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What is #FreeFortnite? Explaining the Epic Games vs. Apple feud [update]

(Image credit: Epic Games)

Update on August 17: Epic reports that Apple has now indicated that it will end the company's Apple Developer Program membership if it does not correct its breaches of the App Store guidelines within two weeks. This would prevent the company from publishing apps to any of Apple's platforms and could possibly extend to games built using Epic's Unreal Engine.

Update on August 14: Google has now also removed Fortnite from Google Play and Epic has, in turn, filed a lawsuit against Google. Notably, the game is still available to Android users via download either directly from Epic or the Samsung Galaxy Store.

If you are seeing #FreeFortnite popping up on social media and wondering what on earth is going on, we can help get you caught up on the drama between the world's most popular game and the richest tech company.

Earlier today, Epic Games rolled out an update to the payment methods available in Fortnite on both iOS and Android, allowing customers to purchase the in-game currency, V-Bucks, directly from Epic rather than using the normal in-app purchasing (IAP) methods on both platforms. This is specifically prohibited on both platforms, which receive 30% of the profits for such purchases, and led to Apple removing Fortnite from the App Store.

Users who purchase V-Bucks directly from Epic get to enjoy a 20% discount, netting the developer an extra 10% as compared to its take from purchases made through Apple or Google's payment platforms.

This is not the first time that Epic has clashed with the mobile platforms over these fees. The company kept Fortnite out of the Google Play Store for 18 months when it first launched to avoid these fees but ultimately capitulated when it proved too difficult to operate outside of Google's policies.

Epic was well aware of the possible ramifications and was ready with a media package that it sent to all Fortnite players at 4pm Eastern time. The associated video, titled "Nineteen Eighty-Fortnite," is a play on Apple's old Ridley Scott-directed 1984 commercial ad.

The text below the video reads "Epic Games has defied the App Store Monopoly. In retaliation, Apple is blocking Fortnite from a billion devices. Visit fn.gg/freefortnite and join the fight to stop 2020 from becoming '1984.'"

Along with the mobilization of its fan base, Epic has also taken legal action and is suing Apple in California. 

Coming on the heels of the news that Microsoft was stopping its testing of xCloud on iOS devices, the mobile gaming community is already less than thrilled with Apple, so it will be interesting to see if the normally loyal Apple community will fall on its side in this disagreement.

With Fortnite still the most popular game in the world by a wide margin, it is easy to see why Epic's management would believe it has the leverage to pull this off, but only time will tell if it was right.

Apple issues an ultimatum to Epic

On August 17 Epic reported to The Verge that it received a letter from Apple indicating that the company would be removed from the Apple Developer Program in two weeks if it did not correct its breaches of the App Store guidelines. 

This naturally is going to be a much shorter timeline than any possible action in the court proceedings that Epic has initiated, so in response, Epic has filed for a preliminary injunction against Apple saying that it would be "irreparably harmed long before final judgment cones" without immediate intervention. It went on to say that "Apple's actions will irreparably damage Epic's reputation among Fortnite users and be catastrophic for the future of the separate Unreal Engine business...."

The move is significantly upping the ante on the already serious matter as it would prevent Epic from distributing apps for iOS, iPad OS or macOS and as the company notes could have potential ramifications for its Unreal Engine business as well.

We expect the court to respond to this new preliminary injunction from Epic within the week due to the timing component from Apple, so stay tuned as this high stakes face-off is far from over.