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Epic celebrates 'a big win' as Apple reverses course and promises to restore its iOS developer account: 'We are moving forward as planned to launch the Epic Games Store and bring Fortnite back to iOS in Europe'

 Apple Man.
Apple Man.

Update: Just two days after terminating Epic Games' iOS developer account, Apple has reversed course and says it will be restored.

"Apple has told us and committed to the European Commission that they will reinstate our developer account," Epic said.

"This sends a strong signal to developers that the European Commission will act swiftly to enforce the Digital Markets Act and hold gatekeepers accountable. We are moving forward as planned to launch the Epic Games Store and bring Fortnite back to iOS in Europe."

Epic CEO Tim Sweeney said the reversal represents "a big win for European rule of law, for the European Commission, and for the freedom of developers worldwide to speak up."

The DMA went through its first major challenge with Apple banning Epic Games Sweden from competing with the App Store, and the DMA just had its first major victory. Following a swift inquiry by the European Commission, Apple notified the Commission and Epic that it would relent and restore our access to bring back Fortnite and launch Epic Games Store in Europe under the DMA law.   A big win for European rule of law, for the European Commision, and for the freedom of developers worldwide to speak up. #FreeFortnite!

(Image credit: Tim Sweeney (Twitter))

If you thought the legal beef between Epic and Apple was over, it's time to think again. Epic said today that less than a month after approving its App Store developer account, Apple has now terminated it, leaving the Fortnite developer unable to bring its planned Epic Games Store to iOS devices.

Epic said the termination of its developer account is a "serious violation" of the European Union's Digital Markets Act, which compels Apple and other companies to allow third-party storefronts on their devices. Enabling those storefronts is something Apple has resisted for years, and even when it announced its intention to comply with the DMA, Apple did its best to make it all a net negative, saying it "is introducing new safeguards that reduce — but don’t eliminate — new risks the DMA poses to EU users."

Still, it seemed like a done deal. "We are bringing more opportunities to developers across all platforms and we’re so excited about what’s to come.… including bringing the Epic Games Store to iOS in Europe," Epic tweeted triumphantly on February 16. "Dev account secured, let’s go!"

Ah, but no. "To our surprise, Apple has terminated that account and now we cannot develop the Epic Games Store for iOS," Epic wrote today. "This is a serious violation of the DMA and shows Apple has no intention of allowing true competition on iOS devices.

"In terminating Epic’s developer account, Apple is taking out one of the largest potential competitors to the Apple App Store. They are undermining our ability to be a viable competitor and they are showing other developers what happens when you try to compete with Apple or are critical of their unfair practices."

What's really interesting about all this, though, and straight-up bizarre, is Apple's justification for killing Epic's dev account. Basically, Apple doesn't trust Epic not to hose them around in the future, a position it says is justified "by a litany of public attacks on Apple's policies, compliance plan, and business model" fired off on social media by Epic CEO Tim Sweeney. As "just one example" of evidence, it cited this tweet from February:

Apple leadership faces some massive decisions in the coming weeks as the contradictions between their stated principles and the intended and actual consequences of their present policies are reckoned with: the app store monopoly, the digital goods payments monopoly, the tax, the suppression of true information about competing purchasing options, the blocking of competing web browser engines and outright destruction of web apps.  It doesn’t have to be this way. Apple is a few bold and visionary decisions away from being the company they once were and that they still advertise themselves to be: beloved brand to consumers, partner to developers, and overlord to none.

(Image credit: Tim Sweeney (Twitter))

"Your colorful criticism of our DMA compliance plan, coupled with Epic's past practice of intentionally violating contractual provisions with which it disagrees, strongly suggests that Epic Sweden does not intend to follow the rules," Apple's Phil Schiller wrote in a February 23 email to Tim Sweeney, shared in Epic's blog post. "Another intentional breach could threaten the security of the iOS platform, as well as the security and privacy of users."

Apple's admonishment does not appear to have convinced Sweeney to tone it down, however.

This is the post Apple cited when banning the Epic Games Store from competing with the iOS App Store under Europe's new DMA law. Criticism of Apple = untrustworthiness, in Apple leadership's bleak vision of their future relationship with app developers.
This is the post Apple cited when banning the Epic Games Store from competing with the iOS App Store under Europe's new DMA law. Criticism of Apple = untrustworthiness, in Apple leadership's bleak vision of their future relationship with app developers.

(Image credit: Tim Sweeney (Twitter))

I am not a lawyer but it all seems very weird and frankly schoolyard-ish to me. Has Tim Sweeney said mean things about Apple? Yes! Did Epic strategically pick a fight with Apple because it wasn't happy with the App Store's terms? Again, yes! I don't think it's unfair to say that Sweeney's been a headache for Apple for at least a few years now. But in my eyes, all that pales next to the European Union declaring in no uncertain terms, "Hey, you gotta let 'em do this."

The only possible rationale for Apple's move that I can see—and again, not a lawyer here—is that the EU said Apple has to allow third-party storefronts on iOS devices, but it maybe didn't say it has to provide them with developer accounts. As someone with fond memories of beefing with my younger sister when I was 12, I have to admire that kind of technical end-run around the rules if that's the case. But as a grown-ass man watching billionaires sink mountains of cash into firing spitballs at each other over who gets to play in the sandbox, it all seems a bit ridiculous. And by "a bit," I mean "very." In the real world, my dad would've yelled at both of us by now and the whole thing would be settled.

Clearly that's not going to be the case in this catfight: Neither Apple nor Epic have shown even the slightest willingness to compromise in their dispute (or even to tone down the rhetoric), and insulated as they are from any real consequences thanks to their virtually limitless piles of money (although Epic has been showing signs of strain on that front), we can expect this seemingly finished fight to continue for a long time yet.