(CNN Business)A federal judge has ruled that Apple can continue to block the hit video game Fortnite from its app store as the iPhone maker defends a landmark antitrust lawsuit by the game’s publisher, Epic Games.
The ruling means that, for the foreseeable future, millions of Fortnite players who access the game on iPhones, iPads and other Apple devices will remain unable to play the game’s latest content or download app updates.
Epic Games sued Apple (AAPL) in August after Apple removed Fortnite from its platform. Apple blamed Epic for deliberately breaching the terms of its developer contract when Epic sought to circumvent Apple’s in-app payment system — using a software update that encouraged Fortnite players to buy in-game currency directly from Epic Games.
The move meant Apple could not take its 30% cut of Fortnite revenues on iOS, prompting it to ban Fortnite as well as Unreal Engine, a software tool owned by Epic that is widely used by game developers and Hollywood.
In federal court, Epic had asked Judge Yvonne Gonzalez for a preliminary injunction that would restore Fortnite to the Apple App Store. It also asked for a ruling barring Apple from retaliating against the company and its overseas affiliates.
While Gonzalez’s Friday decision did not permit Fortnite to return to the App Store, she ruled Apple must not punish Unreal Engine or Epic’s affiliates.
Other users’ reliance on Epic’s Unreal Engine meant that cutting it off would “unnecessarily impact” them, Gonzalez wrote in her order.
“Epic Games and Apple are at liberty to litigate this action for the future of the digital frontier, but their dispute should not create havoc to bystanders,” she wrote.
The case is viewed as a pivotal fight between two tech titans that could reshape how app stores — and perhaps the wider digital economy — function in the future. The ruling comes days after the House Judiciary Committee’s antitrust panel issued a historic report finding that Apple, Amazon, Facebook and Google have monopoly power and have abused their dominance in the marketplace.
Epic’s suit against Apple has become a high-profile reflection of those allegations.
“This matter presents questions at the frontier edges of antitrust law in the United States,” the judge wrote.
But at this stage, she added that “too many unknowns remain.” to determine whether Epic may succeed with its antitrust claims.
The case, Epic Games v. Apple, is expected to go to trial next May.