Fortnite's maker is suing Apple after the game was removed from its App Store

By Brian Fung and Shannon Liao, CNN Business

(CNN) -- The maker of Fortnite is suing Apple after Apple blocked the wildly popular online video game with hundreds of millions of registered players from its app store Thursday.

Apple said it had removed Fortnite from the platform as Epic Games was violating the tech giant's guidelines by announcing a way for players to buy in-game currency without using Apple's proprietary payment systems.

It quickly became clear that the suit was not a spur of the moment decision by Epic, or a simple response to Apple's move. The complaint ran to 60 pages, and one of the lawyers on it was Christine Varney, who ran the Justice Department's antitrust division during the Obama administration. And then Epic added insult to injury, releasing a video parodying Apple's iconic "1984" ad, casting Apple in the role of villain.

Apple's swift decision to boot Fortnite reflects the enormous influence of Epic Games, Fortnite's owner. The clash between the two companies highlights the growing scrutiny over Apple's App Store policies.

Epic's suit, filed in the US District Court for the Northern District of California, accuses Apple of violating US antitrust law and claims the company wields anti-competitive monopoly power over the distribution of iOS apps.

"Apple's removal of Fortnite is yet another example of Apple flexing its enormous power in order to impose unreasonable restraints and unlawfully maintain its 100% monopoly over the iOS in-app payment processing market," Epic said in the complaint. It requested an injunction to prohibit Apple's allegedly anticompetitive conduct and to mandate that Apple restore competition.

Apple said in a statement Thursday that Epic had violated its App Store guidelines regarding in-app payments.

"Today, Epic Games took the unfortunate step of violating the App Store guidelines that are applied equally to every developer and designed to keep the store safe for our users," Apple said in a statement emailed to CNN Business. "As a result their Fortnite app has been removed from the store."

Apple said it will work with Epic to resolve the violations so Fortnite can return to the App Store.

The controversy began when Epic Games announced Thursday it will offer a permanent 20% discount on Fortnite's in-game currency if players purchase directly from Epic.

In a blog post, Epic said players could not get the discount if they paid via Apple or Google.

"Currently, when using Apple and Google payment options, Apple and Google collect a 30% fee, and the up to 20% price drop does not apply."

The company added, "If Apple or Google lower their fees on payments in the future, Epic will pass along the savings to you."

Epic's post referred to how both Apple and Google app stores take a 30% cut of in-app sales. Epic CEO Tim Sweeney has publicly criticized both Apple and Google for their practices.

Hours later, Fortnite had vanished from Apple's app store — and Epic responded with its lawsuit.

On Thursday evening, Google said it too had removed Fortnite from the Google Play Store, though the game can still be installed from other sources on Android devices.

"The open Android ecosystem lets developers distribute apps through multiple app stores," Google said in a statement. "For game developers who choose to use the Play Store, we have consistent policies that are fair to developers and keep the store safe for users. While Fortnite remains available on Android, we can no longer make it available on Play because it violates our policies. However, we welcome the opportunity to continue our discussions with Epic and bring Fortnite back to Google Play."

This isn't the first time Epic has had an antagonistic relationship with the major app stores. In 2018, Epic announced it would not bring Fortnite to Google's Play Store and instead asked players to download the game directly from its website.

In April, Epic released Fortnite on the Google Play Store, two years after the game landed on iOS. At the time, it explained in a statement that it finally made the move because software downloaded outside of Google Play on Android operates at a disadvantage, suffering from security pop-ups and restrictions, with Google public relations describing such software as malware.

The revolt against the dominant app store operators includes other household names. Last year, Netflix ended support for in-app subscriptions, asking users instead to pay through its website. Spotify made a similar decision in 2016.

More recently, the new email service found itself at odds with Apple because it did not use Apple's own payment platform. Hey's founder, David Heinemeier Hansson, testified in January against Apple's practices in a congressional hearing held by the House Judiciary Committee's antitrust panel, which is investigating Apple, Amazon, Facebook and Google for potential anticompetitive behavior. Hansson has told CNN he's also spoken to Justice Department antitrust officials about the app's experience with Apple.

Apple's policies have attracted the attention of international competition regulators, as well. Earlier this year, the European Commission opened two antitrust investigations into Apple's App Store, citing a complaint by Spotify.

Apple has rejected claims that it uses its control over the iOS App Store in an anticompetitive manner. It hired an independent research firm to publish a report showing that the 30% cut it takes is standard across many digital marketplaces.

As Epic was preparing to launch its own software marketplace, Sweeney said it no longer makes sense for app stores to take such a hefty chunk of app developers' revenue.

"The 70/30 percent split was a breakthrough more than a decade ago with the advent of Steam, the Apple App Store, and Google Play," Sweeney said in an interview with Game Informer. "But today, digital software stores have grown into a $25,000,000,000+ business worldwide across all platforms, yet the economies of scale have not benefited developers."

Epic's own app store takes a much smaller cut from app makers — just 12%.

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