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Fortnite still barred from app store, but Epic retains access to Apple development tools, judge rules

In a blow to Apple, a district court approved Epic Games’s request for a temporary restraining order against the iPhone maker and App Store operator. The ruling prevents Apple from barring Epic’s use of tools required for iOS and Mac software design.

In a hearing conducted over Zoom on Monday, U.S. District Court Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers described Apple’s revocation of Epic’s access to iOS and Mac development software as an overreach. However, Gonzalez Rogers also ruled that “Fortnite,” Epic Games’s flagship title which was removed from the App Store due to a violation of the store’s guidelines, would not be returned to the App Store unless it was brought back into accordance with Apple’s rules.

Gonzalez Rogers is also presiding over two other antitrust cases against Apple.

Monday’s decision follows several months of behind the scenes wrangling between Epic and Apple. In an email correspondence between Tim Sweeney, the founder and CEO of Epic Games, and several Apple executives, Sweeney outlined a request to bypass Apple’s in-app payment system and release a version of the Epic Games Store. Both of these actions are forbidden in the text of Apple’s App Store guidelines. The response from Apple was a stern, several-page letter from the company’s associate general counsel to Epic’s general counsel.

Finally, on Aug. 13, Sweeney sent an email to Apple CEO Tim Cook and several other executives. “I’m writing to tell you that Epic will no longer adhere to Apple’s payment processing restrictions.”

Apple’s immediate response was to remove “Fortnite” from its App Store. Soon after, it announced its intention to revoke Epic’s access to its developer program. The move would impact Epic’s other lines of business — in particular its development of the Unreal Engine for iOS and Mac. Unreal is a popular piece of software used in game development and numerous other industries that require visual effect work.

Apple’s threat to terminate Epic Games’s access to the development tools necessary for continued work on Unreal Engine was slated to go into effect on Aug. 28. On Aug. 17, Epic filed a motion for a temporary restraining order against Apple, to delay Epic’s removal from the developer program until the broader antitrust case Epic had filed against Apple was resolved.

“Not content simply to remove ‘Fortnite’ from the App Store, Apple is attacking Epic’s entire business in unrelated areas,” wrote attorneys for Epic Games in their initial restraining order filing. “Epic is likely to succeed on the merits of its claims, but without an injunction, Epic will be irreparably harmed long before final judgment comes.”

On Aug. 23, Microsoft’s General Manager of gaming developer experiences, Kevin Gammill, declared his support for Epic Games in an additional filing appended to Epic’s request for a restraining order.

“Ensuring that Epic has access to the latest Apple technology is the right thing for gamer developers and gamers,” tweeted Phil Spencer, Microsoft’s head of Xbox, announcing the company’s statement backing Epic.

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