Fortnite has finally come out on Google Play…in April 2020! 🎉Yay!!!
Wait a second. But the game has been out for more than 2 years. So, what happened? What kept Epic Games from having a big pie of Android users.
Let’s start since the launch of the game in 2017.
Fortnite was released in 2017 and was made available on PS4, Xbox, PC at its launch. It became a gaming phenomenon in 2018 sharing the limelight with PUBG, which was also released in 2017. Both these games ruled the gaming community in 2018 and ’19 on almost every platform, having received a rating of 9.6 and 9.5 respectively from IGN. Both were based on a similar concept of “Battle Royale”, which evidently was loved by gamers.
Everybody, from gamers to streamers, was playing Fortnite at the time. Naturally, Epic Games very quickly realised the potential the game had. Having been available on all conventional platforms, they now looked towards capturing the bigger pie of handheld devices, as it meant that gamers would have access to play the game at all possible times. Removing hardware dependency, they wanted to increase the availability and reach of the game, banking on its popularity. Epic Games released Fortnite on iOS in March 2018, Nintendo switch in June 2018 and Android in April 2020.
What happened? Why did it take them 2 years to release the game on Android?
Well! Epic Games must have figured this early, if they have to increase their market reach ten folds, then the game must be available on Android devices, as almost 80% of the world’s mobile devices have Android OS running. But to be available on Android devices via Google’s own app store “Google Play Store”, meant that Epic Game would have to share 30% revenue of all the transactions made via “In-App purchases” with Google as the game is free to play, which they were reluctant on doing.
As you’re probably aware, both Google and Apple take a cut of all the app’s earnings which are available via the Play Store and App Store, respectively, this includes both first-time app purchase and subsequent in-app purchases.
Fortnite was already popular and it didn’t need the exposure from Play Store to reach billions of Android users. To refrain them from having the 30% share of revenue, Epic Games in August 2018 decided not to use Google’s software distribution system and instead started asking users to install the game on their device from Epic’s website installer, with an ability to update itself without the need of Play Store. Tim Sweeney, founder of Epic Games has also gone on record stating that “If he could have used the self-publishing approach for the iOS release, he would have.” Epic wanted a better cut if they were to release the game on Play Store, but Google wasn’t ready to budge. Eventually after a year-long battle, Epic gave up to them, we’ll look at it shortly.
Later, that same year Epic came up with Epic Game Store (EGS), their own version of a Game store. Epic took the well-established market players head-on by taking 12% cut against the 30% market standard, they also provided additional benefits if developers used their own Unreal Engine to make the games. This forced the market leaders like Valve to reduce their cut from high selling titles. EGS created a new marketplace for games, but its shortcoming was that it was available only on PC and their Android counterpart were showed no signs of surrendering.
Coming back to the question as to why Epic decided to launch it on Google Play Store; it’s simple, Google doesn’t want you to install any app on your Android Device, which has not been published by them on Play Store, like how iOS app ecosystem works with the only exception, that you CAN still install any app from unknown source, in case of Android. In March, they introduced an opt-in security measure “Play Protect” which straight away blocks all the apps downloaded via other means. While the tool provides comprehensive scanning of all the apps present on the device, it also removes all the apps which are downloaded from unknown sources and marks them as malware. Play protect can be turned off from the Play store settings, even then Google keeps bothering users periodically, prompting users to turn it on.
“Google Play Protect is Google’s built-in malware protection for Android. Backed by the strength of Google’s machine learning algorithms, it is always improving in real-time.” — as mentioned on android.com
Why Google and Apple are charging such hefty cuts?
These platforms are providing valuable services like — a consolidated and reliable marketplace, handling all the payments which are made in the form of app purchases or in-app purchases, protecting its users from malware and privacy threats. Constantly updating and maintaining their infrastructure, to provide users with continuous required bandwidth and support. Some might also argue that Android OS is free of cost and you don’t have to pay to upgrade the OS; well my response to that would be — the cost of the OS and its subsequent updates is already adjusted in the handset price.
As an industry practice, these costs don’t appear to be something out of the blue. But I don’t think 30% cost justifies all the support which platforms like Apple and Google are claiming to give. Developers here are conceptualizing the idea, designing, developing, marketing, maintaining and supporting the game and then a third-party enters the transaction claiming 30% earning just because it has the platform to sell what you built for last 1–2 years. How much of this cost is justifying the value that a developer is getting out of the marketplace, especially considering a game which needs no marketing and promotion and is already a brand in itself.
“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,” — Epic in a statement given to Polygon.
Epic Games Finally gave up to Google after trying to run the game without subscribing to play store services for almost two years but Play Protect and a vulnerability found in the game’s installer package led users to uninstall the game. We as users, trust Google when it says the app/website is harmful, and that’s what happened with Fortnite and soon users started uninstalling it; believing the game contains a malware. Google has been blatantly marking the applications installed via unknown sources as harmful without even scanning them. That’s just the way they sort to get back at the developers bypassing the Play Store.
Epic Games could not afford this drop-off, to see the numbers pit falling for DAU and in-app purchases. They decided to do a trade-off and choose between completely losing the Android market and give a share to Google.
And it’s a no brainer, they chose the latter. Out of the projected $160 billion spending on games in 2020, 50% i.e. $77 billion comes from mobile games. Fortnite just can’t afford to lose this massive chunk of android gamers of the $64 Billion Smartphone market.
Epic will still benefit from this move in the long run, as there is a potential market which is yet to be tapped by Fortnite. The game has amassed 1 million downloads already, in almost two weeks of its release on Android.
Though the backslash is growing, I don’t see this 30% cut to be going away soon or reducing for that matter. Apple and Google have created an ecosystem where a developer trying to release his app without giving the fees is at a grave disadvantage.
In my opinion, this decade-old 30% cut should be reconsidered, it is injustice to the developers’ brain and hard work.