On Thursday morning, Epic announced a permanent 20% discount on the in-game currency players use within "Fortnite" to purchase upgrades and customize their characters. But Epic said it couldn't offer the same discount to mobile players because Apple and Google take a 30% cut of all in-app purchases.
Instead, Epic introduced a way for players to pay it directly within the iOS and Android apps, saying it could then pass along the savings to them. But in bypassing Apple and Google's payment systems, Epic broke their app store rules, and the companies swiftly removed "Fortnite."
Epic immediately fired back with dueling lawsuits and a video roasting Apple's most iconic ad, accusing the tech giants of engaging in monopolistic behavior with their app store policies, the latest broadside in its ongoing battle with the companies.
Why does Epic say Apple and Google's policies are unfair?
For years, app developers like Epic have taken issue with the 30% commission Apple and Google charge on in-app purchases, which developers say the companies can only get away with because they dominate the mobile operating system market (most smartphones run on iOS or Android) and make it nearly impossible to download apps outside of their own app stores.
In its lawsuit against Google, Epic claimed that through a variety of legal, technical, and design obstacles including "scary, repetitive security pop-ups" to warn users about non-Play Store app downloads, Google had "installed itself as an unavoidable middleman for app developers who wish to reach Android users and vice versa."
Epic also said in an FAQ on its website that Apple doesn't treat all developers the same, and allows "thousands of apps" including "Amazon, Grubhub, Nike SNKRS, Best Buy, DoorDash, Fandango, McDonald's, and StubHub" to collect direct payments.
Who else is on Epic's side?
Several major developers have already rallied behind Epic. Spotify, which sued Apple over separate but related antitrust issues last year, told Recode's Peter Kafka that "Apple's unfair practices have disadvantaged competitors and deprived consumers for far too long."
A spokesperson for Match Group, which owns dating apps such as Tinder, Hinge, Match, and OkCupid, told Business Insider "we fully support Epic Games' efforts today to show how Apple uses its dominant position and unfair policies to hurt consumers, app developers and entrepreneurs."
Others have yet to speak out on Epic's lawsuits specifically, but have taken issue with Apple's in-app payment policies in the past. Subscription-based email app Hey sparred with Apple in June, and Stratechery author Ben Thompson tweeted that other developers had experienced similar issues.
What have Apple and Google said in their defense?
Apple said in a statement following its decision to remove "Fortnite" that its policies "create a level playing field for all developers and make the store safe for all users."
Apple also said developers like Epic "have benefited from the App Store ecosystem — including its tools, testing, and distribution that Apple provides to all developers."
Google issued a similar statement in response to Epic's lawsuit, saying it has "consistent policies that are fair to developers and keep the store safe for users," adding that "the open Android ecosystem lets developers distribute apps through multiple app stores."
Why does this fight matter?
As Business Insider's Troy Wolverton wrote, Epic's deliberate violation of Apple's policy appeared to be part of a calculated ploy to lure Apple into an "antitrust trap" by provoking it into "flexing its enormous power" over app developers.
Epic's move thrusts both Apple and Google back into the antitrust spotlight just weeks after their CEOs were grilled during a congressional hearing by lawmakers who argued the companies were unfairly using their size and market power to stifle competition.
Apple CEO Tim Cook was specifically questioned about how Apple treats developers, and while Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google parent Alphabet, fielded more questions about how Google uses search results to favor its own products, regulators have raised similar concerns about its Play Store and Android policies.
Apple and Google are both currently facing multiple antitrust lawsuits and regulatory investigations, and Epic's case could add fuel to the fire.
Additionally, Epic may prove to be a more fierce challenger simply because its own success as a company isn't as dependent on either Apple or Google. While "Fortnite" is available on iOS and Android, a substantial amount of users play the game on desktop computers or gaming consoles like Xbox One and Sony's PlayStation 4.