Chances are decent that even if you’re not a gamer, you’ve probably heard of Fortnite, the massively successful online battle shooter game produced by Epic Games that has earned millions upon millions of dollars for its creators. Fortnite is very big business, and it’s a game that’s available across just about every potential gaming platform you could name, from dedicated games consoles like the PlayStation 4 or Xbox One to PCs, tablets and mobile devices.
Fortnite is itself free to play, but it makes its money by selling a virtual currency that can then be exchanged for what are essentially visual flourishes for your player avatar, most infamously dances that the characters can do when they win.
Epic Games has made a lot of money out of selling Fortnite’s inhouse currency, but if you were buying that currency on Apple’s iOS (iPhones, iPads) or Google’s Android platforms, then 30% of that asking price went directly to Apple or Google respectively. That’s the rate that either firm imposes on any app purchases through their stores.
Epic Games wasn’t entirely happy with that set split and engineered a way in-game to sell currency itself, offering up distinct buttons in-game for purchases either directly from it, or from Apple/Google. However, the Apple/Google prices were higher, which naturally would prompt any keen gamer to opt for the better value deal.
That 30% cut is the basis of how Apple and Google run their app stores, however, and neither was happy with Epic Games, promptly booting Fortnite off their services entirely.
That doesn’t mean that if you have Fortnite on your iPhone or Android tablet that it’ll stop working, although future OS upgrades might make that happen.
It’s also very important to note that if you don’t have Fortnite but want it, you should under no circumstances just download the first installer package you find online on a web site. That’s very likely to rapidly become an avenue for malware on your device. Epic Games does still offer an Android installer that you can “sideload” onto Android devices, although it lacks the same ability to offer an installer for any iOS phones or tablets.
Epic Games very clearly knew that the ban would happen, almost immediately (and simultaneously) launching a legal challenge to their ban as well as a PR/charm offensive, using a take on Apple’s own classic and iconic “1984” themed Macintosh ad.
Apple and Google’s position is that it funds running their app stores and applying security and oversight through those funds, so it’s not likely to shift any time soon, even though Fortnite is a very significant title. You may think that you’re not a gamer and this isn’t a story of interest to you, but if you’ve got a smartphone and you buy apps of any sort, there could be some very wide-ranging implications down the track.
In one sense, this is just the jostling of billion dollar corporations trying to seem like the “good guy” to regular consumers, but Epic Games has stated that it doesn’t intend to settle for just a smaller cut for its own products, instead looking for a general lowering of rates across the board.
If that happens – and legal processes being what they are, this could roll on for years through the US legal system – it would alter the economics of app stores markedly, because it could lead to slightly cheaper apps, or developers having slightly more funds to put towards long-term support of their products.
On the flip side, it’s feasible that it could also lead to legal pressure for a more “open” app store setup, but that’s not necessarily a totally desirable outcome. Apple’s position on this – not entirely unjustified – is that its closed model app store encourages security, because it can rapidly block misbehaving apps, as it’s done with Fortnite. Conversely, Google’s more open Google Play Store environment has seen more than its fair share of impostor apps and outright malware.