An Epic battle is coming to the EU.
Epic Games, the creator of the wildly popular video game Fortnite, filed an official complaint with the European Commission against Apple on Wednesday, arguing that the U.S. tech giant breached EU antitrust rules with its App Store and payment policies. The charges are similar to those Epic has lodged against Apple and Google in lawsuits in the U.S.
Epic argues that Apple “completely eliminated competition in app distribution and payment processes” with unfair terms and conditions. The game developer also contends that the iPhonemaker uses its control of its proprietary operating system iOS and its ecosystem “to benefit itself while blocking competitors,” according to a company statement.
Apple’s “conduct is an abuse of a dominant position and in breach of EU competition law,” Epic said.
The complaint is the latest episode in a series of legal actions against Apple that Epic began in the U.S. last summer. The arguments in Epic’s EU filing, such as the illegality of the mandatory use of Apple’s proprietary in-app purchase system, mirror other complaints against the Cupertino-based company for which the European Commission opened probes in June.
Epic’s move follows a raft of recent complaints against the tech giants from upstarts in the industry like Slack and Telegram. It also highlights concerns Brussels is trying to address as part of its new rulebook to regulate Big Tech, known as the Digital Markets Act (DMA).
“What’s at stake here is the very future of mobile platforms,” Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney said. “Consumers have the right to install apps from sources of their choosing and developers have the right to compete in a fair marketplace.”
An Apple spokesperson said: “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,” the spokesperson added.
The Commission acknowledged receipt of the complaint and said it would “assess it based on standard procedures.”
The standoff started after Epic introduced a direct payment system within Fortnite to bypass Apple’s and Google’s app stores, which took a 30 percent share of the revenues for using their own payment processing systems. The two app store owners reacted by blocking Fortnite players from installing and updating the game through Apple’s App Store and Google Play, arguing that Epic’s payment system didn’t comply with their terms and conditions.
Epic took Apple and Google to court in the U.S. in August. It also sued Apple in Australia in November, and in the U.K. in January over the same issue.
The game company insisted it isn’t seeking damages. “Epic only wants a change in policy,” Sweeney told journalists on Tuesday ahead of the announcement.
The EU’s digital rulebook
“The DMA proposal includes provisions that would address potentially Epic’s claim,” the company’s antitrust lawyer Thomas Vinje, told reporters. But the DMA is not enough, and will not be ready quickly enough, he said.
The EU rulebook will require so-called gatekeepers — companies that have power and control over entire platform ecosystems — to apply “fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory” fees on businesses selling through app stores. But “open[ing] up competition in stores … is not enough,” Sweeney said. “It’s essential also to open up payments.”
Since “it’s going to take quite some time” for the DMA to enter into force, Vinje said, “now is the time to move” on the antitrust front. He acknowledged that the provisions in the DMA “indicate” that the Commission “understands that it is a very big issue.”
Brussels opened two formal probes against Apple over its App Store rules in June, focusing on music streaming and e-books. Messaging app Telegram also lodged its concerns over Apple’s revenue sharing rules with Brussels in a formal complaint in July.
Sweeney said he had not filed a complaint against Google with the Commission, but he didn’t exclude one in the future. “Right now we are focusing on Apple,” the Epic boss said, adding he was still figuring out the best approach to these issues.
There are differences between Google and Apple, he continued, but the “underlying concern for both of them is uniform.”
Update: The article was updated to include the Commission’s response.
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