On Monday, the two companies went head-to-head in a hearing, with Californian District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers hearing arguments remotely due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.
Last month it was announced that Epic Games had filed antitrust lawsuits against both Apple and Google after the Fortnite app was removed from the App Store and the Google Play Store.
Apple charges 30% commission on payments made in apps dowloading from its store. However, the Fortnite app introduced a new payment option that allows players to pay for in-app purchases via “Epic direct payment” rather than payments being made through Apple, thus preventing the company for claiming its commission.
As well as pulling the game from the App Store, Apple has also removed Epic’s access to its software development tools.
Epic Games claims that the “Apple tax” is anti-competitive, saying that “Apple is bigger, more powerful, more entrenched, and more pernicious than the monopolists of yesteryear” and that the company’s policy of not allowing app developers from handling transactions themselves damages competition. Apple disputes this.
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Epic Games therefore wants Fortnite to be allowed back into the App Store while keeping its direct payment system. In the meantime, the company is seeking a temporary court order for the app to be reinstated.
At the end of August Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers ruled that “Epic Games has not yet demonstrated irreparable harm” so would not be lifting Fortnite’s app store ban, but would prevent Apple from barring Epic Games from accessing developer accounts.
Earlier this month it was announced that Apple was countersuing Epic Games.
However, the two companies now face what could be a landmark legal battle, which could challenge how the two largest app stores in the world operate. During Monday’s hearing which was held over Zoom, Judge Gonzalez Rogers said “I think this is going to be a fascinating trial”.
The judge criticised Epic’s decision to violate Apple’s terms of service, saying “there are a lot of people in the public who consider you guys heroes for what you guys did, but it’s still not honest”.
She also said that Apple’s approach to its app store was not uncommon for the industry.
“Walled gardens have existed for decades. Nintendo has had a walled garden. Sony has had a walled garden. Microsoft has had a walled garden. What Apple’s doing is not much different.”
Judge Gonzalez Rogers recommended that the trial take place in July 2021, expressing that it should be in front of a jury. It is not yet clear whether Fortnite will be allowed to return to the App Store before then.
A date has not yet been set for Google’s hearing.