Apple Moves To Terminate Epic Games Developer Accounts

Epic will soon lose access to iOS and Mac development tools

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In what marks the next big development in the ongoing tale of Epic’s legal fisticuffs, we’ve heard that going forward, Epic Games will lose access to Apple’s developer program. Following Epic’s brazen attempts to bypass the iOS in-app purchase payment system, and the ongoing legal tussle that has ensued, Apple has made the decision to revoke all aspects of Epic’s access to their platform. It’s tough to pin down exactly what impact this might have in the future, but it’s likely to have some consequences.

Epic shared the news with this tweet:

 

And Apple gave a statement to The Verge that explained their perspective.

“The App Store is designed to be a safe and trusted place for users and a great business opportunity for all developers. Epic has been one of the most successful developers on the App Store, growing into a multibillion dollar business that reaches millions of iOS customers around the world. We very much want to keep the company as part of the Apple Developer Program and their apps on the Store. The problem Epic has created for itself is one that can easily be remedied if they submit an update of their app that reverts it to comply with the guidelines they agreed to and which apply to all developers. We won’t make an exception for Epic because we don’t think it’s right to put their business interests ahead of the guidelines that protect our customers.”

What exactly does this mean going forward? The long term implications of this move aren’t completely clear, but in the short term, it means that Epic may no longer be able to actively develop their Unreal Engine software development kit for iOS and macOS, and they’ll lose any privileged access they got to Apple’s back-end systems as part of the development program. I’d feel very anxious right about now if I were a developer using Unreal Engine for a game that was planning an iOS or macOS. From the sounds of things, existing games using Unreal Engine 4 won’t be immediately affected, but there’s a very good chance that these developers will not be able to benefit from any updates or bug fixes that will be available for Unreal Engine on other platforms.

It’s hard to imagine that Epic did not consider this at least a possibility. They have deliberately and unequivocally breached the terms of their agreement with Apple so that Apple could respond by terminating their agreement can’t be a surprise to Epic. It raises the question of to what extent should a Game Engine developer be held responsible for maintaining at the very least cordial and professional relationships with major platform holders. Even if you conclude that Epic’s grievance is entirely legitimate, there are plenty of other ways that Epic could have sought to make their case, without placing developers using their tools right in the crossfire of this dispute. If Epic had simply removed Fornite from the App Store, if they no longer agreed to the App Store terms that they had previously agreed to, perhaps Unreal Engine developers targeting Apple platforms would be able to continue to do so without having to deal with this situation.

If Epic knew full well that this dispute could spill over onto developers that aren’t directly involved, but went ahead with it anyway, I’d say that’s a pretty bad look. It’s not clear what will happen to games like The Artful Escape and Oceanhorn 2, which are both Unreal Engine games and are both on Apple Arcade. Nor is it exactly clear what might happen to games that are released, but still in ongoing development like PUBG Mobile.

At least we can find some humor in these events, if we look at the timeline, on Monday the 17th Epic received the message from Apple announcing plans to revoke their developer access. The accounts will be terminated on Friday the 28th. Apple gave them two weeks, also known as a Fortnight. Amusing coincidence or was it intended as adding insult to injury? Your guess is a good as mine.

Perhaps going forward, developers will have to take into account not just the technical functionality, development features, and levels of performance when considering which engine to use, but also how well the Engine developer is able to maintain professional relationships with each of the major platform holders, and whether they are likely to start a drawn-out legal proceeding and public dirt slinging match with a major platform holder over a dispute over revenue shares.

This entire ongoing story goes to highlight the advantages of more open systems like a PC, where Microsoft does manage Windows, but they don’t get to decide who can and can’t release games for Windows. Apple does tend to keep things more locked down, which of course some users prefer, but with an open platform like Windows, Microsoft doesn’t wield the same power, and couldn’t shut down an Engine’s future on the platform with such ease. This makes a pretty strong case for buying a PC instead of a Mac if you care about gaming on it.