Apple vs Epic Games trial: dates, details and what is #FreeFortnite?

Epic Games has launched its legal fight against Apple after its hit battle royale title, Fortnite, was removed from the iPhone’s App Store in 2020. This ban prevents 116 million of its 350 million player base from accessing updates to the game, so Epic has taken the fight to the US and Australian courts to see it lifted.

Epic allegedly broke its agreements with Apple after it allowed players to buy VBucks - paid in-game currency - through non-App Store channels, bypassing the need to give a cut of revenue to the tech giant.

Though it appears that Epic is looking for more than just getting Fortnite back onto iPhones, with this trial having the potential to see Apple’s walled-garden platforms finally opened up. Alternatively, game developers who use the Unreal Engine to make their apps could be left scrambling if Epic loses its access to the Apple ecosystem entirely.

Want to know more about Epic Games vs Apple, including court dates, the latest details, and what the outcomes could mean for your favorite games? Then read on.

What does each side say? 

#FreeFortnite Cup poster

(Image credit: Epic Games)

Epic Games has been fairly vocal with its dislike for Apple’s current App Store policies. The whole #FreeFortnite campaign began due to a protest against the App Store’s 30% cut of purchases made through it. Epic is arguing that these policies are restrictive and going further to argue that Apple’s walled garden iPhone platform has led to an effective-monopoly. The Fortnite developer would like to launch a rival app store on Apple gadgets and open up the opportunity for other non-App Store routes onto the iPhone.

Apple on the other hand is arguing that its platform is fair and that Epic violated agreements it had with Apple by updating Fortnite without permission to circumvent sharing a cut of V-Bucks earnings with them. This violation could not only keep Fortnite off iPhone devices if the court upholds Apple’s decision, but could see any game made using the Unreal Engine (the popular Epic Games owned game engine) also removed. 

There’s a lot at stake based on each trial’s outcome.

When are the trials taking place? 

The Apple logo with a colorful background

(Image credit: Apple)

The two companies will be meeting in US courts on May 3, 2021. This is earlier than expected but still comes roughly nine months after Epic brought proceedings against Apple in August 2020.

The Australia-based trial on the other hand is yet to have its date announced. Epic launched proceedings against the tech-giant in November 2020. While it is a different court system in a different country, based on the delay for the American proceedings Epic won’t be going to court in Australia until potentially September 2021 or beyond. By this point, they may have a verdict from the US-based case, be that for better or for worse.

What do the trials mean for Fortnite and other games? 

There is a chance that the final verdicts of each case will maintain the current situation, Fortnite can’t be played directly on Apple devices but other Unreal Engine made games are okay to stay. But what if Epic Games is successful?

If Epic wins it hopes to be able to launch its own version of the App Store on iPhones. Think of it like Steam and the Epic Games store on PC, rather than having to download a game from just one store, players are free to use either. However, some games might be exclusive to only one store.

Epic’s app store could also operate like its PC game one, offering developers that use it a larger cut of revenue than other outlets. Given that Epic’s fight with Apple began because of Apple’s 30% cut, it feels likely that Epic would want to take less of a share through its own store (perhaps 12% to match the Epic Games Store on PC).

What has happened so far? 

Free Fortnite Image

(Image credit: Epic Games)

Even though the trial has yet to begin, some developments have happened already. Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers, who is presiding over the case in the US, denied Epic’s request for Fortnite to be hosted on iOS pending trial results.

Judge Rogers did however order that Apple cannot terminate Epic’s developer accounts, allowing Epic to continue maintenance for the Unreal Engine on iOS and macOS systems. Without this decision, many other developers could have been forced off Apple devices until they implemented a new engine.

We also know a few details about the American trial such as it will be a bench trial (so there will be no jury and the judge will decide) after both Epic Games and Apple requested the case be dealt with in this way. 

Finally, Judge Rogers stated that a key aspect in her review of the case will rely on Epic’s ability to separate the App Store from other digital storefronts like Xbox Live, PlayStation Store, and the Nintendo eShop. She cited that her decision could otherwise have significant ramifications for Sony, Nintendo, and Microsoft.

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