Apple Reinstates Epic’s EU Developer Account

Epic Games:

Apple has told us and committed to the European Commission that they will reinstate our developer account. 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. Onward!

Tim Sweeney:

The DMA went through its first major challenge with Apple banning Epic Games Sweden from competing with the App Store, and the DMA just had its first major victory. Following a swift inquiry by the European Commission, Apple notified the Commission and Epic that it would relent and restore our access to bring back Fortnite and launch Epic Games Store in Europe under the DMA law.

A big win for European rule of law, for the European Commision, and for the freedom of developers worldwide to speak up. #FreeFortnite!

This is in response to a tweet, just yesterday, from Thierry Breton of the European Commission (emojis and hashtags untouched):

🚨Under the #DMA, there is no room for threats by gatekeepers to silence developers.

I have asked our services to look into Apple’s termination of Epic’s developer account as a matter of priority.

To all developers in 🇪🇺 & 🌍: now is the time to have your say on gatekeepers’ compliance solutions!

(I had a version of this post almost ready to publish before I ran out of gas late last night; I seemingly can’t write fast enough to keep up with Apple’s EU regulatory adventure. Today’s Dithering is, I think, a particularly good episode and still relevant, but its shelf life of being up-to-date on the news was about 6 hours.)

Theory A: Apple is playing grandmaster-level chess, and orchestrated this entire back-and-forth to give the EU a high-publicity win — “Look, the DMA, just one day old, is already working, showing that we can push Apple around” — regarding an Epic Games Store that Apple should have just let through from the start. It’s a lot of publicity for a thing that I don’t expect will amount to a significant concession by Apple.

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 letting 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 were 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.

Apple seems to have been particularly wrong-footed (to borrow a sports analogy even EU citizens might get) by this Epic thing. Again, I think Apple should have let Epic open an Epic Games Store in the EU. I think Apple could have just made clear from the moment they announced their DMA compliance plans that Epic remained ineligible for a developer account because of their flagrant violation of the App Store rules four years ago. The EC might have — and I think would have — forced Apple to relent on that, but it could have been adjudicated without any implication of spite or pettiness on Apple’s part.

But instead Apple played it the worst way possible: They let Epic’s Swedish subsidiary open a new Apple Developer Account, and proceed far enough toward building a games store that Epic announced it, and only then revoked Epic’s developer account, while almost literally justifying it not on the grounds that Epic can’t be trusted because they’re an egregious rule breaker, but instead because Tim Sweeney continued to voice his strident (or if you prefer, colorful) opinions about the App Store being an illegal monopoly. Apple doesn’t revoke developer licenses for criticizing Apple. But a lot of people — including the EC! — now think Apple did just that.

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.