer be able to create games for Apple devices. This could cut off developers from over one billion users on iPhone, iPad and Mac.
This is especially problematic for developers of big, multi-platform games—rebuilding an entire game on a different game engine, just for it to run on iOS may not be a viable venture for these devs.
“I do think that is likely to be perceived as an overkill response. They are supersizing the confrontation,” stated Lewis Ward, research director of gaming at the International Data Corporation.
Ward said that Apple’s move makes it so that other developers on Unreal Engine are being “held liable for what Fortnite did.”
“If that is accurate, then this is going to be a much bigger snowball,” he added.
Of course, there is the off chance that the move could backfire on Apple. Games not getting released on iOS because of their ongoing row with Epic could affect the company’s current forays into gaming.
Its Apple Arcade video game subscription service has been seen by many as a failure by the company itself having to cancel deals with many publishers while it rethinks its strategy.
Keeping games developed on Unreal from appearing on Apple devices could further serve to alienate the gamers that Apple sorely needs for the service.