Epic today announced that moving forward, they will be dropping the purchase price of Fortnite’s in-game currency, as players can now purchase V-Bucks at a reduction of 20%, in a move they are dubbing “The Fortnite Mega Drop”. It’s not just as straightforward as a flat discount though, there are a couple of caveats.
Epic says that this discount is available when purchasing V-Bucks on “PlayStation, Xbox, Nintendo Switch, PC, and Mac, and on mobile”.
On PC and console, this discount is automatically applied, and effective immediately.
On mobile, it’s a bit more complicated. If you purchase V-Bucks through the Apple App Store, or through Google Play, you will not be offered this discount. However, through a newly added “direct payment” option, you can buy V-Bucks at a 20% discount. The direct payment circumvents the existing official app store payment mechanism, and your payment goes directly to Epic.
This kind of payment scheme is somewhat unprecedented on iOS and Google Play, where typically apps are not allowed to offer direct payment for in-app purchases. Epic has framed this as a way of passing on savings to players by cutting Apple and Google out of the transaction:
“Currently, there are no savings if players use Apple and Google payment options, where Apple and Google collect an exorbitant 30% fee on all payments. If Apple and Google lower their fees on payments, Epic will pass along the savings to players.”
If rather than downloading the game from Google Play, you downloaded it directly from Epic, you will also automatically apply for this discount, since that version of Fortnite wouldn’t be using Google payments anyway.
Depending on whether Epic has agreed to this new payment arrangement with Apple or Google, it’s going to be curious to see how they react to this update. Attempts to circumvent their store payment mechanism is something that could very easily result in a game being pulled from the store in some cases, Apple has taken a hard line against this in the past, although perhaps Epic is hoping that Fortnite is a big enough deal that the rules don’t apply to them.
This very much feels like Epic is attempting to find a way to avoid paying the typical platform fees that all software distributed on the Apple App Store and Google Play have to pay to the platform holders. It’s going to be very interesting to see how the respective mobile giants respond, but it’s hard to imagine they will tolerate any game entirely undermining their business models. If Epic is allowed to bypass Apple and Google’s cut of the revenue from their free-to-play game, why would other games not be allowed to do the same? The microtransaction driven free-to-play model is huge on mobile platforms and if Epic is to somehow establish a new precedent where any game can bypass paying Apple and Google a cut of their revenue, that would be a pretty seismic shift.
Interestingly, Epic is offering the same discount to players on console, although there’s not an indication that direct payments will be made available there or that Sony, Microsoft, or Nintendo have agreed to waive their usual cut on V-Bucks transactions. Perhaps Epic is footing the bill for this discount themselves on consoles, which perhaps begs the question: Why they can’t do the same for users on the Apple App Store or Google Play?
Overall, this feels like the first shot in a PR war. Epic has taken an action that they no doubt know will receive some pushback from Apple and Google, but are hoping that being able to frame it less as them trying to circumvent the policies of a store that they are selling on, and more about trying to offer players value. All sides have some degree of leverage, where Apple or Google could perhaps pull Fortnite from their app stores citing a breach of the store terms, but this would be at the very least a headache to deal with, and potentially could generate negative PR for them. This is going to play out somewhat in the court of public opinion, and perhaps Epic hopes that taking this bold action will win over public sentiment.
I don’t see this as Epic doing what’s best for players, I see it as Epic doing what is best for Epic, much like Apple and Google do what is best for themselves, but we could perhaps see Apple and Google’s hands forced to offer some kind of accommodation to Epic here.
The update is live now on iOS and Google Play, so it would appear that the update successfully passed the platform review process, but we’ll have to see if either mobile platform holder takes any action now that this new payment mechanism is live.