Battle Royale: Apple and Google kick Fortnite out of app stores
It is not quite the “Battle Royale” that my teenage son Samuel, an avid Fortnite gamer, was counting on. But just such a clash is taking place between Fortnite developer Epic Games, and Apple and Google, which both kicked Fortnite out of their respective Apple App and Google Play stores on Thursday.
You best believe Sam and his buddies would much rather battle each other inside Fortnite, than have to ask their parents what's up with their favorite game.
(For now I'll put aside any discussion about how many parents aren't exactly thrilled with kids playing Fortnite 'round the clock, even in the classroom.)
As usual the fight is over money, in this case anti-competitive behavior alleged by Epic Games over just how big a cut of the profits Apple and Google grab inside their digital emporiums.
Apple banned Fortnite after Epic revealed an in-game payments system Thursday that undercut the standard 30% fee Apple collects from developers inside the App Store. Epic promised gamers up to 20% off the Fortnite’s V-Bucks currency and “real money offers” on purchases through PlayStation, Xbox, Nintendo Switch, PC, and Mac, “and on mobile when using select payment methods.”
That didn’t sit well with Apple.
In a lengthy statement Apple wrote, “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.”
Apple added that “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.”
The 1984 parody
Epic countered with a video mocking Apple’s, um, epic “1984” commercial for the Macintosh, and asked a U.S. District Court in California for injunctive relief against alleged pervasive “anti-competitive” behavior by Apple.
In its revised parody on the famed George Orwell spot, Epic claimed to have “defined the App Store Monopoly” and said Apple retaliated by blocking Fortnite from a billion devices. “Join the fight to stop 2020 from becoming 1984,” Epic said while hoping to rally the Fortnite faithful with a “#freefortnite” hashtag.
Apple has an ally in Google, which took a similar stance against Epic Games on Thursday. Google also takes a 30% fee on payments for Android apps inside the Play Store.
In a statement attributed to a spokesperson, Google said, "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. 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."
The feud that led to Thursday’s actions is nothing new. In 2019, Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney told The Verge “Visa and Mastercard process transactions for 3% on average. Apple, Google, and Android manufacturers make vast, vast profits from the sale of their devices and do not in any way justify the 30% cut.”
Apple insists that cut is fair. Last month ahead of CEO Tim Cook’s testimony before Congress, Apple released a study defending the 30% commission structure on digital purchases as being very much in line with industry norms.
These are sticking points beyond Sam and his friends. They only want to play Fortnite.