“Fortnite” is not only one of the most popular video games in recent years, it’s also now a powerful public relations weapon in the legal fight between its multibillion-dollar creator, Epic Games, and ultra-billion-dollar companies Apple and Google.
Epic Games continues this momentum of publicly shaming Apple by announcing a #FreeFortnite tournament this Sunday. At the very least, “Fortnite” is offering an incredibly easy-to-win Tart Tycoon skin (a personified caricature of Apple), while top scoring players could get a #FreeFortnite hat (with an Apple-based satirical design). The top 1,200 players will win a gaming console or hardware of their choice, anything from a PlayStation 4 Pro to an Alienware laptop, a premium-priced rig. Epic is also now encouraging iOS players to move to other platforms, since “Fortnite” will no longer be updated after Aug. 27.
I spent less than a year as a public relations executive, briefly switching careers from journalism because of the industry shedding jobs and companies going under left and right. I wanted to diversify my resume, since jobs are so limited in the news industry.
A lot of the work I did was about winning the public opinion. And a big part of public relations is about changing the conversation around an issue. This included tactics like sending out beautifully-produced informational booklets, lathered with slick graphics and designs and information to update people on all the great things my client could do for the community — if only the courts or lawmakers would listen to regular folks. It’s an information pipeline that’s been in place for decades. Epic Games is now expanding it into the online gaming space.
It might seem bold, but in today’s hostile online world, it’s also risky, and as Rebekah Valentine of GamesIndustry.biz has written, potentially dangerous. The very online and social-media-savvy segments of the video game audience haven’t exactly been healthy in how they express outrage, writes Valentine, pointing to the 2014 GamerGate harassment campaigns that many tie to the current online culture wars and even presidential campaigns.
Epic’s campaign is meant to tweak its audience’s curiosity in the company’s lawsuits against Apple and Google, which argue that the two tech giants exert monopolistic control over market pricing in the mobile space.
And while many in the online conversation dismiss mobile games as “not real games,” data shows that mobile games will generate revenue of $77.2 billion this year, according to Newzoo. Epic’s argument is that mobile customers are beholden to Apple and Google’s rules. Mobile gaming has become a pillar in the industry, and that market — meaning access to the market as well as in-app payment rates — is being controlled by only two players.
Even Microsoft and Google can’t get their cloud gaming services on iPhones, with xCloud and Stadia services “in violation” of App Store rules. It was only Epic Games, using the clout of something as beloved and addicting as “Fortnite,” that decided to challenge this in court.
Already this public relations campaign with the latest tournament has angered iPhone-only players of “Fortnite,” who now say that the “suffering of the iOS player base is now a fun Fortnite tournament!” on the Fortnite mobile subreddit. Mobile players are also upset because the tournament is open to every “Fortnite” player, meaning players on PC will have a significant advantage to win the big prizes, since they have an advantage of controls and speed.
And small studios and developers, the biggest direct victims in this fight, are wondering why their businesses weren’t considered when it comes to making these sweeping decisions. Last week, Apple said it will deny Epic access to its tools, therefore removing the company’s ability to update the Unreal Engine, the most popular developing tool that’s used by studios of all sizes.
Angelo Cammalleri, a 26-year-old iOS and macOS developer in Cologne, Germany, has been working on a game with a few friends that they considered for Apple platforms in the future. Now those plans are scrapped.
“This whole argument between Apple and Epic makes it hard to predict what happens next,” Cammalleri told The Post. He said he understands Apple for banning Epic because of its contracts.
“On the other hand, blocking Epic completely from the Apple Developer Tools means they’re willingly accepting a lot of collateral damage,” he said. “Seeing everything from the antitrust perspective … the outright blocking of game streaming by Apple, all the closed-room deals Apple did and has done in the past with big companies concerning App Store guidelines … none of this was fair at any point.”
Victor Burgos of North Carolina, who started Burgos Games with nine developers in 2018, was planning to pitch his game “Neko Ghost, Jump!” to the Apple Arcade program this week. The game had a successful Kickstarter campaign to demonstrate interest. Unfortunately, the game was built using Unreal Engine.
“Shoot, what the hell can I do now?” Burgos said. “You’ve got three titans going at it. On one hand, it’s great publicity to get these crazy deals out into the public view. The problem is that a lot of people don’t understand that not every developer can get on the Epic Games Store.” Developers wishing to be included in the recently launcher Epic games marketplace must apply and be approved by the game publisher, just as Apple approves applications for its App Store.
“Epic is also a closed garden,” Burgos said.
Burgos added that he appreciates Epic saying that they’re trying to help small developers get more money, but wonders if this fight is necessary now, especially since “Fortnite” has made the company billions of dollars a year.
“It’s nice that a big juggernaut like Epic is saying they’re fighting for the little guys, but also they want to make more money,” Burgos said. “I wish that everyone was up front about why this is happening and how it affects everyone. I just hope that this is a net positive outcome for everyone, not just Epic or Apple or Google. We need some progress. I’m not sure Epic did it the right way, but I guess we’ll find out soon."