Apple Fortnite & Google – Will Fortnite Ever Come Back to Mobile?
Fortnite this weekend has been dominated by one thing; its removal from the mobile app stores. A reduction in the price of in-app purchases has been inflated to the size of a major event in the game, with a cut scene signaling it and the news taking up space on the game’s homepage for a few days. What exactly has happened with Apple and Google vs Fortnite?
Why Was Fortnite Removed from the App Stores?
Fortnite was removed from the app stores of both Google and Facebook after they re-worked their in-game purchases. Epic added in an option to pay them directly for V-Bucks, cutting Apple and Google out of the transaction. This is against their terms for the app store and led to the game’s becoming unlisted. This wasn’t exactly a surprise to Epic though.
They planned for this to happen, and even animated a short movie about it. A parody of Apple’s 1984 mac ad was played, pitting Fortnite against the tech company. While a lot of the focus here is on Apple, Google had the same rules that led to removal too.
Epic also revealed a lawsuit against Apple, alleging anti-trust laws that had been violated. Between a lawsuit ready to go and an animation fully rendered and made, it’s pretty clear Epic has been planning this for a while. They’re perusing lawsuits against Apple and Google. However, by using a direct parody of an Apple ad it’s clear they’re the main target here.
Both lawsuits are Epic attempting to get a bigger cut of microtransactions. At the moment, they have to hand over 30% to Apple and Google. They’re alleging that they are using their dominant position in the marketplace to extort too much out of game and app sellers.
In retaliation, Apple is in the process of taking development tools away from Epic as a whole. Epic are attempting to have this delayed, but it could mean that the Unreal Engine as a whole ceases to function on Macs and iOS.
Are Epic in the Right Here?
Epic’s framing of this fallout portrays them as disruptors, trying to change an unfair industry. The self-aggrandizing is clear from the language, but nowhere more so than by co-opting Apple’s own self-mythologizing ad from the 80s. So are Epic in the right here? It’s not really that simple. Wanting to cut out profit going to middleman isn’t a terrible position, but Epic isn’t doing this for the sake of small developers.
Epic wants more of the money that they make, and they’re pretending that their main concern is with smaller developers missing out on revenue. It’s a weird way to approach it. They’re attempting to frame themselves in a David vs Goliath story. You can get a good judge of the self-important side of their crusade from their CEO.
At the most basic level, we’re fighting for the freedom of people who bought smartphones to install apps from sources of their choosing, the freedom for creators of apps to distribute them as they choose, and the freedom of both groups to do business directly.
— Tim Sweeney (@TimSweeneyEpic) August 14, 2020
If we don’t fight for our rights where we stand, we’ll eventually run out of places to retreat to, and by then we’ll be too weak and divided to win. This is why developers need to fight the store monopolies HERE and NOW!
— Tim Sweeney (@TimSweeneyEpic) August 17, 2020
These are lofty ideals, but when you cut down to it Epic isn’t perusing what is going to be a long and expensive lawsuit just out of the kindness of their hearts. It is a similar situation to their own store. They gave indie developers more revenue than Steam did. This might have had a positive effect on the indie community, but it was ultimately about gaining a marketplace and muscling in on a large area that was dominated by one company.
Epic can find justifications for all this, but the whole ordeal really comes down to two companies that make billions bickering over a few percentage points. There’s greed on both sides, and no one here can really claim the moral high-ground, no matter how many short films and hashtag campaigns to weaponize players that they make.
Will Epic’ Lawsuit Work and How Long Will It Last?
Epic has been too outspoken with this to back down before the lawsuit has run its course. They wouldn’t be making such a storm out of this if they planned on caving. So how long is it all due to last? Probably a lot longer than you’d assume.
This isn’t the first time that Apple has been sued over antitrust laws in its App Store. That lawsuit has been stretching on since 2011, even finding its way to the Supreme Court without a resolution. There is no reason to think that Epic’s version of this lawsuit is going to be any quicker, no matter how much public outcry they’re banking on. So Fortnite might well be off of the App stores for the foreseeable future.
Are Apple and Google Going to Change?
In terms of the lawsuit itself, it is difficult to say if they stand much of a chance but their argument definitely has merit. Apple and Google do operate Monopolies over certain industries. However, there isn’t much precedent for anyone doing anything to stop these monopolies used in a way that stifles competitive.
Antitrust laws in the US aren’t the healthiest in the world. Plenty of industries operate with pretty clear monopolies. This is especially clear in tech, but not exclusively. Antitrust regulations are rarely actually used to curb the power of big business. They’ve been deliberately watered down to be as toothless as possible out of an ideological commitment to laissez-faire capitalism. This all makes Apple and Google unlikely to do anything once they’re in a dominant position. When a telecom monopoly is planning to strangle your internet connection to any website that doesn’t pay a ransom without any legal ramifications, it’s hard to see action being taken on in-app purchases.
If you’re wondering what any of this actually has to do with Fortnite, you’re not alone. Epic is banking on consumers creating pressure that goes in their favor. They might be overestimating how much sway a hashtag has over the world’s most valuable company. Breaking up a monopoly is a good goal. But Epic’s real goal here isn’t as lofty. They’re trying to create a massive precedent to get a few extra dollars on your purchase of digital avatar outfits.
Read next: Are Epic Going Easy on Big Name Players?