Epic Games has released its battle-royale version of Fortnite on Android, but isn’t doing so via the Google Play store. The game will be made available through a downloader accessed on Epic Games’ site, thus allowing it to sidestep the 30% revenue share applied to any purchasing occurring via distribution on Google Play.
The scale of the Android installed base means it presents a strong growth opportunity for Fortnite, despite the challenges Epic may face with its different approach on Android compared with iOS, where it launched in April. The high-end nature of iOS devices and close integration with Apple services and payments means that they are still the most lucrative platform for mobile games, generating three to four times higher average revenue per device than Android. But Android makes up over 80% of the global smartphone installed base so is as a platform that can’t be ignored. Android is particularly strong in emerging markets, for which the audience that is willing to pay for an advanced mobile game like Fortnite may be more limited.
Epic has also pointed to questions around the security of the Android platform as being a driver of its decision to go outside the Play Store. 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. 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. There’s a security counterpoint at work here: Epic will still have to take steps to ensure that as few people as possible are duped with illegitimate links that otherwise claim to be Fortnite installers.
Going outside the established app stores is a strategy that only the most successful and high profile apps and games are likely to pursue because of the other benefits that come with app store distribution. In China, the decision is different as there is no official Google presence, and instead Epic can work with leading Chinese publisher, app store owner, and Epic shareholder, Tencent, for distribution there. The Chinese Android ecosystem represents another unique opportunity for Fortnite where the absence of Google means Epic can leverage the expertise of its major shareholder Tencent to launch in the world’s largest mobile games market.
The signups for the Android beta of Fortnite are initially limited to Samsung’s new phones (high versions of the Galaxy, Note or Tab), with compatibility due with the devices of a number of other device manufacturers within the Android ecosystem. Samsung has a track record of securing, and paying for, major content exclusives to promote new devices and services. It notably signed a deal with Jay-Z’s Roc Nation label for a time-limited Samsung Galaxy exclusive for an album back in 2013.
This deal with Epic is part of Samsung’s marketing campaign with its new devices, rather than necessarily a sign of a broader commitment to a games strategy. Samsung has a mixed record when it comes to content, often launching new channels and services only to scale back its plans fairly quickly. If Samsung is looking to develop a broader games strategy than a Fortnite deal could be a good, albeit time limited, starting point. But Samsung would also need to integrate its existing or new app distribution and payment channels as well.