Apple Reverses Decision: Epic Games Can Offer Competing App Store After All

Well, that was fast. This past Wednesday, Fortnite maker Epic Games said Apple had prevented it from releasing its game and app store in the European Union by terminating Epic’s access to develop apps for iPhones and iPads. Now Apple has restored that access and Epic says it’ll proceed with its plans.

“Apple has told us and committed to the European Commission that they will reinstate our developer account,” Epic said in a statement Friday. “This sends a strong signal to developers that the European Commission will act swiftly to enforce the Digital Markets Act and hold gatekeepers accountable. We are moving forward as planned to launch the Epic Games Store and bring Fortnite back to iOS in Europe.”

Apple confirmed the change in a statement and offered its own take on events. “Following conversations with Epic, they have committed to follow the rules, including our DMA policies,” the company said. “As a result, Epic Sweden AB has been permitted to re-sign the developer agreement and accepted into the Apple Developer Program.”

The news comes as Apple is releasing a new version of its iOS software for iPhones, designed to follow rules called the Digital Markets Act. That law, which is designed to force Big Tech companies to allow more competition, requires Apple to allow customers in the EU to install alternative app stores and separately downloaded apps onto their devices.

Things blew up in the news Wednesday after Epic published what it says was a letter from Apple, ending its access to develop apps for devices running on Apple’s iOS mobile operating system.

“Please be advised that Apple has, effective immediately, terminated the Developer Program membership of Epic Games Sweden AB,” Apple appeared to say in a March 2 letter from its lawyers posted by Epic. Apple described Epic’s plans to release software for EU customers as “part of a global effort to undermine or evade Apple’s rules.” Apple didn’t comment on whether the correspondence shared by Epic Games was authentic.

Following Epic’s publication of the letter, Apple said it was acting on its rights by terminating Epic’s account.

“Epic’s egregious breach of its contractual obligations to Apple led courts to determine that Apple has the right to terminate ‘any or all of Epic Games’ wholly owned subsidiaries, affiliates, and/or other entities under Epic Games’ control at any time and at Apple’s sole discretion,'” the company said in a statement. “In light of Epic’s past and ongoing behavior, Apple chose to exercise that right.”

Epic said Wednesday that Apple’s move to terminate its developer account undermined “our ability to be a viable competitor and they are showing other developers what happens when you try to compete with Apple or are critical of their unfair practices.” Epic also alleged that Apple’s moves violated EU antitrust laws and said it intended to “fight to get back on iOS.”

Apple’s decision to terminate Epic’s developer account, followed quickly by the reversal, marks another twist in a now-four-year-long, high-profile court battle between the two tech giants over how much power Apple exerts over its iPhones, iPads and Mac computers. 

Epic had argued that Apple should allow customers to download apps and pay developers however they wish. Since launching its App Store more than 15 years ago, Apple has required that apps for its iPhones be downloaded from there. Apple also set rules that most developers must charge customers through its payment-processing service, which collects up to a 30% fee on every charge. Epic is battling Google in a similar suit over Google’s handling of the Play Store.

Apple broadly has won the argument in court, where judges have declared the iPhone maker hasn’t violated antitrust laws by forcing app developers to use its in-app payment systems.

CNET’s Gael Cooper contributed to this report.