Maybe you’re a parent who, like a lot of parents nowadays, is working from home as the covid-19 pandemic still rages on. If you have tween-aged, gaming inclined children, they probably play Fortnite. Yesterday, that tween-aged gamer came to you wondering what’s going on with Fortnite. And you, dear parent, have no idea what to tell them because you haven’t played a video game since you lost your last quarter in a Ms. Pac Man machine back in 1995. We’re here to help.
Fortnite, a billions-of dollars-a-year game, is free to play. It makes its money through microtransactions: Players, like your tween, spend real money to buy fake money, called V-Bucks, that is used to purchase stuff for their in-game character—like funky costumes or dance emotes stolen from Black people. Every time your kid uses your real money to buy fake money, Apple, a trillions-of- dollars-a-year company, processes that transaction and takes a 30% cut.
Tim Sweeny, CEO of Epic, the billionaire company that makes Fortnite, thinks that isn’t fair. So, to thumb his nose at the trillionaire, yesterday Epic released what I have lovingly deemed a “dongle” inside the game. That dongle allowed your kid to give your money directly to Fortnite, thus removing Apple and their cut out of the transaction. This broke Apple and Google’s rules, which say that payments have to go through them. So Apple and Google kicked Fortnite off their stores.
Right now, yes: if your child plays Fortnite on an Apple or Android device, they can still play. Fortnite’s removal from the App Store and Google Play means that devices with the game already installed still work. But that will change when a new patch comes out—most notably when the game starts its new season, which is currently supposed to happen on August 27. On Apple, you won’t be able to download the patch, since the game isn’t on the App Store. On Android devices, you can still download the patch through third-party marketplaces like the Galaxy store or the Epic Games App (you can download the Epic Games App directly from Epic here.) For Apple users, downloading apps through third-party services requires jailbreaking your device, which you probably don’t want to mess with.
Computer and console players, meanwhile, are unaffected by this corporate slapfight. So if your kid plays on PlayStation, Xbox, Switch, or the computer, you can tell them not to worry.
Because the writers of 2020 have lost the plot and the latest “we live in a capitalist hellscape” shenanigans is a harrowing tale of David vs Goliath if both combatants were actually just God.
Tim Sweeney explained more of his reasoning in a Twitter thread today.
“At the most basic level, we’re fighting for the freedom of people who bought smartphones to install apps from sources of their choosing, the freedom for creators of apps to distribute them as they choose, and the freedom of both groups to do business directly.”
Apple says that’s bullshit. “Epic has had apps on the App Store for a decade,” the company said in a statement to The Verge, “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.”
Shortly after Fortnite’s removal from the App Store, Epic released a parody of Apple’s “1984” commercial recreated with Fortnite characters. Many Fortnite players, and maybe even some of the people who birthed Fortnite players, were not alive for Apple’s famous masterstroke of corporate propaganda commercial. (Hell I wasn’t alive; I was born ‘87). But the commercial has become cultural shorthand for anyone who wants to seem like a plucky upstart taking on a big, soulless corporate behemoth—the message Apple was trying to convey when they released the Apple Macintosh in 1984, taking on IBM. The problem, though, is that Epic is not the plucky upstart they purport to be (remember billions with a “B”), while Apple has become the soulless, corporate behemoth they once railed against. And while I can respect the level of balls it takes to use Apple’s iconic commercial against them, it’s all performative bullshit designed to get people to take sides in a fight where neither party has the common folks’ interests at heart.
Epic has filed lawsuits against both Apple and Google. For now the three companies are in a standoff to see who backs down first. Can Epic stand to lose millions of players when it’s time for Fortnite to update? Can Apple and Google stand to lose revenue from one of the biggest video games ever? Who knows?
So far, there’s not a lot Fortnite players can do while Epic, Apple, and Google duke it out. Epic has been promoting a hashtag, #FreeFortnite, and encouraging players to use it against Apple on social media. You might want to have a talk with your kid about behaving like a human being on social media, because mobilizing a frothing mass of gamers on the internet has always worked out so well before. In the meantime, they can still play Fortnite. Your parenting apocalypse is, for now, on hold.