Wednesday, March 6, 2024

Apple Terminates Epic Games’ Developer Account Again

Epic Games (Hacker News):

We recently announced that Apple approved our Epic Games Sweden AB developer account. We intended to use that account to bring the Epic Games Store and Fortnite to iOS devices in Europe thanks to the Digital Markets Act (DMA). To our surprise, Apple has terminated that account and now we cannot develop the Epic Games Store for iOS. This is a serious violation of the DMA and shows Apple has no intention of allowing true competition on iOS devices.


Apple said one of the reasons they terminated our developer account only a few weeks after approving it was because we publicly criticized their proposed DMA compliance plan. Apple cited this X post from this thread written by Tim Sweeney. Apple is retaliating against Epic for speaking out against Apple’s unfair and illegal practices, just as they’ve done to other developers time and time again.

Phil Schiller:

We welcome all developers to the Developer Program so long as they follow the rules. Those rules, including the DPLA and the App Store Review Guidelines, are intended to protect the integrity of the ecosystem, developers large and small, and - most importantly-users. Accordingly, developers who are unable or unwilling to keep their promises can’t continue to participate in the Developer Program.

In the past, Epic has entered into agreements with Apple and then broken them. For example, you testified that Epic Games, Inc. entered into the Developer Program with full understanding of its terms, and then chose to intentionally breach the agreement with Apple. You also testified that Epic deliberately violated Apple’s rules, to make a point and for financial gain. More recently, you have described our DMA compliance plan as “hot garbage,” a “horror show,” and a “devious new instance of Malicious Compliance.” And you have complained about what you called “Junk Fees” and “Apple taxes.”

Your colorful criticism of our DMA compliance plan, coupled with Epic’s past practice of intentionally violating contractual provisions with which it disagrees, strongly suggest that Epic Sweden does not intend to follow the rules. Another intentional breach could threaten the integrity of the iOS platform, as well as the security and privacy of users.

You have stated that allowing enrollment of Epic Games Sweden in the Developer Program is “a good faith move by Apple.” We invite you to provide us with written assurance that you are also acting in good faith, and that Epic Games Sweden will, despite your public actions and rhetoric, honor all of its commitments. In plain, unqualified terms, please tell us why we should trust Epic this time.

Tim Sweeney:

Epic and its subsidiaries are acting in good faith and will comply with all terms of current and future agreements with Apple, and we’ll be glad to provide Apple with any specific further assurances on the topic that you’d like.

Mark A. Perry:

Apple recently reached out directly to Mr. Sweeney to give him an opportunity to explain why Apple should trust Epic this time and allow Epic Games Sweden AB to become an active developer.

Mr. Sweeney’s response to that request was wholly insufficient and not credible. It boiled down to an unsupported “trust us.” History shows, however, that Epic is verifiably untrustworthy, hence the request for meaningful commitments.


Given the past and current conduct of Epic, Apple cannot allow Epic Games Sweden AB to be part of its ecosystem.

Please be advised that Apple has, effective immediately, terminated the Developer Program membership of Epic Games Sweden AB.

This is now the second time Apple has said they would let Epic have their account back if they agreed to follow the rules, Epic agreed, and Apple reneged, saying it didn’t believe Epic. In this case, it seems like Apple ignored Sweeney’s offer to provide “specific further assurances,” so unless there are key parts of the communication omitted it seems like Apple’s offer was not made in good faith. There is nothing in the rules saying that you can’t criticize Apple.

Joe Rossignol:

Apple shared the following statement with MacRumors:

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.” In light of Epic’s past and ongoing behavior, Apple chose to exercise that right.

Zac Hall:

In short, Apple is leaning on a court ruling from 2021 that upholds its ability to terminate developer accounts that violate its guidelines. That’s the legal basis for which Apple is relying upon globally — not just in the EU. As recently as last month, Epic Games accepted existing rules of the Apple Developer Program like all other developers.

Note that this ruling was in the US, and the Swedish account had not violated the guidelines.

Michael Love:

If Apple doesn’t want to have to have a business relationship with Epic, a great way to achieve that would be to do what every other platform maker has done for decades, and allow companies to distribute apps without going through Apple.

But if you insist that everything go through you then you’re obligated to treat everyone equally, even those that criticize you.

Steve Troughton-Smith:

Putting Phil Schiller in charge of the App Store is going to be a hundred billion dollar mistake that all-told leaves Apple with a pile of legal, perhaps criminal, liability and a raft of draconian regulations around the world that massively compromise the iOS experience. This was clear years ago; it is unimaginable that he’s still calling the shots.


Update (2024-03-07): Kyle Orland:

Apple told Ars that Epic Games Sweden’s access to a developer account was granted through a “click through” agreement that was not evaluated by Apple management. Now that Apple management is aware of that approval, the company says it has terminated that agreement following the same logic that led the company to deny a 2021 request by Epic for reinstatement to the iOS developer program.

Gergely Orosz:

Dare criticize Apple and they can (and, sometimes, will!) remove you from their platform as a developer. They just did this w Epic!

I cannot remember even Microsoft being this much of a bully back in the 90s.

Apple became the very thing they fought against in 1984.

Gergely Orosz:

Apple’s explanation: Epic broke rules before. Apple gave back Epic’s dev account. But then Sweeney tweeted something. So now they are taking it back.

This is the type of reasoning I see children apply. Waiting for when the adult steps in (aka regulator).

Steve Troughton-Smith:

“But Epic broke the rules” is not a defense of Apple’s behavior. As per the EC, Apple’s developer agreement contains clauses that are now and always have been illegal. Epic ‘broke’ the terms of an illegal contract in order to, among other things, test its legality in court and in regulation. We have our answer now: Apple’s terms were illegal. Epic was right to break them. I care nothing for how much money Epic makes, how its leadership tweets, or how Epic’s deals with console makers are worded.

We are all, as developers, signed up to and subject to Apple’s illegal agreement, to the detriment of us, our families, our products and our users. And almost none of us have the resources to challenge any part of that developer agreement without risking all of the above.

Peter van Broekhoven:

Seems more like, “But Epic might break the rules in the future.”

Which is bonkers. Did we stumble into the Minority Report universe? Wait until they do, then react.

Damien Petrilli:

Apple leadership is so untrustworthy that I am starting to think that making native App is dangerous.

If Apple can kill your business for a tweet, they went from mafia level to dictatorship level.

George Broussard:

It’s clear that Apple’s actions against Epic are punitive and meant to make an example of Epic. Apple moves from benevolent overlord to Tyrant. By stepping on Epic, Apple is saying “You could be next. You will be next.” therefore silencing developers and any form of dissent.

Agence France Presse (MacRumors, Hacker News):

Apple must explain its decision to halt Epic Games’ effort to develop a competing app store for its devices, EU regulators said Thursday, as they consider whether the iPhone-maker violated any laws.


The spokesperson for the commission said it was “also evaluating whether Apple’s actions raise doubts on their compliance” with two other EU laws regulating digital players.


Apple compliance with the DSA -- a content moderation law -- means any decisions to suspend or terminate accounts must be “proportionate and in due regard to fundamental rights,” the spokesperson said.

James Thomson:

Can I simultaneously think that Epic are a bunch of chancers, while also really disliking Apple’s handling of them? Yes.

John Gruber (Mastodon):

That Tim Sweeney tweet cited as an example doesn’t seem out of line to me. It’s strident, to be sure, but we know Sweeney endorses a regulatory structure that would legally require Apple to treat the iPhone as a platform more or less as open as the Mac. We know Apple disagrees, vehemently, with that — but I don’t see how stating that viewpoint ought to disqualify Epic from obtaining a developer account.


Citing recent tweets, like Sweeney’s, that are simply critical — even scathingly critical (or to borrow Schiller’s term, “colorful”) — just makes it look like Apple’s policy is that if a developer criticizes the App Store’s rules, Apple will punish them for speaking out. I don’t think that’s Apple’s policy at all, but some people think it is, and this situation with Epic just reinforces that.


But why not take an opportunity to look magnanimous? Apple shouldn’t be expected to grovel, but this looks like they’re going out of their way to look vindictive. I really thought it would be a clever bit of public relations jujitsu to make nice with Epic, even if, in Cupertino, it was through gritted teeth.

Francisco Tolmasky:

Something missing in the Apple vs. Epic discourse is the actual customer perspective. I’m sure you don’t play Fortnite (I don’t either), but apparently it’s… pretty popular. So what matters really isn’t whether you’d “also tell them to fuck off,” but whether you want an ecosystem where what seem to be increasingly personal disputes result in products not appearing in markets. I don’t want to not be able to use Procreate if they get into a fight with Apple, regardless of who’s “right.”

Update (2024-03-08): See also: Accidental Tech Podcast.

Zac Hall (Hacker News):

After a whirlwind of events, Epic Games says Apple has reinstated their App Store developer account. The move clears the way for Epic to bring its Epic Games Store to the EU, avoiding the App Store structure altogether.

Dan Moren:

Apple, for its part, issued a terse statement, saying only, “Following conversations with Epic, they have committed to follow the rules, including our DMA policies. As a result, Epic Sweden AB has been permitted to re-sign the developer agreement and accepted into the Apple Developer Program.”

Khaos Tian:

Yeah it definitely has nothing to do with the Commission’s inquiry 😛

John Gruber (Mastodon):

Theory B: Apple is flailing erratically trying to deal with their loss of autonomy.

I vote B, because to me the real win for Apple would have been just let Epic use their Swedish subsidiary to open an iOS games store without the back-and-forth. If Apple had gone that route, the European Commission could still have taken credit for proof of the DMA’s effectiveness, and Apple would look like they’re complying graciously with the law. But the way things actually played out makes clear they’re complying begrudgingly, and, worse, plays into the worst assumptions about Apple’s institutional arrogance and vindictiveness.


How was a “priority” investigation by the EC not going to happen the way Apple played this? If Apple had just let Epic proceed from the start, they’d have looked magnanimous. They even had Tim Sweeney calling it “a good faith move”. But as it stands, Apple looks bitter, and from the EC’s perspective, in need of close policing.

Steve Troughton-Smith:

Apple’s reversal on the Epic situation is all well and good, but it doesn’t prevent this kind of thing from happening again to a smaller developer who doesn’t have a ton of PR or the ear of the EC. And it does highlight that Apple still has all the control to do whatever it wants, with little oversight, under its proposed DMA plan. They have forcibly inserted themselves in between third party app stores/payment providers and those services’ users, free to turn the screws as they wish

Update (2024-03-14): Tim Sweeney:

There weren’t any other communications on the topic between Epic and Apple either directly or thru counsel during this episode, nor between then and when Apple notified the commission they were relenting.

John Gruber:

Per Sweeney, responding to a question from me tonight on Twitter/X, that was Friday, February 9, and their account was approved on the following Monday, February 12. Epic made their public announcement that they intended to create an Epic Games Store for iOS in the EU on Friday, February 16.

That announcement, seemingly, was in fact the first time Epic’s plans came to the attention of Apple’s leadership.


The “colorful” tweets Schiller quoted and which Apple’s attorney cited were mentioned as proof that Epic hadn’t changed, not as the reason for revoking the new account.


The bottom line remains as I concluded Friday: Apple played this whole thing terribly. The automated developer program enrollment form — the one that gave Epic the impression they’d been granted express permission to proceed with building an iOS marketplace for the EU — is Apple’s. The whole App Store bureaucracy is Apple’s. (Or as Sweeney aptly called it tonight, “Apple’s App DMV”.)

Update (2024-03-17): Francisco Tolmasky:

So let me get this straight, Apple, the company that “simply didn’t realize Epic had made a new account,” is supposed to keep us safe on the AppStore?… Apple’s not even trying to pretend to be the vigilant protector of the end user anymore, huh? Once again proving that the AppStore is as “curated” and “safe” as a strip mall dollar store.

22 Comments RSS · Twitter · Mastodon

Kevin Schumacher

Just saying "We will comply" isn't an answer to "Why should we trust you this time?" I don't disagree with Apple on that front. I think others are leaning too heavily on "Apple trying to silence a critic" when it seems more like it's "You're very publicly saying we are the devil incarnate, but you still want us to believe you're not gonna pull a Sweeney again, so need to go heavy on explaining why we suddenly should trust you," especially since not only has Sweeney's rhetoric about Apple not changed since he lost the antitrust suit, it has in fact intensified.

It's an ugly situation all around. Sweeney's one-sentence response should have been more fleshed out. There should have been an Apple response saying that, since it's pretty clear that's what they wanted.

I am very curious how this plays in the EU. Does the DMA require Apple, as a gatekeeper, to do business with any companies that meet whatever requirements Apple imposes that are allowed under the DMA, regardless of how Apple feels about doing business with them? Or is Apple simply required to not be self-preferential when doing business with the companies it chooses to do business with? That's a pretty big distinction, and I can't believe they'd be required to e.g. let Al-Qaeda join the developer program and set up an alternate app store, so where is the line?

“ Note that this ruling was in the US, and the Swedish account had not violated the guidelines.”

Hi! I only murdered people in another state. Why are you arresting me?

Come on.

@Kevin If they won’t even clarify what they want, it seems like Apple’s mind was made up, and there’s nothing Epic could have said that would be accepted. I can understand them not trusting Epic again, but then they shouldn’t have pretended they were going to let them create a marketplace and gone through this charade. It’s also clear that Epic never had any intent to threaten users’ security/safety/privacy—Apple is just throwing that out there for effect.

@Total I guess we’ll see whether the EU gets involved.

Old Unix Geek

Given all the roadblocks Apple is creating to prevent any competing AppStore, the EU will just have to fine Apple 10% of its global revenue. That should do Apple's stock value wonders. Is it too early to short? As Baldur said, it's either that, or bye bye EU.

Apple is demonstrating amazing arrogance and stupidity. They don't seem to have any idea how hard the EU can make their lives, and that the EU is not the US. You know those nice little "CE" marks without which no electric product can be sold in the EU... it would be such a shame if Apple were not able to get them in a timely manner anymore. Oh, and that little country Ireland, where Apple is incorporated, and gets to pay very low taxes? It might suddenly find that it needs to increase all corporate taxes on all US firms (which provide it with its "Celtic tiger" status), unless it starts to put grit under Apple's skids. I even wonder if the EU could pressure TSMC to have more difficulties producing Apple's 3nm chips, if they want prompt deliveries of ASML fab equipment, required to make said 3nm chips.

This might turn out to be quite the spectacle.

I would guess the EU would disagree with "trust" being a relevant aspect.
Clearly Apple would retain the power to terminate Epic's account at any point in time later if and when it would in fact breach the contract/agreement with them again.

Fact is that Apple has been fined by the EU for breaking its laws just days ago, 34 companies have formally complained to the EU about Apple's recent implementation of the DMA requirements... somewhere there I would have hoped some professionalism would kick in... but it appears not! Such a damage to the Brand, but they don't seem to care.

I don't think this was the smart move to make right now for Apple.

There we have it, in black and white: it's a bannable offence to criticise Apple?

Daniël de Kok

"There is nothing in the rules saying that you can’t criticize Apple."

The part that Apple does not seem to get is that now that the DMA is in effect is that their rules don't matter anymore. I think it is possible that the EC will go along with the notarization requirement, since that kind of gatekeeping is necessary to keep the platform secure. But the EC will not allow Apple to decide who is and who is not able to offer alternative app stores, the EC is clear in that it is the user who should have the freedom to decide what app stores to install on their devices:

"Allow end users to install third party apps or app stores that use or interoperate with the operating system of the gatekeeper;"

It's also tone-deaf that Apple does this right now, since the EC has been clear that the focus will be on app stores first:

Let's quote what the DMA says

"Such restrictions [i .e. only allowing first party apps tores] can limit the ability of developers of software applications to use alternative distribution channels and the ability of end users to choose between different software applications from different distribution channels and should be prohibited as unfair and liable to weaken the contestability of core platform services."

A bit further down

"... it should be possible for the gatekeeper concerned to implement proportionate technical or contractual measures to achieve that goal [not endanger the integrity of the hardware or operating system] if the gatekeeper demonstrates that such measures are necessary and justified and that there are no less-restrictive means to safeguard the integrity of the hardware or operating system. "

1. Epic didn't harm the safety of iOS, they circumvented the 30% app tax.
2. That's it. Apple has no legs to stand on. This will bite them in the ass.

@Daniël de Kok

> I think it is possible that the EC will go along with the notarization requirement, since that kind of gatekeeping is necessary to keep the platform secure.

Since when the notarization process (or Gatekeeper) is keeping a platform secure?

Tim: Oh Phil, I miss the days when we were the underdog.
Phil: Hold my Ovaltine

I hope Apple gets their ass handed to them. They are so greedy with the App Store and treat developers like garbage. And all of the reasons and excuses that they use are total lies, e.g. that the App Store is safe and curated, that opening it up would be bad for customers, that no other platforms do this, etc. I'm surprised they've been able to keep this charade going for so long.

Never underestimate the other guy's greed. You know what a Hassa is? It's a pig that don't fly straight.

I’ve often wondered if Phil Schiller was personally involved in these issues. It seems like his own sort of personal grudge, which we’ve seen in the earlier (anonymous, but Phil-like) response to Basecamp’s Hey app, as well as a salty quote in Apple’s EU DMA press release.

His petty vindictiveness, and absolute certainty that he is responsible for YOUR success (you should be *thanking* him that he’s taking a “commission” of 30%), really shines through in his “nice place you got here, be a shame if anything happened to it” email to Tim Sweeney.

I’d be surprised if Steve Troughton-Smith is right. I don’t think putting Schiller in charge of the app store is a 100 billion dollar mistake -- it’s likely a bigger mistake than that, one that transcends cash and destroys the core value of Apple — its relationship with developers and customers.

The regulators are incompetent. All they had to do was force Apple to allow sideloading. If they don’t host the app, market the app, they get no commission from a sale outside the store. Just like on Mac and Windows and those platforms have been profitable for decades they are full of shit with that free lunch talk.

Instead they came up with these ridiculous vague rules and left loopholes galore for Apple to exploit. I think it’s shortsighted on Apple’s part because it’s likely Apple is going to have to comply with harsher regulations in the end (some that may even be too harsh and silly) because again, the regulators are clearly incompetent.

IMO we can summarise Apple’s behaviour in one word: « Dogma »
I’d a strength when used to make the life of your customers better, however it becomes a weakness and potential liability when used against anyone that has a different opinion.

In a way, Apple is becoming (or has become?) the « China » of the tech industry and as I write this, it makes me super sad 😔

@Damien Excellent observation. I'd be the last person to defend capitalism but Apple really have become extraordinarily illiberal in defence of the Apple customer dream—and, by the by, themselves and their own interests. A sort of techno-mauism, if you like.

Apple is the inevitable end of unrestrained capitalism. It always leads to monopolies.

And just like that Epic are reinstated again.

I guess Phil checked in with the lawyers. 😂

Old Unix Geek


My guess is more that the EU spoke to Apple's lawyers and made the consequences of fucking around exceedingly and painfully clear to them.

It's impressive that Epic still wants to go ahead despite being jerked around this much.

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