Apple kicks Fortnite out of App Store for challenging payment rules

Apple removed Epic Games’ Fortnite from its iPhone App Store on Thursday, saying that the game violated Apple’s guidelines for its software distribution platform. 

“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,” an Apple spokesman told CNBC in a statement. “As a result their Fortnite app has been removed from the store.”

Fortnite was still available on Google’s Play Store on Thursday. Apple said in its statement that it will make efforts to work with Epic Games to enable Fortnite to return to the platform.

On Thursday, Epic Games challenged not only Apple but Google by introducing a new way to buy character outfits and weapons at a discount by paying Epic Games directly instead of using Apple’s in-app purchase service, which is required for digital goods, and takes a 30% cut.

Users who paid Epic Games directly would receive a 20% discount on in-game currency, versus users who paid through Apple’s App Store or Google Play, who would pay a higher amount. On Thursday, in the Fortnite app, clicking on a button to purchase in-game items brings up a browser window and directs the user to input his credit card information into the Epic Games system.

Apple said in its statement that Epic Games enabled a feature in its app that was not reviewed by the company’s App Review approval process. “They did so with the express intent of violating the App Store guidelines regarding in-app payments that apply to every developer who sells digital goods or services,” Apple said. 

As the ban was enacted, Epic Games tweeted about new content inside Fortnite called Nineteen Eighty-Fortnite. It’s a reference to a famous Apple ad from the 1980s that framed the computer maker as a fighter against conformity. 

Fortnite is one of the most popular games in the world. It’s available on a range of different devices, including Android phones, Windows, and consoles in addition to iPhones. As of May, it had 350 million registered players across all of its platforms and billions of hours are spent playing it per month. 

Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney has long criticized Apple for its control of the App Store. In July, he told CNBC that the store was an “absolute monopoly.” In April, in response to news that Apple allowed Amazon to use its own credit card processing in the Prime Video app, he called for “digital stores opening up to payment processing competition.” 

“Apple has locked down and crippled the ecosystem by inventing an absolute monopoly on the distribution of software, on the monetization of software,” Sweeney told CNBC in July. “They are preventing an entire category of businesses and applications from being engulfed in their ecosystem by virtue of excluding competitors from each aspect of their business that they’re protecting.”

Epic Games wants to create its own gaming marketplace that works across platforms, including iPhones, Android, and Windows. One of the Epic Games store’s primary selling points to game makers is that it takes a lower fee from purchases. Apple said in its statement that Epic Games is pushing for a “special arrangement.” 

Apple’s App Store rules have recently been the focus of congressional scrutiny. In a hearing in July, the House antitrust subcommittee pressed Apple CEO Tim Cook about Apple’s App Store policies.

Developers including Sweeney regularly criticize Apple’s 30% cut of digital goods, saying it is too rich and it makes it difficult to run their businesses profitably. Cook defended Apple’s policies at the hearing and said that if customers don’t like the App Store’s rules, “you can buy a Samsung.” 

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