Apple claims Epic lawsuit is PR stunt to “reinvigorate interest in Fortnite”

The legal dispute between Epic Games and Apple over in-game microtransactions is expected to drag on for months, yet this week we’ve already heard some astonishing claims from Apple – suggesting Epic only started the lawsuit to bolster waning interest in Fortnite.

In an opposition brief filed to district court yesterday, Apple claimed the entire dispute was essentially a PR stunt to boost interest in the battle royale (via The Verge).

“For reasons having nothing to do with Epic’s claims against Apple, Fortnite’s popularity is on the wane,” Apple stated. “By July 2020, interest in Fortnite had decreased by nearly 70 per cent as compared to October 2019. This lawsuit (and the front-page headlines it has generated) appears to be part of a marketing campaign designed to reinvigorate interest in Fortnite.”

Later in the filings, Apple cites figures from Epic CEO Tim Sweeney, noting that “only 20 per cent of Fortnite users have accessed the game exclusively on Apple devices; and among active users, only 10 per cent play through iOS.

“If Epic were truly concerned that it would suffer reputational injury from this dispute, it would not be engaging in these elaborate efforts to publicise it,” Apple added. “From all appearances (including the #freefortnite campaign), Epic thinks its conduct here will engender goodwill, boost its reputation, and drive users to Fortnite, not the opposite. That is not harm.”

It’s likely Apple has prepared these arguments in order to counter Epic’s claim that Apple has caused irreparable harm by booting Fortnite off the App Store. The suggestion is that Epic deliberately started the dispute to suit its own business interests, and the loss of Fortnite on iOS will not have a catastrophic impact on Epic’s total earnings.

There are a couple of questions left unanswered by Apple’s choice of examples here, however – notably that figures for Fortnite’s popularity since October 2019 have been omitted, and we know from Epic’s own stats that Fortnite experienced a huge surge in popularity during the Travis Scott event in April this year. Moreover, Epic recently argued in its own filing that iOS is the biggest platform for Fortnite, with 116m registered users (nearly a third of Fortnite’s 350m total). Epic also claimed that 63 per cent of Fortnite users on iOS only use that platform, and since Fortnite’s removal, daily active users on iOS have declined by over 60 per cent. It seems like this is going to be a battle of statistics – and how they are framed.

Other than the new PR stunt claims, the filing mainly reaffirms Apple’s previous argument that Epic is making its own problems, and could solve them by simply rolling back an update. “Epic started a fire, and poured gasoline on it, and now asks this Court for emergency assistance in putting it out, even though Epic can do so itself in an instant by simply adhering to the contractual terms that have profitably governed its relationship with Apple for years,” the filing states.

“If Epic were really concerned about preserving iPhone users’ access to Fortnite, or developers’ access to Unreal Engine, it would deactivate the ‘hotfix’ and comply with Apple’s policies pending resolution of its claims. Instead, Epic is holding its own customers hostage to gain leverage in a business dispute.”

If you’re just catching up on this clash of titans, the dispute began back in August when Epic added a secondary payment system to Fortnite to avoid Apple’s 30 per cent take of all in-game microtransactions. As this violated the App Store terms and conditions, Apple booted Fortnite from its storefront (with Google following suit), although Epic was ready with a PR video and campaign – and filed lawsuits against both.

Since then, we’ve seen a number of legal filings, and Epic successfully won a temporary injunction to prevent Apple blocking access to its Unreal Engine developer tools. The next key stage of the legal process is the full court hearing for Epic’s preliminary injunction, scheduled for 28th September, which will restore Fortnite to the App Store – if successful. Things are certainly getting juicy.