It's once again possible to play "Fortnite" on your iPhone (or any iOS device for that matter). On Thursday, Microsoft announced the popular battle royale is now free to play on mobile browsers through Xbox's cloud gaming service, which allows players to stream games straight to their devices.
Microsoft's partnership with "Fortnite"-maker Epic Games avoids Apple's App Store, which removed "Fortnite" in 2020 after Epic allowed players to pay them directly, circumventing Apple's 30% commission on all in-app purchases. Epic ended up suing Apple over the tech giant's business model and the suit became a landmark case over how people pay for services on their phone. Last year, a federal judge ruled that Apple must allow app developers to "steer" customers to alternative payment processing services but decided that Epic failed to prove Apple is a monopolist.
"Fortnite" is one of the most popular games ever made and it's still not available on to download on Apple's App Store or the Google Play store. Both Epic and Apple appealed the ruling last year and Epic has a separate case against Google for its Google Play store. Apple has said it won't allow "Fortnite" back into its store until the verdict in the case is final. Now using Microsoft's cloud service, all you need to play "Fortnite" is an account with Microsoft and a device that can browse the internet. There are no membership fees or apps to install.
Epic Games declined to answer questions regarding the partnership. A spokesperson for Microsoft did not respond to a request for comment. On Twitter, Tim Sweeney, the chief executive of Epic Games, called the partnership "monumental news," specifically referencing that the streaming set-up will work around Apple's payment system.
It's not clear whether Microsoft will charge a commission for any of the in-game purchases through their cloud service. Florian Ederer, an associate professor of economics at Yale School of Management, wrote in an email that the partnership is "a big opportunity" for Microsoft to build on its existing catalog of games available to stream. That said, Ederer said a player's gameplay experience may never be as good as on an app.
"Given the Internet connection of most players, the arrangement is still suboptimal," Ederer wrote. "This may be less of a threat for Apple as gamers might be unwilling to accept the higher latency and worse graphics of cloud-based gaming."
Last April, Epic Games decided against offering "Fortnite" on Microsoft's game cloud service because the developer originally saw the platform as a competitor to Epic's own digital game store, according to a report from The Verge. Ederer told The Post that Epic's decision to not work with Microsoft at the time strengthened their argument that Apple had ownership of a marketplace from which they were excluded.
"Fortnite" is the first free-to-play game offered on Xbox's cloud gaming service. Until now, players needed to pay a monthly fee to access Microsoft's library of games, just like other streaming entertainment services. In a statement on its website announcing the partnership with Epic Games, Microsoft said the company plans to continue to add more free-to-play titles to its library of cloud-based games.
"We want to make gaming accessible to the 3 billion players around the world, and cloud has an important role in that mission," the statement read. "Quite simply we want you to have more choice in both the games you play and the way you choose to play them."