Epic Games Vs. Apple: What Will Happen To 'Fortnite' Update

Aug 26, 2020
Originally published on August 26, 2020 6:23 pm
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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Fortnite, the hugely popular fantasy adventure game, is releasing its latest version tomorrow. But its hundreds of millions of worldwide fans will not be able to play it on iPhones or any other Apple devices. That is because the maker of the battle game has launched a real-world battle against Apple, and they announced the legal challenge with a dramatic video.

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UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) This power is ours and ours alone. We shall prevail.

CHANG: (Laughter) NPR's Bobby Allyn joins us with more. Hey, Bobby.

BOBBY ALLYN, BYLINE: Hey, Ailsa.

CHANG: All right. So bring us up to speed here. How did Fortnite end up getting kicked out of the Apple app store?

ALLYN: Yeah, right. So Epic Games, which makes Fortnite, just took a big swing at Apple over its 30% fee on app downloads.

CHANG: Thirty percent - that sounds like a lot.

ALLYN: Yeah, it is, according to Epic. And they were sick of paying it, you know, as are, you know, countless other developers. So they told their fans to pay for their game outside of the Apple app store. And in retaliation, Apple kicked Fortnite out. Then, Epic sued in epic fashion - right? - by, you know, rallying its 350 million users against Apple. They held an anti-Apple battle contest and offered hats as a game prize that said hashtag #FreeFortnite.

Dan Ives is a tech analyst at Wedbush Securities, and he said everything about Epic's fight with Apple was deliberate, including the timing here - right? - just when lawmakers and regulators are really turning up the heat on Apple over these fees.

DAN IVES: Epic tried to strike when the iron was hot, go after Apple, groundswell social media movement. But it comes down to the courts. And going up against Apple, it's like trying to dunk over LeBron.

CHANG: (Laughter) I mean, yeah, why would anyone even try? So why is Epic so worked up over these fees, besides them being 30%?

ALLYN: Yeah. I mean, developers have complained about them for a while because, you know, they tend to apply to the apps that cost money, the ones you purchase, and those are the big moneymakers for developers. The fees just make Apple and Google bigger and richer, and developers say it hurts their bottom line. If you have an app and you want to get it to people, you only have two options - Apple or Google. And developers are just forced to play by the rules that these two Big Tech giants set. Here's Apple CEO Tim Cook. He's defending the 30% fee at that Big Tech hearing that happened in Washington last month.

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TIM COOK: When we entered the app store market, the cost of distributing software was 50% to 70%. And so we took the rate in half, which is 30%, and we've held it in that same level over time or lowered it.

ALLYN: Yeah. What he means is that Apple's fees are lower after the first year. And Tim Cook is right that the cost of packaging, shipping and, you know, space on store shelves is higher than a 30% fee. But Epic says we are living in a different era, and a digital download should not be effectively taxed by Apple. And by the way, Epic is making the same case in court against Google.

CHANG: OK, so where do things stand now in all this litigation?

ALLYN: Right. So the judge in the Apple case recently said, yes, there are some serious questions with these fees, but Epic did this to itself, the judge said, by effectively breaching its contract with Apple. So this case is probably going to be dragging on for many months. For Fortnite fans, they can still battle it out on Nintendo and Xbox, but they will not be able to download Fortnite on iPhones or Apple computers. And I guess you can call that an epic disappointment.

CHANG: (Laughter) That's NPR's Bobby Allyn. Thank you, Bobby.

ALLYN: Thanks, Ailsa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.