Epic Games brings its antitrust feud with Apple to Europe's competition watchdog

The developer is also challenging Apple in the US, UK and Australia.

Mason Trinca / Reuters

Fortnite maker Epic Games is taking its battle against Apple's App Store practices to Europe. The games studio has filed a complaint with the EU's competition watchdog alleging that Apple's deliberate use of anti-competitive restrictions on the iOS ecosystem has harmed competition in app distribution and payment processes. Epic adds that Apple is benefiting while blocking rivals and that its conduct amounts to an abuse of power, putting it in breach of EU competition law.

The dispute between the two companies, which dates back to September, has seen Epic file several complaints against Apple across three continents. It began when Apple and Google removed Fortnite from their respective app stores after Epic added direct payments to the battle royale game.

Epic responded with a lawsuit in California alleging that Apple's prevention of alternative payments that bypass the 30 per cent commission it applies to purchases through the App Store is anti-competitive. The developer has since filed similar complaints in Australia and the UK. Its latest action adds to the pressure Apple is facing in Europe, where the European Commission has already launched several antitrust investigations into its App Store practices for music streaming, ebooks and in-app purchases, with a separate probe scrutinizing its approach to mobile payments.

It remains to be seen whether the litany of cases against the iPhone maker will result in any material change to its App Store tax. Perhaps pre-empting any future regulatory remedies, the company in November halved the commission to 15 percent for smaller developers that make up to $1 million in sales per calendar year.

In a statement, Epic Games founder Tim Sweeney today lambasted Apple for quashing consumer choice and developers' freedoms.

“What’s at stake here is the very future of mobile platforms. Consumers have the right to install apps from sources of their choosing and developers have the right to compete in a fair marketplace. We will not stand idly by and allow Apple to use its platform dominance to control what should be a level digital playing field. It’s bad for consumers, who are paying inflated prices due to the complete lack of competition among stores and in-app payment processing. And it’s bad for developers, whose very livelihoods often hinge on Apple’s complete discretion as to who to allow on the iOS platform, and on which terms.”

In its response, Apple said it is focusing on bringing Epic's failings to light in Europe.

“For twelve years, the App Store has helped developers turn their brightest ideas into apps that change the world. Our priorities have always been to provide customers with a safe and trusted place to download software and to apply the rules equally to 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, including in the EU. In ways a judge has described as deceptive and clandestine, Epic enabled a feature in its app which was not reviewed or approved by Apple, and they did so with the express intent of violating the App Store guidelines that apply equally to every developer and protect customers. Their reckless behavior made pawns of customers, and we look forward to making this clear to the European Commission.”

Obviously, Epic disputes Apple's reading of events, and continues to assert it's looking for the rules to be changed to make things fairer for every developer.

Update 2/17 10AM ET: This article has been updated since being published, as Epic reached out to reiterate that it disagrees with Apple's position. Stay tuned for Apple's response to Epic's response to Apple's response to Epic's statement, we guess?