Games

Apple Just Removed 'Fortnite' From the App Store

By letting players purchase in-game currency outside of Apple and Google's payment systems, they're in blatant violation of policy. What comes next is unclear.
August 13, 2020, 6:07pm
Artwork from the video game Fortnite.
Artwork courtesy of Epic Games.

Until today, the only way to buy the Fortnite in-game currency for buying cosmetics, V-Bucks, on an iOS or Android device was to use Apple or Google’s in-house payment system. Now, it’s possible to bypass Apple and Google’s payment system, pay Fortnite developer Epic Games directly, and save money. Buying 1,000 V-Bucks costs $10 if you purchase it through Apple or Google and only $8 if you purchase it through Epic. It’s the exact same item but cheaper—and Apple and Google don’t get a cut.

Epic announced the changes in a blog post today as part of a permanent 20 percent discount on buying V-Bucks for Fortnite on every platform. The catch with mobile, however, is the discount only applies if players use “select payment methods,” aka paying Epic directly.

“By offering an alternate payment system, we're not only offering players more choice, but we're able to pass along the savings to players,” said the company.

Apple and Google did not respond to a request for comment, as of this writing, and so far Fortnite has remained available to download on both the App Store and Google Play.

Update: Apple has removed Fortnite from the App Store, per a VICE Games search. It’s currently still available on Google Play. According to a statement released to The Verge, Apple removed Fortnite because of the “express intent of violating the App Store guidelines regarding in-app payments that apply to every developer who sells digital goods or services.” The company will reportedly make “every effort to work with Epic to resolve these violations” but also said it would not give Epic a “special arrangement.”

Update 2: Google has now removed Fornite from the Google Play store, and in response, Epic has responded with another lawsuit. The full lawsuit has been put online by The Verge.

Epic did not respond to a request for clarification on whether it had spoken to Apple or Google prior to making this announcement.

Previously, Fortnite transactions were split between Apple/Google and Epic, with Epic taking 70 percent of the money and the platform holder taking the remaining 30 percent. This is standard practice on these digital stores, except for the instances, as Epic points out, where it’s not.

Amazon, DoorDash, Lyft, and other popular companies with apps on both platforms are allowed direct payments with their customers, thus bypassing the revenue split. When you order a cab through Lyft, for example, Apple is not getting 30 percent of the cut from that ride. It’s the same situation when you order a new chair for your desk via Amazon. Apple does facilitate the transaction through their devices, but they don’t ask the companies for money.

“Clearly Apple and Google acknowledge that third party payment services are safe and acceptable for goods and services,” said Epic in their blog post. “Epic direct payment simply offers players the same kinds of payment options as these other apps.”

The reason Epic and other companies haven’t tried this before, however, is because it’s not supposed to be allowed. Per Apple’s own App Store policies:

If you want to unlock features or functionality within your app, (by way of example: subscriptions, in-game currencies, game levels, access to premium content, or unlocking a full version), you must use in-app purchase. Apps may not use their own mechanisms to unlock content or functionality, such as license keys, augmented reality markers, QR codes, etc. Apps and their metadata may not include buttons, external links, or other calls to action that direct customers to purchasing mechanisms other than in-app purchase.

And here’s how Google characterizes it:

For apps and in-app products offered through Google Play, the service fee is equivalent to 30% of the price. You receive 70% of the payment. The remaining 30% goes to the distribution partner and operating fees.

But as VICE Games confirmed on an iPhone moments ago, the update featuring the different payment system is live, and so far Apple and Google have not taken it down.

For a period, Epic offered Android players the ability to download and install Fortnite outside of the Google Play marketplace.

This is all part of an escalating rift between Epic, who makes one of the world’s most popular video games that’s also a cultural phenomenon, and Apple/Google, the gatekeepers for the storefronts where most people download their apps. Epic CEO Tim Sweeney has sharply criticized both companies before, including calling the App Store an “absolute monopoly.”

It’s also connected to an escalation of criticism between the games industry and Apple, after the iPhone manufacturer told Microsoft it could not publish its game streaming platform, xCloud, on iOS without allowing each game to be listed and reviewed individually on the App Store. Streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Video are not under similar obligations.

“Our customers enjoy great apps and games from millions of developers,” said Apple in a statement to Business Insider, “and gaming services can absolutely launch on the App Store as long as they follow the same set of guidelines applicable to all developers, including submitting games individually for review, and appearing in charts and search.”

The App Store is currently undergoing antitrust scrutiny by the European Union.

Follow Patrick on Twitter. His email is patrick.klepek@vice.com, and available privately on Signal (224-707-1561).