What. A. Mess.
Fortnite is one of the biggest games in the world. The battle royale is a giant moneymaker for developer Epic Games thanks to its millions of users, a mass merchandise empire, and crossovers with hot cinematic properties like Star Wars. Fortnite is a wholly unique and fascinating part of the gaming landscape. The title is free-to-play, with microtransactions comprising the entirety of the revenue that Fortnite generates.
Here’s where things get technical, but we’ll try to keep it from being too boring. In a nutshell, Fortnite is on almost every digital gaming platform there is. Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, PC, and mobile. The mobile side of things is where the trouble is occurring for Epic. Tech giant Apple has a highly regulated ecosystem for its devices, and this extends to its marketplace on iOS. Any software that can be sold for download to an iOS device has to go through the App Store with no exceptions.
This means that third-party developers like Epic can only sell their games via Apple’s digital storefront, with Apple taking a 30 percent cut of any money made. It’s this 30 percent that has Epic in a huff, with Epic arguing that it’s part of a predatory and monopolistic paradigm. In an effort to fight back against Apple’s mandated cut, Epic decided to circumvent the company’s regulations and enabled direct transactions between itself and players, slicing Apple out of the middle. Needless to say, Apple was not pleased with Epic violating its contract and summarily jettisoned Fortnite from the App Store.
Epic Games has filed legal papers in response to Apple, read more here: https://t.co/c4sgvxQUvb
— Fortnite (@FortniteGame) August 13, 2020
Epic has implemented this same payment model for microtransactions in the Android version of Fortnite, similarly violating its terms of service agreement with Google, which in turn also vacated the game from its Google Play storefront. In retaliation, Epic has opted to bring litigation against both Apple and Google over the respective percentage of revenue that the two companies ask of its publishing partners. Ostensibly, Epic believes that the market control in the mobile sphere commanded by Apple and Google is not dissimilar to the presence Microsoft has with Windows in the world of PCs. Microsoft faced legal action that resulted in a more open marketplace for developers on its platform and now, Epic seeks to create that same change for mobile.
Based on the legal paperwork filed by Epic, what it boils down to is the company doesn’t approve of what it sees as Apple and Google preventing fair competition in their respective mobile marketplaces. What does that mean? Epic thinks it’s wrong that Apple is in control of the only portal from which to sell and download apps on its devices. Google, in fairness, has a more open situation with other marketplaces allowed to exist on Android, but Epic alleges that Google attempts to divert consumers away from these alternative options and make them dependent upon the Google Play Store.
Truth is in the eye of the beholder, but this is a very bold move by Epic no matter what angle the situation is looked at. For starters, it seems that Epic was anticipating today’s removal of Fortnite from the App Store, as the company promptly followed Apple’s move with the broadcast of a commercial dubbed Nineteen-Eighty Fortnite. The spot is both a riff on the Orwell novel 1984 and the dystopian, authoritarian government it depicts, as well as a commercial run by Apple itself from (you guessed it) 1984. The original commercial announced the coming of Macintosh and how it would help to ensure the world isn’t subjugated to the watchful eye of “big brother” as in Orwell’s bleak vision of the future. So, in essence, Epic appears to be accusing Apple of becoming the very fascist, controlling monolith it once claimed to be in opposition of.
Very dramatic! Let’s take a look at some of what Epic has been saying abut the situation on its website:
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!
Epic believes that you have a right to save money thanks to using more efficient, new purchase options. Apple’s rules add a 30% tax on all of your purchases, and they punish game developers like us who offer direct payment options.
What Epic is calling a “30 percent tax” is technically the cut that Apple is owed as part of the contractual agreement between itself and developers. It’s unclear how this is a tax on players as the amount is merely a part of Apple’s take of the revenue. Regardless, it would appear that Epic is standing firm with its claims, going so far as to create the “FreeFortnite” hashtag on social media. As of now, the only impact that this decision by Epic is having on console Fortnite players, including those on Nintendo Switch, is a permanent 20 percent reduction in the cost of the in-game V-Bucks currency. Those who play on Nintendo’s platform should still be able to enjoy and update the game as normal, so if anyone has been worried they can rest easy for now.
What do you think of this whole debacle? Tell us in the comments and on social media!