Fortnite, that massively online battle royale shooter-crafter from Epic Games, is a colossal pop culture juggernaut; not even Christopher Nolan can escape its charms! Part of its influence comes from its ubiquity, its availability on not only all major video game consoles, but also on Android and Apple devices. But now, in response to a retooling of its in-game currency system, Apple has dealt a major blow to Fortnite‘s “play it anywhere” appeal, removing it from the App Store. Epic Games’ response? To sue the heck out of Apple. How did this situation escalate so quickly? Let’s unpack.
Per The Verge, Fortnite released a massive update today that includes a game-wide permanent 20% discount on V-bucks, which are used in-game to buy things like loot boxes of items, customizations of characters, and more. If you play on PC or console, this new price is a given forever. But if you play on mobile, there’s a hoop to jump through to see this saving, and that involves circumventing Apple and Google’s systems. There are ways to purchase V-bucks directly through the App Store and the Google Play Store, and those ways give those mega-tech companies a bit off the backend. But if you purchase these V-bucks directly within Fortnite, it takes you to a direct payment page with the new, lowered prices. And Apple and Google see nothing from it. Epic Games spoke directly to this new decision, effectively subtweeting the tech companies: “Currently, there are no savings if players use Apple and Google payment options, where Apple and Google collect an exorbitant 30 percent fee on all payments. If Apple and Google lower their fees on payments, Epic will pass along the savings to players.”
This, obviously, is good for players. But for Apple? Less good. Technically, this decision is in violation of Apple’s terms and conditions for developers. And they made their wrath known, reacting to this circumventing of payment plans by simply removing Fortnite from the App Store. If you want to play the game on your iPhone or iPad, ya just can’t! Apple gave this statement regarding its decision to The Verge:
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.
Epic Games heard “resolve these violations” and interpreted it as “we’re going to scorch your absolute Earth.” Per IGN, Epic responded to this decision and statement with a formal legal lawsuit — Epic Games vs. Apple, a California-based legal complaint that argues in no uncertain terms that Apple has an unfair monopoly on the tech and gaming industry. Epic made these explicitly incendiary statements within its filing:
Apple has become what it once railed against: the behemoth seeking to control markets, block competition, and stifle innovation… Rather than tolerate this healthy competition and compete on the merits of its offering, Apple responded by removing Fortnite from sale on the App Store, which means that new users cannot download the app, and users who have already downloaded prior versions of the app from the App Store cannot update it to the latest version. This also means that Fortnite players who downloaded their app from the App Store will not receive updates to Fortnite through the App Store, either automatically or by searching the App Store for the update. Apple’s removal of Fortnite is yet another example of Apple flexing its enormous power in order to impose unreasonable restraints and unlawfully maintain its 100% monopoly over the iOS In-App Payment Processing Market.
But Epic didn’t keep their Battle Royale within the California legal system. They’ve also announced a Fortnite in-game event called “Nineteen Eighty-Fortnite,” a short film that’s an explicit parody of the famous Ridley Scott-directed Apple ad back in the dystopian year of 1984. This event is straight up coming for Apple, using in its copy: “Epic Games has defied the App Store Monopoly. In retaliation, Apple is blocking Fortnite from a billion devices. Join the fight to stop 2020 from becoming ‘1984.’” The hashtag for this fight? #FreeFortnite
It’s no secret how widespread Apple’s power and ubiquity is; I am literally typing these words on a MacBook Pro, checking my iPhone in between. But Epic Games and Fortnite are clearly ready for battle, and clearly have a lot of cultural cachet and societal “rage against corporations” against their side. Judging by the moves made so far, it will be fascinating to see how it all plays out.
Check out “Nineteen Eighty-Fortnite” below. For more, here’s Aquaman reminding us of simpler Fortnite times.