Apple has dropped Fortnite from the App Store after the developer launched his own in-app payment scheme on Thursday that bypassed Apple’s regular 30% fee.
The move marks a major escalation of the rivalry between Epic and one of the most prevalent mobile app marketplaces in the world. This also comes at an especially hectic period for Apple as the iPhone maker is facing competition issues regarding its App Store service and the restrictions this imposes on other developers.
Following the ban, Epic released a carefully planned sequence of responses, including an antitrust complaint seeking to create Apple’s App Store as a monopoly and a protest video that aired on YouTube and inside Fortnite itself referencing the famous “1984” commercial for the iPhone maker and calling on # FreeFortnite gaming fans by endorsing their fight against Apple.
In a report to The Verge, Apple said that it wants to collaborate with Epic to “resolve these violations” but that it has no intention of establishing a “special arrangement” for the company. Here’s a full release from the company:
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. As a result their Fortnite app has been removed from the store. Epic enabled a feature in its app which was not reviewed or approved by Apple, and they did so with the express intent of violating the App Store guidelines regarding in-app payments that apply to every developer who sells digital goods or services.
Epic has had apps on the App Store for a decade, and have benefited from the App Store ecosystem – including its tools, testing, and distribution that Apple provides to all developers. Epic agreed to the App Store terms and guidelines freely and we’re glad they’ve built such a successful business on the App Store. The fact that their business interests now lead them to push for a special arrangement does not change the fact that these guidelines create a level playing field for all developers and make the store safe for all users. We will make every effort to work with Epic to resolve these violations so they can return Fortnite to the App Store.
In the Android version of Fortnite, Epic also launched its own payment scheme, which prompted Google to take similar action and delete the game from the Play Store. Nevertheless, Android users can still access Fortnite using Epic’s own launcher software, which it allocates independently from any mobile web browser.
“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,” a Google spokesperson tells The Verge. “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.”
Epic ‘s plan seems to be intended to push Apple (and much less Google) into a response, as the Fortnite studio specifically explained in its latest iOS update how using Epic’s in-app payment system will lead to cheaper prices. For example, 1,000 V-bucks, which is approximately equal to $10 in Fortnite currency in the game, now cost only $7.99 if you use Epic direct payment instead of Apple’s regular payment method. Normally it costs $9.99 for that volume of currency. In this situation, Epic says, consumers get the extra profits, not the company. That cast the new deal as a pro-consumer move rather than a ghastly power play.
Anyone who have previously downloaded Fortnite to iOS can still play the game right now; only new updates are unavailable as a result of Apple removing the game from the App Store. As per Gene Park of The Washington Post, which used both Apple and Epic payment systems to buy v-bucks, you can also use Epic’s in-app payment system.
It was initially uncertain how Fortnite updates would work — some users who have downloaded the game but have not opened it a while ago confirmed that update files are still in progress; installing normally — but Epic will need to have the game restored in the App Store to make major potential improvements to the iOS version. In a FAQ posted to their website, the company explained that the game will continue to work as usual until Chapter 2-Season 4 is released. Thereafter, “players accessing Fortnite will still be able to play the 13.40 version of Fortnite, but will not be able to access any new content or the new Battle Pass,” the FAQ reads.
The controversy is broader than just cutting 30 percent. Apple is currently facing heightened scrutiny over how it handles not only the App Store and its compulsory fees, but also how it imposes its rules in ways that some developers and critics believe is unreasonable, and may even be structured to favor Apple over its rivals.
For example, Apple recently granted Amazon an exemption from the 30 per cent charge when selling TV shows and movie rentals via its Prime Video app, which the company claims is only available for other streaming video services. In fact, court papers published during last month’s Big Tech antitrust hearing showed that Apple made a special deal with Amazon in 2016 to lower the prices on Prime Video subscriptions from 30 per cent to 15 per cent to have Amazon’s app on the App Store.
In the meantime, four years later, Apple has laid out why online gaming applications and game subscription services like Microsoft’s xCloud and Xbox Game Pass and Google Stadia would never be accepted. Apple’s reason for doing so — that it cannot check all the games provided by cloud gaming sites individually as it does standard iOS apps — caused Sweeney to issue yet another strong condemnation.
“Apple has outlawed the metaverse,” he wrote on Twitter. “The principle they state, taken literally, would rule out all cross-platform ecosystems and games with user created modes: not just XCloud, Stadia, and GeForce NOW, but also Fortnite, Minecraft, and Roblox.”
The game has operated as a regular iOS app since Fortnite first appeared on the smartphone in 2018; Sweeney has publicly said that his company only did so because there is no other way to join the exclusive ecosystem of Apple’s. Which means Apple took 30 percent of all Fortnite currency in-app transactions used to buy its battle pass subscription service and the cosmetic skins, emots, and other digital products that make the battle royale one of the planet’s most lucrative entertainment assets. Fortnite won Epic $2.4 billion in 2018 and $1.8 billion in 2019, largely helped by its platform-wide success, as players can use the same account across iOS, Nintendo Switch, PS4, Xbox One and PC.
At the time, Epic’s comment was clear in its frustration with how Google, and by Apple’s extension, handled third-party applications that did not comply with its rules. Epic also eventually joined Match Party, Tinder’s parent company and other dating apps, in releasing statements of support for two ongoing European Union-led antitrust inquiries into Apple, initiated only after Spotify and other app makers protested App Store practices they believe to disproportionately target Apple rivals.