The massively popular free-to-play battle royale game Fortnite is launching soon on Android. The game is confirmed to launch this summer, but a source told XDA-Developers the game will launch with the upcoming Samsung Galaxy Note 9. Initial reports peg the exclusivity deal between Epic Games and Samsung at 30 days, but a new report states the exclusivity could last as long as an extra 3 months. If the rumored exclusivity hasn’t gotten people upset, our discovery that Epic would distribute Fortnite Mobile on Android outside of the Google Play Store has probably done the trick. Now, Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney has confirmed to The Verge that the mobile game will be distributed from their website and not Google Play.
According to the CEO, there are two reasons behind why the company is choosing not to use Google Play to distribute Fortnite Mobile on Android. First, Epic Games wants to maintain a direct relationship with their customers.
“Epic wants to have a direct relationship with our customers on all platforms where that’s possible…The great thing about the Internet and the digital revolution is that this is possible, now that physical storefronts and middlemen distributors are no longer required.” – Tim Sweeney, CEO of Epic Games, speaking to The Verge
The second reason is financial, as we previously speculated. Epic Games does not want to lose 30% of their Android revenue to Google, which is what’ll happen if they choose to use Google Play as their distribution method. Any apps or games with in-app purchases consumed entirely within the service must use Google Play In-app Billing, which means Epic Games would have to cough up 30% of all IAP revenue to Google if they distributed Fortnite Mobile on Android via the Play Store.
“The 30 percent store tax is a high cost in a world where game developers’ 70 percent must cover all the cost of developing, operating, and supporting their games…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…30 percent is disproportionate to the cost of the services these stores perform, such as payment processing, download bandwidth, and customer service.” – Tim Sweeney, CEO of Epic Games, speaking to The Verge
Distributing the app outside of the Play Store is a risky move due to the potential security concerns. Epic’s CEO isn’t concerned, however, as he states that gamers “have proven able to adopt safe software practices” and, as evidence, states that “gaming has thrived on the open PC platform through many sources.” He’s specifically referring to platforms like Steam, Battle.net, etc. Lastly, the CEO states that Android’s permission system will help protect users by informing them of what an app will be allowed to do.
In my view, this is dangerously naive. Fortnite has attracted a huge audience of new gamers during its rapid rise to prominence. Many of these new games may not be familiar with the best practices to keep their devices safe from attack. As seen by the many new Android malware reports coming out each month which mostly target older devices or trick users who don’t have a good understanding of Android’s permission model, it would be easy for malware authors to target users whose devices don’t yet support Fortnite Mobile on Android. After all, a limited number of devices will be supported at launch and given the potentially lengthy exclusivity period, there’ll be a lot of people desperate to play the game as soon as it launches—only to be tricked into downloading a malicious APK.
Then there’s the question of Chromebook users who can’t easily sideload apps and users in China without access to the Google Play Store. For the latter issue, Epic Games’ CEO states they are evaluating alternative distribution stores in China. Requiring users to sideload the app will be problematic for most Chrome OS users, however, as these users will need to enable Developer Mode before they can sideload the APK. We hope Epic Games addresses these issues promptly, but we’re wary that the company’s decision to distribute Fortnite Mobile outside of Google Play will result in the spread of a lot of malware masquerading as Fortnite.