Angry Birds, Pokemon GO, Minecraft, and Fortnite are all vastly different games but they all have one thing in common - they attracted countless players around the globe and transcended the gaming medium as a whole. So, when the latest viral thing in the gaming industry decides to circumvent the world's largest mobile app marketplace in favor of a self-publishing model, that's bound to make waves on a number of fronts. As it turns out, that's exactly what Epic Games recently decided to do.
"30-percent is disproportionate to the cost of the services these stores perform," said Epic CEO Tim Sweeney earlier this month, referring to the cut Google takes from all revenue generated by Play Store apps. The move surprised many an industry watcher, being a largely unprecedented decision, especially given how no single Android game ever came anywhere remotely close to a glimpse of success in the West without launching through the Google Play Store. Still, Epic made its intentions clear, Fortnite is coming to Android via unconventional means, and Android gaming may never be the same again.
The First Of Many
Fortnite may be a global phenomenon by now but so was Hearthstone by the time it hit Android and yet not even the much larger Blizzard was bold enough to attempt circumventing the Play Store when it brought its hit collectible card game to the world's most popular operating system in late 2014. With mobile games now maturing to the point that they're attracting major investments from the likes of Electronic Arts, Ubisoft, Bethesda, and other major publishers, if Epic's experiment turns out to be successful and Fortnite carriers over its momentum to Android despite missing out on the largest app marketplace in the world, many more high-profile companies are likely to attempt doing the same with their own releases.
Needless to say, the 30-percent revenue cut Google and Apple take from apps is far from insignificant; even at its very peak, Pokemon GO was generating more money for the two owners of two of the world's largest app stores than Nintendo itself. While profit margins in the mobile gaming segment are traditionally larger than those in console and PC sectors, Fortnite is currently generating close to $320 million per month, so even if Android is to add as little to five-percent to that figure, that's still nearly $60 million that Google will be missing out on, i.e. Epic will be pocketing within the first year of the game's wider availability.
Hackers Are Likely Celebrating
While the Play Store is far from the most secure app store in the world, Google Play Protect and other protections Alphabet's subsidiary put into place still manage to drive away a lot of malware and other types of malicious software that could end up on one's smart device. Fake Fortnite APK files riddled with malware have been circulating the web since early spring when the game first launched on iOS with just a vague promise of coming to Android, so now that Epic is officially stating that the game is available only outside of the Play Store, hackers are likely to double down on their efforts to disseminate fake installers, hijack devices, mine cryptocurrencies, and attack unsuspecting users not familiar with the risks of side-loading apps in other ways. Worst of all, they're likely to be successful in that endeavor, at least compared to the kind of damage they could do if Fortnite was actually available on the Play Store and eager gamers were not required to look elsewhere for their crafting-infused battle royale fix.
Forget About Accurate Performance Metrics
Remember all those in-depth performance estimates about Fortnite on other platforms? Forget about having anything of the sort on Android. While one doesn't need to be a software insight expert to know that no Fortnite on the Play Store will significantly impact the accuracy of reports on its Android revenue and installs, we reached out to one of the market leaders at Apptopia to get a better idea of what exactly we can expect from Fortnite performance figures on Android that are bound to be reported in some shape or form moving forward. "Mobile app intelligence providers will not be able to track Fornite on Android as well as we do other apps, or possibly at all," said communications lead Adam Blacker.
In Apptopia's case, the only Fortnite reporting it will be able to do will be the one based on panel data which covers a representative userbase sample and collects information through an in-app SDK with the consent of individuals being tracked. Apptopia presently has "a certain amount" of devices it tracks in this manner across all markets and should be able to extrapolate some regional and global figures based on that information, though the results that technique provide are likely to be much less accurate than more conventional app analytics methods which usually come down to a combination of developer insights and publicly available data such as app store rankings. In overall, while no app revenue metrics coming from third-party sources are ever 100-percent accurate, the next time you read that the Android version of Fortnite earned a set amount of money or hit a specific player-count milestone, take that claim with massive skepticism.
Alternatively: Google's Retribution
If most or none of the things outlined above happen, that will likely be for one reason alone - Fortnite failing on Android. There's a real possibility that Epic fails to carry over the game's momentum to Android without being backed by the largest app marketplace on the planet, and that's without considering the fact that Google may actually start actively promoting PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds — Fortnite's largest rival — on the Play Store. PUBG already had a significant headstart on Fortnite as far as Android is concerned and unlike the beta version of Epic's hit, Bluehole already managed to deliver a game that runs well on Android devices.
While it's still unclear whether Fortnite may end up launching on the Play Store after riding out its initial wave of popularity, other developers could try to capitalize on its lack of availability by delivering their own cartoonish battle royale titles. Gameloft is one obvious candidate for such a move, with Apptopia COO Jonathan Kay also pointing to Chinse firm NetEase as another player in the industry that could greenlight a similar project, provided it hasn't already done so. The bottom line is that Epic's move is "arrogant" and "arrogance is the enemy of success," Mr. Kay argued. With Fortnite being a free-to-play game, it obviously places a large emphasis on being accessible, yet its Android launch strategy appears to be going in the opposite direction, which has the potential for backfiring even if it's more than just a flavor-of-the-month title, as it already proved itself on other platforms. One thing is certain: regardless of what happens to Fortnite moving forward, its fate could easily change the Android gaming landscape forever. The only question that remains is whether that will be for the better or worse.