War of the Titans: Epic Games v Apple

On 10 September 2021, the United States District Court of the Northern District of California handed down its judgement in the widely publicised case between two technology powerhouses: Epic Games and Apple.

While the outcome of the case could be construed as somewhat of a loss to both sides, Judge Rogers’ judgement deals with interesting issues concerning how the operation of digital storefronts intersects with competition law.


Game play screen on mobile phone
The Epic ruling has affected Apple’s no-steering rules for the App Store

For years, Epic Games’ CEO Tim Sweeney has been a vocal sceptic when it comes to the commission digital platforms charge software developers for transacting through their storefronts, questioning the standard 30% rate charged by companies like Apple.

Before commencing litigation in August 2020, Epic Games knowingly contravened its contractual agreements with Apple and implemented a feature within Fortnite that enabled users to make in-game purchases directly from Epic Games, bypassing Apple’s commission.

In response to this, Apple pulled Fortnite from the iOS App Store and as a result Epic Games sued Apple.

The claims

Epic Games made a total of 10 claims against Apple, most alleging that Apple’s practices regarding the iOS App Store were in contravention of US competition law. Apple made counter claims against Epic Games, including breach of contract for the Fortnite bypass feature.

The ruling

Judge Rogers ruled against Epic Games for 9 out of the 10 claims, and ordered them to pay Apple US$3.6 million for bypassing Apple’s payment systems.

However, Judge Rogers did offer some criticism when examining Apple’s practices. Although Apple’s degree of success in the mobile gaming transaction market did not alone constitute monopoly status, she observed that the company is nearing ‘the precipice of substantial market power’. Additionally, the fact that Apple only ever seems to revise its App Store terms in light of legal action did not go unnoticed. Judge Rogers noted that there is little impetus for Apple to innovate its services in the absence of third-party digital storefronts on the iPhone platform.

The claim where Apple was held to be in contravention of competition law concerned its ‘anti-steering’ rules, which prohibit app developers from directing users to payment methods external to the App Store.

Apple’s 30% commission was considered legitimate; but preventing developers from informing consumers of their choices when making in-app purchases was found to be anti-competitive. The court issued a permanent injunction blocking Apple from enforcing these rules.


While Epic Games ultimately lost most of their claims, the ruling on Apple’s anti-steering rules is significant. Apple earns billions from in-app purchases, a revenue stream which is potentially undermined if developers can link to commission-free transactions.

Author: Andrew Geraghty, paralegal.