Following its removal from the Apple App Store, Fortnite has also been kicked off of the Google Play Store for Android. Earlier today, Epic Games snuck in an update for both the iPhone and Android versions of the game that allowed users to pay Epic directly for in-app purchases instead of using the officially sanctioned system for both platforms.
What followed was a wild ride: Apple kicked Fortnite off the App Store, then Epic sued Apple, and finally there was an in-game video parodying Apple’s own 1984 commercial, positioning Apple itself as the monopolist.
Now, Google is in the conversation. As with Apple, Google requires that games use the Google Play system for in-app purchases. Although the Play Store’s rules are somewhat more lax than Apple’s when it comes to in-app purchases, Google does draw the line at games. It’s quite clear-cut: “Developers offering products within a game downloaded on Google Play or providing access to game content must use Google Play In-app Billing as the method of payment.” Google’s system takes a 30 percent cut, just as Apple’s does.
Epic’s update earlier today ran afoul of that rule, and while Google took longer to make a decision to ban Fortnite over it than Apple, both companies reached the same conclusion.
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.
A Google spokesperson emphasized to The Verge that Android is an open ecosystem that allows multiple stores and that Google Play’s policies need to apply equally to all developers. It has no problem with those other stores existing nor with Epic distributing its game on them, the spokesperson said.
You can still install Fortnite on Android, however. Epic itself points visitors to its website, where they can either download Fortnite through the Epic Games app or via the Samsung Galaxy Store on Samsung devices. This is different from iPhone and iPad, where it’s now impossible to install the game if you hadn’t already done so.
Epic has a history of tussling with Google over this Play Store rule. In August 2018, Epic pulled Fortnite from the Google Play Store and began distributing it directly. That is only possible because Android allows installs from third-party sources, though it does make that process seem a bit dangerous because of the security warnings that appear when you do.
Eighteen months later, Epic capitulated and put Fortnite back into the Google Play Store, though not without some very angry rhetoric about it. Here’s Epic’s statement from April 2020:
Google puts software downloadable outside of Google Play at a disadvantage, through technical and business measures such as scary, repetitive security pop-ups for downloaded and updated software, restrictive manufacturer and carrier agreements and dealings, Google public relations characterizing third party software sources as malware, and new efforts such as Google Play Protect to outright block software obtained outside the Google Play store.
An app as popular as Fortnite being installed via other means — specifically other stores — has the potential to lessen the centrality of the Google Play Store on Android — and maybe increase fragmentation. There are already competing stores — Samsung is pushing its own store heavily on its Android devices, for example. But in general, the Google Play Store has been the go-to software source for most people.
Epic is already actively encouraging users to also use the version that comes from Samsung’s store, telling users that they can get the discount that started this whole mess if they do: “You’ll find that V-Bucks and real-money offers are now discounted by up to 20% through the Epic Games app at epicgames.com and the Samsung Galaxy Store.”
If Epic can get users in the habit of using other stores, that could mean users will start to want to use other stores for other app installs. If you’ve used any recent Samsung Galaxy phone, you have seen it offer the option to handle the installs for some major apps. It could mean that Google may be able skirt a monopoly issue with its decision, it would argue that there is real competition for app stores on Android.
For just one other gaming-related example, look to Microsoft. Its upcoming Game Pass Ultimate streaming service (you know it as xCloud) will be available both on Google Play and on Samsung’s Galaxy Store. If you install it via Google Play, you won’t be able to purchase DLC content for Xbox games because of that 30 percent cut. If you happen to install it via Samsung’s store, however, you are able to make in-app purchases. Here’s Microsoft’s statement on the issue:
Our vision is to bring a complete, full-featured experience with in-app purchase capabilities to app stores. However, we are complying with all store policies and do not offer in-app purchases in some stores at this time. To access complete, in-app purchase capabilities, Samsung customers can download the Xbox Game Pass app from the Galaxy Store; SK Telecom customers can also get a complete experience through ONE Store.
(Meanwhile, Microsoft’s game streaming service isn’t allowed on the iPhone at all — and Microsoft isn’t happy about that, either.)
Given Epic’s outsized response to Apple’s ban — the lawsuit and the 1984 ad — it’s a sure bet that the company will have a response to Google as well. We’ll obviously let you know what that is when it happens.