Apple, Google Remove 'Fortnite' From App Stores

Travis Scott in Fortnite - Epic Games - Publicity-H 2020
Courtesy of Epic Games

'Fortnite' developer Epic Games responded to the removal by filing a lawsuit against Apple alleging "unfair and anti-competitive actions."

Apple and Google have removed Fortnite from their app stores after the game's owner introduced a new way to buy its virtual currency that circumvents the tech giants' payment marketplaces.

Epic, the developer of the popular title, said that Fortnite players who buy V-bucks through its direct payment process will get a 20 percent discount on their purchases. The move was meant to encourage players to make their purchases outside of Apple and Google's systems. 

"Currently, when using Apple and Google payment options, Apple and Google collect a 30 percent fee and the up to 20 percent price drop does not apply," the company wrote in a blog post published on Aug. 12. "If Apple or Google lower their fees on payments in the future, Epic will pass along the savings to you." 

Within hours of the introduction of Epic's direct payment system, Fortnite was no longer available to download via the Apple App Store. Google followed a few hours later. In a statement, the search giant said "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." (Google, unlike Apple, allows people to download apps via third-party marketplaces so Epic can still make the game available to those users.)

Epic speedily responded to Fortnite's Apple removal with a lawsuit against the company, calling it a "behemoth seeking to control markets, block competition, and stifle innovation." In the suit, Epic said its goal was to "end Apple's unfair and anti-competitive actions" in its App Store and its in-app payment processing market. The company said it is not seeking monetary compensation or favorable treatment for itself, but rather injunctive relief "to allow fair competition in these two key markets that directly affect hundreds of millions of consumers and tens of thousands, if not more, of third-party app developers."  

The company then launched an information campaign. At 1 p.m. PT, it played a video inside Fortnite that directly attacked Apple's practices. In the clip, a parody of Apple's iconic 1984 commercial, a colorful Fortnite player runs into a room where black-and-white figures are watching a video featuring a large talking apple. She uses her unicorn staff to destroy the screen. Epic also directed Fortnite players to use the hashtag #FreeFortnite to show their support.

In a statement, an Apple spokesman said that Epic's direct payment feature was not reviewed or approved by Apple. "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." 

Later on Thursday evening, Epic also filed a lawsuit against Google. "This case is about doing the right thing in one important area, the Android mobile ecosystem, where Google unlawfully maintains monopolies in multiple related markets, denying consumers the freedom to enjoy their mobile devices — freedom that Google always promised Android users would have," Epic writes in the suit. As with the Apple lawsuit, Epic is seeking injunctive relief to create an "open, competitive Android ecosystem for all users and industry participants." 

Fortnite, which launched in 2017, is free to play but offers upgrades and other special perks to players via in-app purchases. Though the transactions are typically for small dollar amounts, with 350 million users, that can translate to a lot of revenue. The game made $1.8 billion in 2019, per estimates from SuperData, making it the biggest revenue-generating online game in the world. 

Tim Sweeney-led Epic Games is one of the few big app developers that can challenge tech giants Apple and Google over their practice of taking a large portion of revenue from transactions that occur within their marketplaces. The company, which is valued at around $17 billion, brought in $4.2 billion in revenue in 2019. (Netflix and Spotify have stopped selling subscriptions to their products through Apple to avoid giving away 30 percent of the revenue of those purchases.)

Sweeney recently took to Twitter to complain about Apple's practice, which CEO Tim Cook recently had to defend during a congressional hearing, as "intentional anti-competitive strategy." In another tweet, he wrote, "Apple is one of the greatest companies that has ever existed, perhaps the greatest. But they're fundamentally wrong in blocking competition and choice on devices they make, and that holds up entire fields of technological progress."

On Thursday, he tweeted that Epic's battle with Apple would "be a hell of a fight."

In its statement, Apple noted, "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."

12:46 p.m. Updated to include details of Epic's lawsuit against Apple.

1:06 p.m. Updated with a statement from Apple.

1:32 p.m. Updated with details of Fortnite's video parodying an Apple commercial.

4:56 p.m. Updated with a statement from Google.

8:18 p.m. Updated with details of Epic's lawsuit against Google.