Why did Apple ban Fortnite and what happens next?

Apple / Epic Games / WIRED

Fortnite, one of the most popular video games of all time, has been removed from both Apple’s App Store and Google’s Play Store. In response, its creator, Epic Games, has launched a lawsuit against both companies, accompanied by a dramatic – and slightly baffling, if you don’t get the reference – video titled “Nineteen Eighty-Fortnite”.
So what’s all the hullabaloo about? And will you still be able to play Fortnite on your phone?

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Why did Apple ban Fortnite?
The ban was basically calculated by Epic Games, as a protest over the percentage of fees Apple, and to a lesser extent Google, take on transactions in its mobile ecosystem when users buy in-game items or currency. On August 13 Epic implemented its own in-app payment system that bypassed Apple’s standard fee – Apple typically takes a cut of between 15 to 30 per cent on payments made inside apps.
When players purchased the game’s in-game currency “V-bucks”, a new “Epic Direct Payment Option” appeared below the standard “Apple App Store Payment” option. This offered a 30 per cent “discount price” for players.
“Currently, when using Apple and Google payment options, Apple and Google collect a 30 per cent fee, and the up to 20 per cent price drop does not apply,” Epic wrote in a blog post when the option was introduced. “If Apple or Google lower their fees on payments in the future, Epic will pass along the savings to you.”
Now, as expected – Apple has retaliated, removing Fortnite from the App Store for violating its policies. Google soon followed suit, though on Android you can still download Fortnite using Epic’s own app launcher, which it distributes independently through any mobile web browser.

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How did Epic respond?
In two clearly calculated ways. The first was to launch an antitrust lawsuit against Apple and Google. Apple in particular has recently come under fire over its App Store dominance during antitrust hearings in Congress. CEO Tim Cook argued the App Store does not constitute a monopoly because it does not charge the creators of the vast majority of apps on the store.
The legal complaint seeks to establish Apple’s App Store as a monopoly, and the civil suit is seeking injunctive relief to “allow fair competition” in mobile app distribution. “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 per cent monopoly over the iOS in-app payment processing market,” Epic said in a statement.
What does this have to do with 1984?

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Epic also released a sort of protest video against Apple, which mocks a famous advert Apple released back in 1984.

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The original advert, which was directed by Ridley Scott, ran during the 1984 Super Bowl, and referenced the title of George Orwell’s dystopian novel. Announcing the arrival of its Macintosh computer, it directly targeted IBM’s dominance in the tech sector. It features a woman, running from Big Brother-like goons, smashing a talking head on a giant screen and saving a mass of grey hypnotised viewers. Epic’s video is the same, but replaces the original speaker with a giant talking Apple, and the hypnotised masses with Fortnite avatars. Epic calls on players to #FreeFortnite.
“Fast forward to 2020, and Apple has become what it once railed against: the behemoth seeking to control markets, block competition, and stifle innovation,” Epic stated in its legal filing. “Apple is bigger, more powerful, more entrenched, and more pernicious than the monopolists of yesteryear. At a market cap of nearly $2 trillion, Apple’s size and reach far exceeds that of any technology monopolist in history.”
Can I still play Fortnite on Apple and Android?
Yes, if you had it downloaded before. The ban only stops new downloads of the game. Gene Park of the Washington Post reports that you can still use both Epic’s new in-app payment system and Apple’s old system to buy V-bucks. It’s not currently clear how updates to the game will work.
“If you already downloaded Fortnite via the App Store, you should have no issues continuing to play Chapter 2 – Season 3’s 13.40 update – whether you’re only playing on mobile devices or also playing the latest version of Fortnite on other devices,” Epic stated on the FAQ section of its website. “Once Chapter 2 – Season 4 begins, 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.”
What happens next?
Although this move was instigated by Epic, it’s part of a broader battle between Apple and some of the major players in the gaming industry. Last week, Apple confirmed that it would block streaming games services such as Google Stadia or Microsoft Xcloud from iOS, arguing that it wouldn’t be possible for Apple to moderate such platforms for content – although this could also be viewed as an attempt to ensure that the company still gets its 30 per cent cut on in-game transactions. Last year, Apple launched its own subscription gaming service, Apple Arcade, which gives people access to a wide range of downloadable games for a monthly fee.
Much could depend on the outcome of the legal action, but it’s hard to imagine such a popular game being absent from the App Store for long, so it may be that either Apple or Epic has to back down in the short term. It’s likely to be the first of many skirmishes between Apple, Google and developers.
Will Bedingfield is a staff writer for WIRED. He tweets from @WillBedingfield
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