Online shooting game Fortnite: Battle Royale will be available on Android phones this month, but it will not be available on the Google Play store, the official app store for Android devices. Instead, developer Epic Games will make the game available for download via a dedicated installer on its website, avoiding the 30% revenue share that Google would get to host the title on its Play store.
Epic CEO, Tim Sweeney, said the company “wants to have a direct relationship with our customers on all platforms where possible … physical storefronts and middlemen distributors are no longer required. We believe gamers will benefit from competition among software sources on Android.”
Fortnite made its mobile phone debut on iPhones in April. But Android represents one of the fastest growing video game platforms in the world, with 2.3bn active devices and an estimated 85% share of the smartphone market. A majority of Android users download games and apps via the official Google Play store, which brought in $20.1bn in revenue last year.
“For any developer, going outside the established distribution channels and opting for a direct-to-consumer will be a major challenge, particularly on mobile where getting users to register and share payment details is an issue,” said Steve Bailey, a games analyst with IHS Technology. “The strength of the buzz around Fortnite means it should be able to overcome the hurdle of getting core users to download outside Google Play, but it will also need to ensure a smooth and trusted payment process.”
“Avoiding the ‘store tax’ is a part of Epic’s motivation,” said Sweeney. “It’s a high cost in a world where game developers’ 70% must cover all of the costs of developing, operating, and supporting their games. There’s a rationale for this on console, where there’s enormous investment in hardware and marketing campaigns in broad partnership with publishers. But on open platforms, 30% is disproportionate to the cost of the services these stores perform.”
The decision has raised concerns. There is the possibility of Android users inadvertently downloading the game from a fake site, thereby exposing themselves to malware. To access Epic’s installer, users have to switch off a function designed to protect against malicious downloads.
Epic has countered by pointing out that most handsets allow users to customise which sites to give access to, and the open market approach works on PC where there are various third-party stores available. However, other publishers point out that there are already third-party stores on Android – it’s just that most users don’t visit them.
“In most markets it would be brave to ignore Google Play,” said Patrik Wilkens, vice president of mobile at Spil Games. “The main disadvantage is that you make it much tougher for your game to be discovered. Amazon, Samsung and a number of other Android stores represent a fraction of the Android user base.”
It be could that Epic is eyeing a lucrative new market – China – where Google Play does not operate. Having been banned until 2015, games consoles are still struggling to gain a foothold in the country, but over 580 million people play mobile games. Epic Games is partly owned by the Chinese tech conglomerate Tencent, which runs its own highly successful Android stores, giving Fortnite access to a large user-base. Tencent also published Fortnite’s close rival Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds in China, where it’s proving to be a hit.
Meanwhile, there are rumours the Android Fortnite may launch as an exclusive on the forthcoming Samsung Galaxy Note 9 handset, to be announced on 9 August. “Epic will have been financially compensated for exclusivity on a platform that only represents a small share of the Android total user base,” said Piers Harding-Rolls, director of games research at IHS Technology. “From Samsung’s perspective, they are using games to position the Note product with key audiences in markets where competition from other Android smartphone companies is escalating.
“There are a cross section of ‘gamer’ smartphones already on the market targeting enthusiast gamers on mobile platforms. Mobile network operators are also positioning their offerings in the context of gaming, so aligning device marketing with this position makes sense.”
The success of Fortnite, which is free to download on consoles, PC and smartphones, shows no sign of waning. Released last September, the game is estimated to have made over $1bn in revenue. Over 125 million people have now downloaded the game.