UPDATE: You can read Epic’s court filing against apple HERE
As of 2020, 3.5 billion people have an Android device and close to 1 billion people have an Apple device either in their pocket or in their homes. While not all of these people have Fortnite installed on them, they did have it available to them before this week. As of writing this, both Apple and Google have blocked Fortnite from being installed and updated on their hardware via their respective stores and needless to say, Epic Games is not very happy. In fact, they’ve gone so far as to create an in-game video mocking Apple and comparing them to the movie 1984! Let’s dive in and see what’s going on here.
Why Fortnite was removed from the Apple appstore
Epic Games has added a ‘direct payment feature’ to their game, allowing players to pay them directly instead of going through Apple and allowing Apple to take a 30% cut for being a gatekeeper for those payments. Epic has the means and technology to collect payments directly, so they don’t feel Apple should act as a middle man. Epic has refused to remove this feature from the game because they believe that gamers deserve to save the extra money thanks to ‘new and more efficient purchasing options’. They believe that the ‘app tax’, as it’s being called, punishes game developers who can offer such options. In response, Apple has removed the game from the App Store. They also issued a statement regarding the situation:
“Today, Epic Games took the unfortunate step of violating the App Store guidelines that are applied equally to every developer and designed to keep the store safe for our users,” Apple said in a statement emailed to CNN Business. “As a result their Fortnite app has been removed from the store.”Apple in a statement to CNN Business
Hilariously, Epic places the price difference for paying for in-game transactions directly on the screen in their ‘Direct payment feature’. As a consumer, would you rather pay Epic $7.99 or Apple two bucks extra? Don’t worry, that’s a rhetorical question.
As a counter-response, Epic Games has filed a lawsuit against Apple and placed a video advertisement in Fortnite promoting the campaign #freefortnite.
For those unaware, the parody ad is a direct scene for scene reference of the George Orwell movie ‘1984’ which centers on the story of a man who loses his identity while living under a repressive totalitarian regime. It’s directly where the popular reference ‘Big Brother’ comes from. Totalitarianism is a system of government that is centralized and dictatorial and requires complete subservience to the state. In other words, Epic Games sees Apple’s app store monopoly on direct payments as iron fisted.
The dictator’s glasses in the campaign ad have been modified to look like Apple CEO Tim Cook’s glasses and the apple has a bite out of it with a worm protruding. There’s a lot of symbolism there, primarily that the apple is rotten and that the bite taken out of it could signify temptation and greed from the story of Adam and Eve in the Bible.
To be clear, Epic did not choose ‘1984’ as a reference just to be bold, although that is the main intent. In the year 1984 (the good ‘ol days), Apple released the above ad copying the movie ‘1984’ themselves to show that their vision for computing would be one of freedom rather than control. An odd and creepy way to win consumers who were, at that time, already wary of new technology, but okay. The fact that Epic chose to mimic this ad specifically is a direct statement that they feel Apple has gone back on their vision and become like their predecessors – strict and controlling.
Because Apple has also blocked gamers ability to update the game, you will also not be able to play the new Chapter 2 – Season 4 on iOS.
Why it was removed from the Google Play store
As of yesterday, Google followed suit and removed Fortnite from the Play Store too, marking 3.5 billion more devices that the game no longer has the opportunity to run on! This is almost four times the amount of Apple devices worldwide, likely making Epic four times more upset at Google than Apple although we still haven’t seen their response. If they made a totalitarianism ad aimed at Apple, imagine what pop culture reference we will see them use to mock Google. My bet is on Skynet. Google issued a statement as well about the policy violation:
“The open Android ecosystem lets developers distribute apps through multiple app stores. For game developers who choose to use the Play Store, we have consistent policies that are fair to developers and keep the store safe for users. While Fortnite remains available on Android, we can no longer make it available on Play because it violates our policies. However, we welcome the opportunity to continue our discussions with Epic and bring Fortnite back to Google Play.”Google
Epic filed a second lawsuit this morning, this time against Google stating in their US District Court complaint that:
(Google) is using its size to do evil upon competitors, innovators, customers, and users in a slew of markets it has grown to monopolize,”
As of writing this, Fortnite remains installable on both Android and Chrome OS devices. In order to install it on Android devices, you’ll need to grab the apk from the Epic Games website and install it after enabling the ‘install from unknown sources’ option in your settings. In order to install it on Chromebooks, you’ll need to switch into developer mode and do the same. You can follow these great instructions from Lifewire.
Fortnite will likely not return to app stores
It is unlikely that Apple or Google will budge on their policies regarding direct payment features. If they do so for Epic, they would have to do so for everyone and that would certainly be a disaster for them.
Apple and Google consolidate direct payments to their app stores instead of letting third parties offer these services in order to provide a clean, unified and safe experience for users. This is the same reason why they generally don’t allow apps to be installed from outside of their stores (Google Play does not, but Android as an ecosystem does). Not to mention all of the verified checks apps go through like Google Play Protect to make sure that they don’t have malware or viruses. While such methods do their job, they’re also seen as anti-competitive.
Game developers like Epic Games and even indie developers like myself make a living on providing additional products and services to players directly through our games. Having that taken away and restricted directly impacts our ability to earn a living and support our families while the big guys like Apple and Google could concede this right and not only survive, but thrive without issue. The other end of it though is that just because someone is making money by providing a clean and unified ecosystem, doesn’t mean they should be punished for capitalism. It’s a touchy subject with a fine line where two parties have a right to what they’re doing, but it does of course create tension, especially when large tech companies have been consistently accused of violating antitrust laws in recent times.
Instead, it’s likely that Epic Games will launch its own app store on Android and iOS in the near future as we have already seen news of this recently. While they will still see opposition from the big two on many policies as their store is shaped and matured over time, they will likely be able to run things the way they want to more than they could if they continued to operate through the Appstore and Google Play store. This could mark a significant shift in how business is done moving forward, even to the point where we see many other developers, both big and small, jump ship from the main stores and join others. In time, this could mean a great “unbundling” of standards and even the fall of such a monopoly. This could also mean less security and uniformity for a while as third party app and game stores get their legs, but we think it will make for a more open and competitive landscape that becomes polished and standardized over time.
What do you think about this debacle? Do you side with Apple and Google’s right to provide a consistent and safe experience or do you think they should allow Epic Games to provide a direct payment option in Fortnite? We personally think that both should be allowed. If you buy a car, no one should tell you how or where to drive it, right? Epic allowing a direct payment option in their game would reduce Google and Apple’s profits for sure, but they would both still be allowed to provide their own clean and unified payment option without stiffing the competition. That would make it fair on both ends. After all, consumerism is about doing it better and winning people over, not dictating how your competitors can operate just because you want to do it different. Leave a comment to discuss!