How Fortnite Baited Apple Into a Losing Battle
Epic Games’ ambush shows how antitrust scrutiny has changed the app store landscape
Welcome back to Pattern Matching, OneZero’s weekly newsletter that puts the week’s most compelling tech stories in context.
On Thursday morning, Fortnite maker Epic Games made a big announcement to the game’s hundreds of millions of users: It was dropping the price on V-Bucks, Fortnite’s in-game currency, by 20 percent. The “Fortnite Mega Drop,” as Epic called the promotion, took effect immediately on every platform on which the wildly popular battle royale game is available — with one caveat. On iOS and Android mobile devices, you had to choose a new payment method, called “Epic direct payment,” rather than pay through the App Store or Google Play Store, in order to get the discount.
This violated Apple and Google’s rules, and Epic knew it. Both app stores take a significant cut of the app purchases, subscriptions, and in-app payments made on their platforms — 30 percent, in most cases. And, with a few exceptions, they don’t allow apps to advertise ways for users to cut out the middleman by paying their creators directly. But that’s exactly what Epic was doing with its “direct payment” option, which let users pay via PayPal or credit card rather than through Apple’s system, and passed most of the savings on to the gamers. The scheme was calculated to get users’ hopes up — and to dare Apple and Google to dash them. It worked.
The mobile-app duopoly is under siege.
- First Apple, then Google, booted Fortnite from their app stores on Thursday, just hours after the game started offering users the promotion. The move does not prevent the game’s existing users from continuing to play on those platforms, for now. But it means no one else can download Fortnite, and Epic can’t update it, which will gradually render the game obsolete unless the companies strike a deal.
- Epic Games, the North Carolina-based creator of Fortnite and the widely used game-development framework Unreal Engine, was ready. It immediately responded with a short video called “Nineteen Eighty-Fortnite,” which skewered Apple’s…