But by taking on Apple so directly and publicly, Epic — a 29-year-old privately held company worth $17.3 billion and based in Cary, N.C. — may be in for the fight of its life. Apple has a market capitalization of nearly $2 trillion and almost unlimited resources. Last month, it cut off its support for Epic’s Unreal Engine, a software development tool that thousands of developers use. That took the smaller company by surprise.
“We recognized the theoretical possibility in advance, but thought it would be so foolish of” Apple to cut off Unreal Engine, Tim Sweeney, Epic’s founder and chief executive, said in an interview last week.
In court on Monday, Judge Gonzalez Rogers sharply criticized Epic’s decision last month to break with Apple’s payment rules. “There are plenty of people in the public who consider you guys heroes for what you did, but it’s still not honest,” she said.
Epic argued that Fortnite’s removal from the App Store had caused it irreparable harm. But Judge Gonzales Rogers noted that Epic’s publicity campaign around the fight, including a parody video of Apple’s famous “1984” ad and a hashtag, #FreeFortnite, had probably increased good will toward the company.
Epic’s attorney, Katherine B. Forrest, a partner at Cravath, Swaine & Moore, defended the publicity campaign.
“When you are taking on the biggest company in the world and you know it’s going to retaliate, you don’t lie down in the street and die,” she said. “You plan very carefully.”
Apple said it would reinstate Fortnite to its App Store only if Epic complied with its rules.
“They don’t need this court’s emergency help — they have the keys to free Fortnite right there in their pocket,” said Apple’s attorney, Theodore J. Boutrous Jr., a partner at Gibson Dunn.