Players will be expected to download the installer directly from the Fortnite website, and more importantly, allow APK files from non-trusted sources to run on their phone.
The first gaming company of this size to do this would always bear the most risk and responsibility — but it opens the door for more to do the same. For better or worse, Fortnite is effectively training a playerbase of Android users larger than the population of Canada how to bypass Google Play.
The reason for this is a “direct connection with customers,” according to Epic, and to avoid the 30 percent cut that Google takes from app sales.
Speaking to GamesIndustry, Epic boss Tim Sweeney said:
There’s a rationale for this on console where there’s enormous investment in hardware, often sold below cost, and marketing campaigns in broad partnership with publishers. But on open platforms, 30 percent is disproportionate to the cost of the services these stores perform, such as payment processing, download bandwidth, and customer service.
It was recently reported that Fortnite on iOS was making almost $2 million USD per day. But of the 2.5 billion Android smartphones in the world, Sweeney says only 250 million are recent enough to play Fortnite.
The internet was quick to denounce the decision on security grounds.
Interesting: Epic Games is going to make Fortnite for Android the the (probably) most popular Android app to *not* be on the Play Store and require installing the APK directly.
Could have real security implications as teens everywhere allow installations from "unknown sources"
— Udi Wertheimer (@udiWertheimer) August 5, 2018
It’s a power move the likes of which only Fortnite would dare, and the battle royale phenom isn’t exactly going it alone. It’s owned and operated by Epic Games – makers of the Unreal Engine – which is itself 40% owned by Chinese gaming giant Tencent. You may recognise Tencent as the full owner of Riot Games (League of Legends), and majority owner of SuperCell (Clash of Clans), as well as minority holder in companies such as Activision Blizzard.
This is the most popular game in the world, backed by one of the largest gaming companies in the world, going head to head with Google — and quite possibly winning.
That’s great for Fortnite –but what does that mean for the rest of us?
About Those Security Concerns
In the settings on your Android phone, there’s a switch that allows APK files to be executed that weren’t downloaded from the Google Play store.
That little toggle is what much of the concern is about. It’s a hardcoded, binary option that for many translates to safety. When it’s on, only apps Google trusts can run. When it’s off, the mobile internet becomes Wild Freaking West.
Depending on your version of Android, you may be asked per source if you want to trust it, or you may have to navigate to Settings and tell it to install apps from Unknown sources, complete with a scary pop-up:
Of course many people are already used to having that option off. Developers need it to run anything they create. Some phones require it to buy apps from the Amazon Store, as well as any smaller app sites like the fantastic itch.io. But what if people who aren’t used to being cautious about what they download are exposed to an Internet of Harmful Things?
That same question of security can be flipped, too. Do we want Google to be the gatekeeper of security on Android? Should security come with a 30% tax? And what would happen if everyone just…stopped?
To be the first major player breaking free of Google Play comes with a certain responsibility, in a way. Shepherding the most mainstream gaming audience away from the Walled Garden, some followers will inevitably lose their way.
And while Fortnite arguably holds some moral responsibility for that, those who follow suit are less liable. There’s less education work to be done. The barrier to entry is lower, as friends and families tell each other how to access games directly.
That’s the move Fortnite is making,
The Critical Mass of Marketing
Fortnite is in a privileged position here.
What would you do if you were about to release on an open platform on which it’s generally accepted you’ll fork over the industry standard 30% for… for what? To distribute? You can do that yourself.
But for many others, one of the most critical aspects of an app release is whether or not you get featured. Either on the store’s front page, or after people click through to “games” or some other vertical, this can make or break a release.
Smaller gamemakers can’t afford the kind of promotion push Tim Sweeney is talking about. For these creators, the featured slot represents a large proportion of potential earnings.
That limits the studios that can “pull a Fortnite” to those large enough to effectively push a game all by themselves, not to mention handle distribution and all the features we take for granted like leaderboards. The potential 30 percent extra revenue, minus extra logistics costs, has to outweigh the exposure that comes with a curated feature slot — and only a certain size of game qualifies.
Could the Google Play store become a de facto house of the double-A and lower? Populated by games without the monstrous girth to promote on their lonesome? In an ecosystem where the top ten games take a massively disproportionate slice of the revenue pie, what happens when the biggest players disappear?
Grab the Popcorn
This will require a shift in perspective for many mobile gamers. The PC is an open platform, and we haven’t had an uproar over Fortnite skipping Steam. People are generally aware of viruses in the wild on PC — and the same mindset may be created for Android.
As some have pointed out, fake Fortnite APKs have already appeared in the wild. The scammers waste no time — but they’d probably be there regardless of the recent news.
We’re more interested to see what happens afterward. What other games will follow suit? The saga of candies crushed? Or clans which love to clash? And will the Fortnite brand will be protected on the Google Play store despite its absence?
Your position on the issue depends on where your line is between security risks and resentment at bowing down to the almighty Google. In the end, it doesn’t matter what our position is. Fortnite and Tencent are making their move, and we should prepare for its wider effects.