Whether you’re a dedicated video gamer or you’ve never played a video game in your life, we suspect it’s extremely unlikely that you haven’t heard of ‘Fortnite.’ The sandbox battle royale game, which was released by Epic Games in 2017, has become one of the biggest and most-played video games in history in the space of three short years. If you don’t play it, chances are you know somebody who does. Your children might play it, your best friend might play it, or your relatives might play it. As of May this year, there are more than three hundred and fifty million ‘Fortnite’ players registered at locations all over the planet. The game has become an iconic brand, and it’s also become a symbol in what’s turning into a bitter and ugly fight between Epic Games and Apple.
For those of you who haven’t been keeping up with the legal wrangle between the two companies, Epic recently issued a lawsuit against Apple after Apple kicked ‘Fortnite’ off the company’s App Store, effectively making the game unavailable for download or updates on any device that runs on iOS. That means Mac, iPhone, and iPad users can’t get involved in playing the game if they’ve never done so before, and those who already have the game won’t be able to update it until the matter is resolved. Removing such a popular app from their store wasn’t a decision that Apple took lightly, but they did it because Epic found a way to circumvent Apple’s payment system, effectively cutting the tech giant out of their contractually obligated share of the profits made by purchases made by players inside the game. Apple felt like they had no option but to react, and ‘Fortnite’ became unavailable across the company’s platforms in mid-August.
The issue that’s central to the debate is that Apple takes a 30% cut of all payments made through apps that are available through its store, including payments made after an app has been purchased or downloaded. The system bears similarities to the type of arrangement used by online slots websites. In that scenario, a website will host dozens – perhaps even hundreds – of online slots, and take a cut of all bets made by players as they play those online slots like Rainbow Riches Pick N Mix slot. The remainder of each bet’s value goes to the company that designed and operates the online slots game. Epic’s bone of contention is that online slots developers enter into such arrangements voluntarily and have a choice of slots websites to work with. In contrast, there’s no other way to make an app available to users of Apple devices. In Epic’s view, that creates a monopoly. The company has similar issues with Google, although it acknowledges that Google allows for alternative installation methods to be used aside from its own app store.
Epic had previously warned that there would be unavoidable consequences for ‘Fortnite’ players who use Apple devices if the situation couldn’t be resolved quickly, and as of this week, that’s proven to be the case. A brand new ‘season’ of ‘Fortnite’ has been launched, which requires a download and update of the game app in order to play. That download is currently unavailable to anyone playing on an iPad, a Mac, or an iPhone. Aside from not being able to play the latest version of the game because of the lack of the download’s availability, Apple customers have also lost cross-platform support. Prior to the update, someone playing ‘Fortnite’ on a Mac would be able to play against someone using a PlayStation or a PC, but that’s no longer the case. Apple users can now only play the previous version of the game, and they can only do so against other Apple users.
In real terms, this means that two different versions of ‘Fortnite’ now exist. There’s the current version with all of its existing features, and there’s the brand new version with its long-awaited Marvel theme, new map, and a change to the way that rewards work inside the game. The new season brings such significant changes that it could almost be viewed as a sequel, and one which anyone using an Apple device can’t access or play. The longer this dispute goes on for, the further Apple users will fall behind. Updates and new features appear semi-regularly in ‘Fortnite,’ and it won’t take long before the Apple version begins to look dated and stale. That could cost Epic millions of players. On the other hand, given the popularity of the game and the level of obsession it inspires in its players, it might cost Apple millions of customers. If neither side blinks or relents, this could become a costly issue on both sides.
As bad as things are now, the situation could become even worse in the near future. Before a court order prevented it, Apple wanted to remove all of Epic’s developer accounts from all of its platforms. That would have resulted in the loss of Epic’s Unreal Engine – the software architecture that serves as a foundation for a countless number of games – to anyone developing games for Apple platforms. That would have had consequences for gamers on Apple devices even if they didn’t play ‘Fornite,’ and might even conceivably have led to the abandonment of Apple hardware as a place for gaming.
Nobody knows what’s going to happen next. Apple has repeatedly stated that Epic could immediately have ‘Fortnite’ reinstated on the App Store if it removed the payment bypass from the games, and agreed to stand by Apple’s existing App Store policy. Epic is just as firm in saying that it won’t do that, because it views Apple’s policy as an impediment to free market competition and a means of profiteering and inflating prices. The level of Epic’s disdain for the larger company was made clear in the sarcastic ‘1984’ parody video about the matter that it recently released on social media, and the sudden appearance of anti-Apple material within the ‘Fortnite’ game. They’ve dug their trench, and they’re prepared to fight in it. That means ‘Fortnite’ players might soon have to pick a side.