Why Fortnite will and won’t succeed on Android without Google Play

I was sitting in my office one morning last week when my communications lead, Adam Blacker, told me about Epic Games’ plan for Fortnite — that it was going to launch on Android outside of Google Play. I immediately reacted and said it was a bad move. He seemed surprised at my response and countered, thinking it was actually a pretty good move. We went back and forth for the next 10 minutes until we realized we should put a post together and let you, the reader, decide. Here we go!

Why Fortnite will fail without Google Play

Fortnite will fail on Android without Google Play. So much so, that it will be listed on the Play store within six months of launching without it.

Jonathan — Part of what makes Fortnite so successful is the ease of access across all platforms. Looking specifically at mobile, you’ve probably heard the game has performed very well on iOS. It would work just as well on Android, so why rock the boat and ruin the magic? The move feels more like a PR stunt than an actual well thought out business decision.

Sometimes when people achieve a high level of success for a long period of time, they get used to it. It becomes hard to believe that things can go south. It’s possible all the success and media frenzy went to their heads, but they will find that arrogance is the enemy of success.

Epic is creating a big barrier to entry while at the same time, removing free advertising that Google would have surely done to line its own pockets. The 30% revenue cut Google takes from Fortnite’s in-app purchases will be dwarfed in comparison to all the money they will leave on the table by only having a small portion of Android gamers actually download the app. Fortnite is popular across many demographics which is part of its incredible success. With this move, Epic Games is completely removing anyone who isn’t a hardcore gamer.

When it comes to marketing and selling anything, there is a funnel. Without Google Play, at each step in Fortnite’s funnel, it’s going to lose big chunks of potential players. Let’s start at the beginning. App stores drive a good portion of discovery, especially for a game like Fortnite where it appeals to casual gamers who are doing a bit of browsing in the Play store. Consider this chunk of players gone. The next chunk of players to forget about are lost due to a new and unfamiliar barrier to download. Those who understand Fortnite is available, but not on Google Play, and want to install it will search for it on the web to determine how. They’ll see they need to enable side-loading. A chunk of people will drop right there because they either do not know what side-loading is or they don’t know how to enable it. We have short attention spans and interest is lost.

The eager beavers who remain will likely come across the realization that enabling side-loading and downloading outside of the Play store is a security nightmare. Another chunk of potential players gone.

Let’s say a meaningful number of people download the game on Android, its market share of the Battle Royale genre will be severely diminished with the help of Google. You can bet the Play store will be pumping out PUBG Mobile ads whenever they can.

I already know Adam believes this isn’t an issue (see below) because he believes PUBG attracts almost an entirely different market. Let’s say I buy that, another competitor (maybe NetEase) will create a game more similar to Fortnite and Google will be happy to promote that. A user would rather download and play that game instead of dealing with changing their phone’s settings and risking malicious software entering their device.

Fortnite does not need Google Play

Adam — Jonathan is wrong here, but he signs my paychecks so I’ll have to be nice about it. Fortnite will be a success on Android. We didn’t specifically define what success means but for my argument, let’s say the game is profitable within a couple of months and doesn’t fold (become available on Google Play) for at least 365 days.

Caveat time. It won’t make as much money on Android as it does on iOS but that’s par for the course as it pertains to mobile games. Will they not get as many people as they could on Google Play? Likely — but they can make up for any lost revenue by not having to pay the 30% in-app purchase fees they would be paying to the Google storefront.

Why will it be a success? There’s strong demand. People playing on mobile are highly likely to already be playing on PC or a standalone console such as XBOX/PlayStation. These people want to play it on the go or when they’re traveling and away from their homes. I don’t believe there is a meaningful number of people who won’t download the game because it’s not available in the Play store. This is going to lead to a lot more revenue than Epic would receive if it went through the typical channel.

Worried about consumer education on how to download? I’m not. Fortnite is big, like really big. The level of interest in this game is amazingly high amongst gamers and across the general media, not just gaming media. This really helps push Epic Games’ marketing and consumer education.

To download the game, users simply need to go to the Fortnite website and click download. If they do not have side-loading enabled on their device, they have to do that first. When you’re all set, just shut off side-loading so you don’t download any malicious apps by accident. It’s 2018 and I don’t think this is much of a barrier to entry. People have a good handle on their smartphone settings and how to access them. The game probably takes about 60 seconds extra (max) to download.

To Jonathan’s point on Google hyping PUBG Mobile through the Play Store, and potentially taking players/sales away from Fortnite, I am not convinced this matters. PUBG has already had months of lead time on Fortnite anyway. The real issue here is that PUBG is a drastically different game. People who love and play Fortnite are not drawn to PUBG. It’s gameplay is more niche and attracts a smaller market opportunity from the get-go.

Even if I thought this wouldn’t work, I think still think Epic should do it. Epic makes most of its money outside of mobile and Fortnite can only gain here. Plus, this is so different, the company is getting a lot of publicity for it. I love it when companies test the boundaries (ethically) of what’s economical and try to bring new models to the table. This move has the potential to show other companies (who have the resources to do so) that they can skirt Google Play as well. What would be even better is if it pushes Google to lower their fee in response, helping out smaller developers.

What do you think?