There’s been a lot happening between Fortnite, one of the most popular games created by Epic Games, and these two technological giants: Google and Apple. The topic is something that concerns us all: app distribution and, specifically, the unfair conditions that a semi-monopolistic economy creates for app creators. Although we’ve already spoken about what’s happening here in a previous article, last week the events evolved in an unexpected way. However, let’s start from the beginning. 

The Background 

Fortnite is a game that was released in 2017 for different platforms, including Windows, macOS, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One. It was a clear success on all fronts: it achieved over 10 million players within two weeks of being out, Epic Games accrued an estimated total revenue of $2.4 billion during 2018 (according to SuperData Research) and, most importantly, it started a revolution in the way apps are distributed.  

The battle initially started when Epic Games refused to accept that Google Play should receive a 30% cut of all in-app purchases. They believe it’s abuse and therefore decided to distribute Fortnite using other avenues, such as direct download from their website and via alternative app stores (ie Samsung’s Galaxy Store). In the words of Tim Sweeney, Epic’s CEO: “The 30 percent store tax is a high cost in a world where game developers’ 70 percent must cover all the cost of developing, operating, and supporting their games.” 

This launched a revolution, as we all discovered that the complaints about Google’s abusive position were not only coming from indie and small developers, but were also a problem for massive studios that produce very profitable titles. Secondly, Android users worldwide discovered that there’s a world outside of Google Play, and started to become more aware of the problems afflicting the app distribution field. The situation became even more surreal when Google, after warning users not to download apps outside the Play Store for security reasons, discovered that actually their app store had quite a few fake (and dangerous) versions of Fortnite. 

With this move, Epic Games proved that an app could be a success story without the help of Google Play, and once that was confirmed, they decided to go back to the Play Store and, reluctantly, accepted the 30% cut they initially refused. According to their press release, they insist that “Google puts software downloadable outside of Google Play at a disadvantage, through technical and business measures such as scary, repetitive security pop-ups for downloaded and updated software, restrictive manufacturer and carrier agreements and dealings, Google public relations characterizing third-party software sources as malware, and new efforts such as Google Play Protect to outright block software obtained outside the Google Play store.” While this happened in April 2020, it’s very possible that the studio was already planning what was executed last week since, once you look at the events, everything seems to have fallen into place. 

Fortnite’s Rebellion  

On August 13th 2020, Epic disclosed a big price drop for its own in-game currency, V-Bucks, for all platforms… but it was slightly different for Android and iOS users. With this price drop, Epic Games introduced a new payment system that did not align with either Apple and Google’s payment processing methods. Basically, it was a direct violation of the terms they accepted for distributing the app in those two app stores. The truth is that the payment methods of these two big techs are still there, but they just don’t offer the user the discounted price. As expected, Apple banned Fortnite (in a few hours) and Google followed the day after. 

After the bomb was dropped, the Streisand effect took place. While Android users can still find the game in other sources, Apple users can only play if was downloaded before the ban. And we all know that forbidden things are very tempting. The situation got so absurd that you can find ads online to buy iPhones with Fortnite installed for up to $10,000.  

Clearly Epic knew what they were doing, as they initiated an impressive clapback. Some time ago, Epic included a casual and weapons-free mode called Party Royale for special events (including a Travis Scott concert or even a Christopher Nolan movie). This time it was a short in which they parody Apple’s “1984” ad. In the middle of the game. With no weapons.  

Right after the short was released, Epic confirmed legal actions against Apple (sometime later they confirmed they’re also suing Google) and released all legal papers on Twitter. The situation escalated, and Apple threatened to remove Epic’s access to Apple’s developer tools by the end of the month, an action that we suppose Epic Games was expecting and, for the sake of app distribution fairness, we hope to get another creative reply from the studio. 

The controversy started with Google three years ago, and now it seems to be more focused on Apple, but the truth is that the way apps are currently being distributed is being questioned by a very important stakeholder in the industry. Reporters around the world talk about Fortnite changing the way we know the app store, and the hashtag #freefortnite helps users to understand what’s going on. Let’s see what the next episode brings.