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Fortnite on Android: Epic’s Tim Sweeney discusses clones, payment systems and timing

Fortnite is testing the claim that Android is an ‘open’ OS

Fortnite - everyone racing to grab a supply drop Epic Games

Epic Games has shaken up the world of mobile gaming by announcing it’s not going through the official Google Play Store to bring Fortnite to Android. The game will instead only be available as a download direct from Epic’s own website.

It sounds as if this was a purely financial decision. I asked Epic Games’ CEO Tim Sweeney over email if this was, even partially, a reaction to all the unofficial Fortnite apps that already exist in the Google Play Store.

“No, that wasn’t a factor,” Sweeney told Polygon. “I don’t think we should fault Google or Apple for the appearance of clones. They operate stores that accept hundreds of thousands of products from the developer community, so it would be impossible to keep track of original authorship, and there’s a reasonable DMCA notice process for developers to inform them when copyright infringement does occur.”

But Epic Games won’t be able to rely on the built-in features of Google Play for things like receiving payments or making sure children can’t buy skins or in-game currency without their parents’ permission. These are problems that also exist in the PC version of the game, and it sounds as if Epic is mostly sticking to those strategies.

“First of all, no payments are possible unless you define a payment method for your Fortnite account,” Sweeney explained. “Then we support one-time payments so that a permanent payment method isn’t remembered for the account. We’ll be working on more features along these lines over the coming months, applicable to all platforms where Epic accepts payments directly.”

While Sweeney told Eurogamer that Epic Games would offer the game directly to iOS players if it were possible, he doesn’t seem quite as worried about the hefty cut console manufacturers take out of sales to their customers. It’s that cut that Sony is seemingly trying to protect by not allowing the PlayStation 4 to interact with other platforms.

“In the console business model, dedicated game devices operating huge game-centric consumer marketing campaigns and often selling hardware below cost, offset by software revenue,” Sweeney said. “It’s a very explicit arrangement between all participants that benefits all.”

So he’s not upset that Sony keeps its cut, but it’s not like Google or Apple are doing the same amount of work to bring Fortnite to customers. Hence, no reason to offer the game through Google Play if they can avoid it.

“In general, we’d love to see more openness across all platforms,” Sweeney said. “Already you can purchase Fortnite V-Bucks or in-game items on PC, Mac, iOS, or Android and use them on all of those other devices, and even on some combination of console platforms. We’d love to see the whole circle completed.”

It’s actually more complicated than that, according to Polygon’s own testing. You can buy in-game items on PC and then use them on the Nintendo Switch version of the game, for instance, but if you just buy in-game currency through the PC, those V-Bucks won’t be accessible on Switch.

You can use items once they’ve been applied to your account, but not even Nintendo wants you to directly “spend” V-Bucks on Switch if you purchase them on another account. The V-Bucks you earn from playing the game, however, transfer just fine.

This is going to be an interesting experiment, with some worried about the potential security implications of players falling for fake Fortnite websites or downloads and infecting their phones with malware. The amount of hand-wringing over the situation shows how normalized the walled garden approach has become on mobile phones, as the idea of a company launching an app directly is now seen as eventful or even dangerous, depending on who you’re speaking to.

As for the timing of the Nintendo Switch, iOS and Android versions of the game, Sweeney told Polygon it was just a matter of when the work was done. “We began all three development efforts simultaneously,” he said, “with the aim of launching each as soon as possible.”