WHY EPIC CAN’T AFFORD TO LOSE THE UNREAL ENGINE IN ITS LEGAL FIGHT WITH APPLE

Apple and Epic’s Fortnite fight has spiraled into something much more

Epic’sEpic’s legal fight with Apple over the future of Fortnite has quickly evolved into an existential battle for one of the game studio’s most lucrative and important assets: the Unreal Engine platform.

After removing Fortnite from the App Store, Apple targeted Epic’s other developer account tied to its game engine, putting at risk the company’s licensing business by threatening to cut iOS and macOS support. Epic secured a last-minute temporary restraining order granted late Monday evening to protect the business in the short term, but the fate of the Unreal Engine is still up in the air — endangering an entire ecosystem of third-party tools that rely on the engine.

THE FATE OF THE UNREAL ENGINE IS UP IN THE AIR
As Epic warned in a court motion last week, Apple’s moves against the Unreal Engine would threaten the software behind “hundreds of video games, the human brain, Baby Yoda, and space flight.” Most of those projects have no obvious connection to Epic Games and Fortnite, but they rely on the company and its tools to do their work. And as Epic and Apple settle in for years of legal warfare, those projects are likely to be disrupted too.

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Developed in 1998 alongside the first-person shooter Unreal, the Unreal Engine has become a cornerstone of Epic’s business and the gaming industry at large. It’s currently used by dozens of game makers, Hollywood production and special effects studios, and other firms in the 3D rendering and computer graphics businesses.

The engine is also how Epic builds its own games, including Fortnite and past major hits like Gears of War and Unreal Tournament. Scores of big-budget game makers have also forgone custom, in-house engines for Epic’s, like Gearbox Software (Borderlands 3), and Riot Games (Valorant), and Square Enix (Final Fantasy VII Remake). Epic licensed the software to thousands of developers who don’t have the resources to build their own engine, in exchange for a five percent royalty on whatever’s created. That licensing has turned Epic’s Unreal Engine into a popular toolkit even for major, big-budget games, rivaled only by the more mobile-focused Unity.

THE UNREAL ENGINE IS AT RISK OF BECOMING COLLATERAL DAMAGE IN EPIC’S FIGHT WITH APPLE
Now, the engine is at risk of becoming collateral damage in the company’s fight over in-app payments in Fortnite. When Apple removed Fortnite by revoking Epic’s primary app developer account, it also planned to revoke the developer account Epic uses to maintain the Unreal Engine on iOS, as part of its policy of removing linked accounts after a breach of contract.

The court has restrained Apple from revoking that account for the next few weeks, but it remains to be seen whether it will keep the account protected for the full duration of the trial. (A temporary injunction hearing to settle the matter is scheduled for September 28th.) But if Apple prevails — either in the preliminary injunction or in the broader case — Epic’s testing tools for the Unreal Engine will suffer the same fate as Fortnite, cutting the system off from updates and broader development.

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