“Fortnite” is back on iPhone thanks to Microsoft’s cloud gaming

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It’s once again possible to play “Fortnite” on your iPhone (or any other iOS device for that matter). On Thursday, Microsoft announced that the popular battle royale is now free on mobile browsers through Xbox’s cloud gaming service, which allows gamers to stream games directly 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 for them directly, bypassing the 30% commission ‘Apple on all in-app purchases. Epic ended up suing Apple over the tech giant’s business model and the lawsuit has become a landmark case about how people pay for services on their phones. Last year, a federal judge ruled that Apple must allow app developers to “direct” customers to other payment processing services, but ruled Epic had failed to prove that ‘Apple was a monopoly.

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“Fortnite” is one of the most popular games ever made and it is still not available to download from the Apple App Store or Google Play Store. Both Epic and Apple appealed the decision last year, and Epic has a separate case against Google over its Google Play store. Apple said it won’t allow “Fortnite” to return to its store until the verdict in the case is final. Now, using Microsoft’s cloud service, all you need to play “Fortnite” is a Microsoft account and an internet-capable device. There are no membership fees or apps to install.

Epic Games declined to answer questions about the partnership. A Microsoft spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment. On Twitter, Epic Games chief executive Tim Sweeney called the partnership “monumental news,” specifically referring to the fact that the streaming setup will work around Apple’s payment system.

It’s unclear whether Microsoft will charge a commission for any of the in-game purchases through its cloud service. Florian Ederer, an associate professor of economics at the Yale School of Management, wrote in an email that the partnership is “a great opportunity” for Microsoft to build on its existing catalog of games available for streaming. That said, Ederer said a gamer’s gaming experience might never be as good as on an app.

“Given the internet connection of most players, the arrangement is still not optimal,” Ederer wrote. “This may be less of a threat to Apple as gamers might not want to put up with the higher latency and worse graphics of cloud-based games.”

last april, Epic Games has decided not to offer “Fortnite” on Microsoft’s gaming cloud service because the developer originally considered the platform a competitor to Epic’s own digital game store, according to a report by The Verge. Ederer told the Post that Epic’s decision not to work with Microsoft at the time bolstered their argument that Apple owned a market from which they were excluded.

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“Fortnite” is the first free game offered on Xbox’s cloud gaming service. Until now, gamers had to pay a monthly fee to access Microsoft’s game library, 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 adding more free-to-play titles to its library of cloud-based games.

“We want to make gaming accessible to the 3 billion players worldwide, and the cloud plays an important role in this mission”, the statement read. “Quite simply, we want you to have more choice in both what games you play and how you choose to play them.”

Shannon Liao and Gene Park contributed to this report.

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