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'Fortnite' will return to the iPhone — but only in the EU

Still from the Epic Games-produced ad criticizing Apple for being like the book a1984

Three years after Apple kicked Epic Games off the App Store for breaking terms of business, it has allowed the firm to return with a developer account — and "Fortnite" — for use within the EU.

Apple cancelled the Epic Games developer account in August 2020, after the gaming firm violated App Store agreements in what turned out to be the start of a years-old legal battle. Apple wanted to remove all of Epic's developer accounts, but a judge insisted that removing its Unreal Engine account would have harmful effects on its countless users.

Epic had asked Apple to allow it a developer account when it wanted to sell apps in Korea. Apple refused. The company said that it would only allow Epic Games back when it "agree[s] to play by the same rules as everyone else."

Then while Epic Games its legal case against Apple, the EU introduced the Digital Markets Act. As a consequence, Apple has had to allow for alternative app stores within the region — and that means not stopping Epic Games from becoming a recognized developer in the region.

"We've received our Apple Developer Account and will start developing the Epic Games Store on iOS soon thanks to the new Digital Markets Act," says Epic Games in an announcement. "We plan to launch in 2024. Epic Games Sweden AB will operate the mobile Epic Games Store and Fortnite in Europe, with the Store team leading development."

There's been no announcement about when "Fortnite" may return, but the new EU laws are expected to be enforced from March 2024.

Opening up third-party app stores

The Epic Games disagreement with Apple that resulted in its removal as an App Store developer turned out to be a long-planned campaign against Apple's fees. Epic Games said that it should be able to sell games and in-app purchases directly to users rather than pay Apple a cut of each transaction.

Ultimately the European Union agreed that Apple's App Store should allow alternative payment systems, and this is at the heart of the Digital Markets Act. Apple now has to allow such alternatives and even whole third-party app stores, although it has of course made every effort to persuade developers to stay with its existing system.

So Epic Games may have lost its court case but it would appear to have won the war — except that its CEO Tim Sweeney doesn't see it that way. Describing Apple's opening up to third-party app stores as "more hot garbage," and a "new horror show," he called out the company for its "devious new instance of Malicious Compliance."