Confirming a leak that surfaced earlier this week, Epic Games says that its upcoming Android release for Fortnite will not use Google Play as a distribution platform. Instead, phone users download an installer from Epic's website and install the game directly, bypassing Google's store completely. "Epic's goal is to bring its games directly to customers. We believe gamers will benefit from competition among software sources on Android," says Tim Sweeney. "Competition among services gives consumers lots of great choices and enables the best to succeed based on merit."
The situation is somewhat similar to how Fortnite operates on PC, where Epic took the decision to bypass Steam and deliver the game via its own launcher and account system. To show us how the installation procedure works, Epic Games sent us a Samsung Galaxy S9+ with access to a special press area on its website (which we suspect may have been the source for the recent leak), where we could download and install the game.
The installation procedure is relatively painless, though a touch more convoluted than using Google Play. The installer is downloaded as a standard APK file that, when run, prompts users to adjust their security settings (for that file only) in order to allow it to install the full game. There's a similar procedure in adjusting permissions when running Fortnite itself for the first time, but after that, the title sits on your smartphone and loads up exactly like any standard game you may have grabbed from Google Play. In the week that we've had Fortnite installed on the S9+, the game has been updated and patched - this was all done seamlessly when booting the title and no further security settings adjustments were required.
It's rare for a company to bypass the visibility, exposure and whatever built-in security may be offered by Google Play, but as Tim Sweeney points out in the Q+A below, Epic clearly believes that the 30 per cent 'store tax' Google collects doesn't reflect its input into the creation and maintenance of the game - which, to be fair, is minimal. From Sweeney's perspective, Epic is treating Android as the open platform that it is, exactly as it does with PC and Mac. Pointedly, Sweeney says that if Epic could have used this approach for the iOS release of Fortnite, it would have. However, Apple's ecosystem is fully locked down, meaning that it had no choice but to use the iTunes App Store - a similar state of affairs to the console platforms.
Fortnite's stature is such that we doubt that Android users will have much difficulty downloading and installing the game. However, from our perspective, Epic does have a significant task on its hands in ensuring that users definitely download the official APK from the official site. Our concern is that potential players may end up grabbing an installer APK from somewhere other than Epic itself - and in this scenario, allowing rogue software permission to install onto the phone could be a very bad thing.
Beyond that, not installing from Google Play has essentially zero technical impact on the game itself. Epic has full access to the capabilities of your phone whether or not the title is installed via Google Play. We have installed and played Fortnite on the supplied handset, but details on the actual game experience remain under embargo for now. The company also declined to talk more about supported handsets, the only hint coming from Tim Sweeney when he talks about a 'recent high-end Android smartphone' being required to run the game.
However, this does tie in with a leak of supported phones that surfaced earlier this week, apparently scraped from the Epic website, where Samsung Galaxy S7-class hardware seems to be the base level. This is a 2.5-year-old handset that was the flagship of its time, giving some idea of the limited amount of devices Fortnite will be playable on.
We'll have more on the Android port of Fortnite soon, but in the meantime, here are Tim Sweeney's full comments via Epic's supplied Q+A.
Why not just use the pre-existing store instead of making players jump through hoops?
On open platforms like PC, Mac, and Android, Epic's goal is to bring its games directly to customers. We believe gamers will benefit from competition among software sources on Android. Competition among services gives consumers lots of great choices and enables the best to succeed based on merit.
Is this just a way for Epic to keep the 30 per cent that Google would take if you were on Play?
Avoiding the 30 per cent "store tax" is a part of Epic's motivation. It's a high cost in a world where game developers' 70 per cent must cover all the cost of developing, operating, and supporting their games. And it's disproportionate to the cost of the services these stores perform, such as payment processing, download bandwidth, and customer service. We're intimately familiar with these costs from our experience operating Fortnite as a direct-to-customer service on PC and Mac.
What's Google role in this?
Google built Android as an open platform on top of the Linux kernel and other open-source software, and Android 8.0 "Oreo" greatly advances the security and user-friendliness of Android as an open platform. Epic Games, as the developer of Fortnite and the Unreal Engine, is grateful for Google's work and looks forward to continued collaboration with Google to further Android as an open, console-quality mobile gaming platform.
If you could have done this on iOS, would you have?
There have been a number of Android APK scams related to Fortnite going around. Does Epic's release strategy put customers at risk, since they might not be able to tell the difference between real and fake?
Open platforms are an expression of freedom: the freedom of users to install the software they choose, and the freedom of developers to release software as they wish. With that freedom comes responsibility. You should look carefully at the source of software you're installing, and only install software from sources you trust.
Gamers have proven able to adopt safe software practices, and gaming has thrived on the open PC platform through many sources including Steam, Battle.net, Riot Games, Good old Games, and EpicGames.com. We're confident Android will be similarly successful.
Most importantly, mobile operating systems increasingly provide robust, permissions-based security, enabling users to choose what each app is allowed to do: save files; access the microphone; access your contacts. In our view, this is the way all computer and smartphone platforms should provide security, rather than entrusting one monopoly app store as the arbiter of what software users are allowed to obtain.
Does this not complicate the user acquisition process for you on Android? Most users, particularly given how mainstream Fortnite has become, will just search the store rather than thinking to acquire the game another way.
Once it goes live, Fortnite for Android will be easy to find with a simple web search on Google, Bing, or DuckDuckGo, just as with Fortnite for PC and Mac.
How will you ensure getting to the launcher is intuitive for younger players or those who may not be as familiar with games/separate Android launchers?
It's pretty easy. The download on epicgames.com installs a Fortnite icon which is used for launching and updating the game.
Obviously this was not possible on iOS give Apple's tight control over the ecosystem. Why do you think Google enables developers this freedom?
Google is one of the world's leading supporters of open platforms, for example as a top contributor to the open-source Linux kernel, which is at the heart of the Android platform. I think they're driven by the same ethos we have at Epic in opening up Unreal Engine 4's full source code to developers. Openness creates an attractive, thriving ecosystem where everyone can innovate without having to ask for permission. Windows, Android, Mac, Unreal Engine, Linux, and other projects show that a company can open up its ecosystem and still run a successful and profitable business.
What's the advantage for Epic Games?
First, 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.
Second, we're motivated by economic efficiency. The 30% store tax is a high cost in a world where game developers' 70% 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. But on open platforms, 30% is disproportionate to the cost of the services these stores perform, such as payment processing, download bandwidth, and customer service. We're intimately familiar with these costs from our experience operating Fortnite as a direct-to-customer service on PC and Mac.
Android has a larger user base than iOS, so what uplift are you expecting to see in Fortnite's overall audience?
Our expectations for 2018 are modest because Fortnite requires a recent high-end Android smartphone. Fortnite brings the game's full PC and console experience to Android; of the roughly 2,500,000,000 Android devices, we estimate around 250,000,000 are Fortnite-ready
How are you preparing your servers/tech to cope with the influx of new users?
We're doing a lot of optimisation work here at Epic, and are also benefiting from great cloud service infrastructure hosted by Amazon, Google, and others.
With the release of Fortnite on Android, that means the game is available on all platforms. What's the next step? What's the priority?
The team is hard at work evolving the game based on the awesome Fortnite community's feedback.