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Epic Games says Apple retaliated over suits banning developer account

“Fortnite” creator Epic Games’ Chief Executive Tim Sweeney leaves after a weeks-long antitrust trial at federal court in Oakland, California, U.S. May 21, 2021. REUTERS/Brittany Hosea-Small

Brittany Hosea-small | Reuters

Apple has rejected Epic Games’ application for a developer account it would use to launch an app store for iPhones in Europe, Epic CEO Tim Sweeney said Wednesday.

Sweeney said Apple’s decision was in retaliation over the gaming company’s antitrust lobbying, its lawsuit against Apple, and some of Sweeney’s social media posts, citing emails from Apple App Store chief Phil Schiller and Apple lawyers.

“The manner in which Apple is going about killing Epic here as a competitor to the App Store is super egregious,” Sweeney said on a call with reporters. “This is the medieval feudal lord, mounting the skulls of their former enemies on their castle walls.”

It’s the first public example of Apple denying competing app stores in Europe, a move that could raise scrutiny of the iPhone maker’s plans to comply with a new antitrust law.

The relationship between Apple and Epic Games has been confrontational since Epic sued Apple in 2020 over whether Fortnite could evade Apple’s App Store rules and bypass its 30% cut of game sales. Epic mostly lost but forced some changes to Apple’s policies under California law.

The spat highlights global regulatory threats to Apple’s App Store sales, a profitable division for Apple reported under its services business.

Apple didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Apple has started to comply with the Digital Markets Act, a new law in Europe going into effect this week that forces big tech companies to open their platforms to competitors. For Apple, it means it will have to allow companies to offer third-party app stores in Europe to compete with the iPhone App Store. Apple opposed the law, citing user security.

Apple’s plan to introduce new fees, software warnings, and a rudimentary approval process for third-party app stores has drawn criticism from companies like Spotify, which say Apple isn’t complying with the spirit of the new EU law, including by adding a 50-cent fee to downloads.

Sweeney said on Wednesday that Epic planned to introduce a new app store in Europe to distribute Fortnite and other games. It applied for a developer account in Sweden but was denied by Apple after Schiller emailed Sweeney, citing his statements around the 2020 lawsuit and Epic Games’ decision to bypass App Store billing at the time.

“We invite you to provide us with written assurance that you are also acting in good faith, and that Epic Games Sweden, despite your public actions and rhetoric, honor all of its commitments,” Schiller wrote in the email provided by Epic Games.

Sweeney said he told Schiller he would comply with all current and future agreements with Apple and that he was acting in good faith. Apple terminated the account a week later through an email from a lawyer, citing Sweeney’s “litany of public attacks on Apple” and social media posts. Apple also said it suspected Epic would use the account to lobby and “manipulate proceedings in other jurisdictions.”

“This is an open-ended invitation for Apple to tell us exactly what they want us to commit to, and how they want us to commit to it in order to not lock us as a competitor,” Sweeney said.

“Based on my interactions with Apple, they want two things,” he continued. “They want some sort of essay expressing fealty to Apple, a creative writing project, and they want us to shut up.”

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