In what could become one of the biggest tech stories of 2021, Epic Games, developers of Fortnite, has started legal action against Apple and Google in the UK. At the heart of the dispute lies a battle over proprietary payment systems, which is causing the game developers and the tech behemoths an epic headache.
Apple called Epic Games ‘reckless’ for bypassing in-app purchasing rules, referring to a move by the developers last summer that let Fortnite players buy game currency at a lower cost directly from Epic’s website. Both Apple and Google removed Fortnite from their smartphone app stores as a result, because they believed Epic in breach of their guidelines. Epic has responded by filing a lawsuit accusing the tech companies of breaking UK competition laws.
It will now be down to the Competition Appeal Tribunal to decide who is correct and what should happen next.
David Sant, commercial technology expert at Harper James Solicitors, explains why the row could have significant implications for two of the world’s biggest tech giants.
‘This headline-grabbing dispute has the potential to completely disrupt Apple and Google’s control over their app stores.
If you develop an app and want to sell it the Apple App Store or the Google Play Store, you must comply with the relevant published guidelines. If your app doesn’t comply with those policies, then Apple and Google could refuse to publish it on the store. And they can also pull your app from the store, which is what happened in the case of Fortnite.
If Epic Games is successful in this challenge, it could have significant implications for Apple and Google’s ability to control their app stores and their payment ecosystems. Both companies try to force subscription payments into their own payment systems so that they receive their commission. There really is a huge amount at stake here. One possible outcome is that the Competition Appeal Tribunal could order Google and Apple to make it easier for users of the iOS and Android operating systems to access alternative app stores.’
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