How Fortnite Got Booted From App Stores on Purpose
Epic Games enlisted users as soldiers in its battle against the tech giants
Epic Games enlisted users as soldiers in its battle against the tech giants...
On August 13, 2020, the ultra-popular Fortnite games disappeared from the App Store and Google Play. The reason? Epic Games' violation of both Apple's and Google's Terms of Service (TOS).
Epic retaliated by launching a #freefortnite campaign, prompting its users to flood Apple and Google with attacks across social media. Some younger gamers went so far as to smash devices, telling the tech giants to fix the problem.
Early on the morning of August 13th, Epic made a Fortnite Mega Drop announcement on Twitter and updated its apps to include direct payment links. The promotion offered players a savings of $2 off the usual $9.99 price if they purchased from Epic directly.
Both Google Play's and App Store's TOS prohibit developers from bypassing internal payment systems. Instead, they require in-app purchases to go through each company's proprietary outlet, whereas they take a 30% commission.
Within hours, Apple and Google both blocked the app.
What Epic hasn’t said: It planned everything.
Epic knew the violation would get the Fortnite app pulled. It was a necessary step in gaining public support before filing lawsuits against both companies.
Watch Apple's 1984 ad:
Watch Fortnite's ad:
The complaints against Apple and Google each allege the app stores constitute a monopoly. At the core of the dispute is the 30% commissions Apple and Google charge for hosting developer apps.
Read the full complaints (60+ pages, PDF):
- Complaint against Apple - dated 8/13/20
- Complaint against Google - dated 8/13/20
Epic doesn’t publicly explain what hosting apps entails, or that 84% of apps in the App Store net Apple nothing. Apple’s website describes everything.
Both complaints say Epic isn't seeking monetary compensation for "the injuries it has suffered," but is seeking a court-ordered requirement that Apple and Google reduce fees and make systems more open.
Epic's public announcements are carefully worded. The average Fortnite player does not realize Epic signed a contract and deliberately violated it in an effort to get its users to act as soldiers in its fight.
On the surface, Apple and Google are the bad guys for removing the game. In reality, Epic had the game removed so it could pit players against each app store.
Epic's actions serve a few purposes:
- It makes Epic look like a hero to unknowing users while making Apple and Google evil for maintaining its end of the agreement.
- It puts Apple and Google on public trial.
- It makes Epic's video release and lawsuits appear retaliatory to the app being pulled. But the complaints alone likely took at least several weeks to draft.
- It nets Epic more money. (More on this in a few.)
Epic Games Founder and CEO Tim Sweeney says the company is fighting for users and developers alike.
The average smartphone user doesn't look for different sources when it comes to apps. Most users want to simply tap to install and run an app.
Sweeney's explanation that users and developers should be able to do business directly isn't realistic unless the developer controls the device that delivers the app. He's comparing iPhones and Android devices to gaming systems, and Epic Games to Nintendo's owned games.
Sweeney also contradicts Epic's reasoning for fighting.
Sweeney is correct. There's nothing wrong with using earned money to fund creation, which is primarily what Apple and Google do.
What Epic doesn't want users to realize
According to Forbes, Epic Games has a $17 billion valuation, making it worth more than twice as much as major league soccer. The Fortnite franchise brings in an estimated $2million-$4million per day.
Epic's first step on August 13th was to attract millions of players to spend money.
After grabbing players' attention, it announced it's 20% discount on V-Bucks. But Epic's "passing on savings" nets the company more money.
Through app stores, V-Buck packs cost $9.99, of which Epic receives $6.99. When purchasing directly, users pay $7.99 - all of which belongs to Epic, less processing fees (typically 2% to 3.5%).
Even at $7 it gets through Apple and Google, Epic was likely delivering 100,000+ V-Bucks packs daily.
In August 2019, gamers went nuts when they discovered the new Epic Games Store nailed down exclusivity deals for franchises previously served through Steam. It also required independent game developers to sign contracts locking them into Epic's ecosystem.
Lots of questions
Whether or not Apple and Google should lower commission rates is the basis of many personal debates.
Some developers believe Apple should open things up to allow app delivery outside of the App Store. This, however, would diminish Apple's business model. The brand promises a specific user experience and level of trust.
Also of interest is this: For 18 months, Fortnite was only available to Android users via third-party stores. In April, Epic launched the game in the Google Play store. One has to wonder... Was the move because Epic realized it was missing out on Android's most massive audience? Or was this one of the early steps in its plan to put Apple and Google on public trial?
Epic has thus far carried out a well-defined plan of attack, and the gaming industry is paying close attention. But can Epic afford a long-running legal battle with two tech giants?
Perhaps Apple and Google will revisit commission structures.
It will be interesting to see how this turns out.
One thing is for sure. What transpired August 13th was an epic move by a gaming giant that knew exactly how its targets would react.
Pamela Hazelton is an avid writer and marketer. Her work has appeared in multiple print and online publications for the past 30 years. She can be found regularly on Twitter.