Google wins victory royale over Epic Games, snags Fortnite for Google Play


Enlarge / Artist’s conception of the experience of installing Fortnite on Android before today.

It’s now been over 18 months since Epic Games shook up the mobile-gaming market by refusing to release the Android version of Fortnite: Battle Royale on the Google Play store. At the time, Epic was explicit that avoiding Google’s 30 percent “store tax” was part of its motivation for the decision.

And it seemed to be a successful decision for Epic, which managed to rack up 15 million Android downloads for Fortnite in just 21 days without Google Play’s help. But now Epic has given up its fight against the platform and made Fortnite available on the Google Play store after all.

The reason for the move, the company says in a statement provided to Ars Technica, is because of a “basic realization”:

Google puts software downloadable outside of Google Play at a disadvantage, through technical and business measures such as scary, repetitive security pop-ups for downloaded and updated software, restrictive manufacturer and carrier agreements and dealings, Google public relations characterizing third-party software sources as malware, and new efforts such as Google Play Protect to outright block software obtained outside the Google Play store.

Portions of that statement could refer to a security-related spat between Google and Epic from just after the game’s Android launch. There, Epic fixed a potential Android Fortnite installer vulnerability after being alerted to it privately by Google.

But when Google disclosed the (former) vulnerability a week after the fix was released, Epic said “it was irresponsible of Google to publicly disclose the technical details of the flaw so quickly, while many installations had not yet been updated and were still vulnerable.” Epic also characterized the disclosure as part of Google’s “counter-PR efforts against Epic’s distribution of Fortnite outside of Google Play.”

Installing Fortnite outside of the Google Play store can require users to tinker with their phone’s security settings, and it usually presents users with a bevy of warnings about the dangers of installing apps from “unknown sources.” That said, such “unknown source” installations are a main vector for Android malware to spread, so it’s not like Fortnite is being singled out for no reason here. Then again, there’s plenty of malware to be found on the Google Play store as well.

Just last month, Google rolled out a new Advanced Protection Program for Android phones that blocks sideloaded apps like Fortnite completely. That opt-in program builds on the Google Play Protect program, a virus scanner launched in 2017.

Since Fortnite launch in August 2018, Google has included a special message for users who search for the game on the Google Play store, warning them that the game is not available.

“We hope that Google will revise its policies and business dealings in the near future, so that all developers are free to reach and engage in commerce with customers on Android and in the Play Store through open services, including payment services, that can compete on a level playing field,” Epic said in its statement on the matter.

Ron Amadeo contributed to this report.



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