Epic Games is waging war on Apple. The Fortnite developer has just fired its most daring shot in Epic’s ongoing crusade against digital storefronts, and it looks like we’re in for a protracted fight.
Epic has already made some pretty big moves in this crusade. In the PC gaming market, the studio not only sidelined Valve’s storefront, Steam, it created the Epic Game Store. And unlike Steam, which generally operates like the App Store, keeping 30% of all sales, Epic only takes a 12% cut from developers.
Epic also released Fortnite on Android devices on its own platform, avoiding the Google Play Store for months before finally launching the game there as well.
Now, Epic Games is taking the fight to Apple and the studio isn’t pulling any punches. Unfortunately for gamers, Apple is fighting back and Fortnite on iOS devices is about to become a casualty of war.
So What’s Going On?
On Wednesday, Epic Games updated Fortnite on mobile devices to include Direct Payments. This update was designed to allow gamers to purchase V-Bucks (the free-to-play game’s in-game currency) either via the App Store or directly from Epic Games. If you purchased from Epic directly, V-Bucks would be 20% cheaper.
This was all part of a larger update that made V-Bucks 20% cheaper across all platforms including PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PC and Mac. For mobile users, however, the only way to purchase cheaper V-Bucks was to use the Direct Payment option.
Epic did this knowing full well that it violated Apple’s App Store Terms Of Service, and fully anticipating backlash from the platform holder. Before launching the update, Epic Games and its CEO Tim Sweeney already knew that the game would be banned from the App Store. And they were prepared.
Today, when the banhammer fell, Epic was ready with a short film (below) mocking Apple’s rebellious 1984 ad, as well as a lawsuit and a detailed statement explaining what they were doing and why. They even came up with a hashtag, #FreeFortnite, to use on social media.
According to Epic:
“Apple has blocked Fortnite from the App Store, removing everyone’s ability to install and update the game on iOS devices, while instructing Epic to “remove the ‘Epic direct payment’ feature”. Apple is keeping prices high so they can collect 30% of your payments, and is blocking Fortnite in order to prevent Epic from passing on the savings from direct payments to you! Join the fight against @AppStore on social media with #FreeFortnite”
Here’s the “Nineteen Eighty-Fortnite” short film, which debuted first in Party Royale:
So Why Can I Still Play ‘Fortnite’ On My iPhone And iPad?
Perhaps the most genius move on Epic’s part is just how willing the company is to play hardball. Apple kicking Fortnite off the App Store won’t stop you from playing the game, but it does prevent players from receiving updates to Fortnite on their iOS devices.
So right now, as long as you already have Fortnite installed, you can still play the game largely unhindered. But this won’t last. In two weeks, when Chapter 2, Season 4 launches, iOS users will no longer be able to update the game since it’s no longer supported by Apple in the App Store. This means that in two weeks, you will no longer be able to play Fortnite on your iPhone or iPad.
“Fortnite remains available on Google Play, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PC, Mac, GeForce Now, and the Epic Games app on Android,” Epic continues in its #FreeFortnite blog post. “Your account, progression, and purchases also remain available on these platforms.
“Because Apple has BLOCKED your ability to update, when Fortnite Chapter 2 – Season 4 releases you will NOT be able to play the new Season on iOS. Make your voice heard with #FreeFortnite”.”
Season 4 of Fortnite is scheduled to go live on August 27th, exactly two weeks from now. When it does, iOS users will no longer have access to the game. A huge chunk of the game’s fanbase will be cut off. Since it is very unlikely that Apple will capitulate that soon without a fight, expect a lot of angry iOS users in the very near future. Fortnite is by no means the biggest mobile game in the world, but it is big enough to make waves.
And it’s possible that other studios will decide that the 30/70 cut is unfair as well, and that they also would like a form of direct payment for their titles. Tencent is a large stakeholder in Epic Games, and it’s possible the Chinese company could take part in this feud. What if Call Of Duty: Mobile goes offline or attempts to implement Direct Payments? It wouldn’t be the first time other game publishers have taken a page from Epic’s success.
Epic says this isn’t about the money, either. Or at least, they’re not looking to recoup any damages (clearly Direct Payments and a better split is about money, after all). The Fortnite developer is accusing Apple of holding monopolistic powers over its users and it does seem like a strong case. After all, there is no other way to download apps or make payments on iOS other than the App Store. Apple’s stranglehold on its own device market may be its undoing.
So Is This A Good Thing?
The short answer: Yes. Absolutely. Epic Games is fighting the good fight, taking on the biggest tech companies like Apple and Google and passing savings on to consumers. It’s also fighting this fight for other studios, not just Epic Games, rightfully arguing that this will be good for competition and good for developers’ bottom lines.
In other words, changing the market standard to 88/12 instead of 70/30 not only benefits consumers by passing along those savings directly, but benefits studios who earn more for each sale and transaction. Some game studios operate on such thin margins that this can be the difference between success and failure, and between staying open or shutting down, or hiring versus laying off employees.
Whether Epic’s play pays out remains to be seen, but it’s something I personally support as I think it will make the app market more competitive and fair.
Apple’s move here is, to put it bluntly, stupid beyond all reckoning and will almost certainly backfire. Apple is simply not used to game studios challenging its dominance, and now all that is about to change in a very big way. Epic is ready with its lawsuit and Apple will find very few sympathetic ears. I wouldn’t be surprised to see some of Apple’s investors call this into question once the lawsuit really ramps up.
Game industry analyst Michael Pachter has a very informative and useful Twitter thread breaking some of this down which I highly recommend:
How this all plays out is anybody’s guess. Whether Congress will get involved remains to be seen. Either way, grab some popcorn and get ready for an entertaining—and important—fight over the future of digital storefronts. Stay tuned.