News of the massively popular and mostly free game Fortnite coming to Android has been causing buzz for months now. Gamers of every age group have flocked to Fortnite and continue to enjoy playing and streaming all day every day. But news that Epic Games is choosing to distribute Fortnite for Android on its own instead of using the Google Play Store is just about the worst thing the company can do for its users.
Plain and simple, distributing this game outside of the Google Play Store is dangerous. And knowing Epic Games is only doing this so it can make a few extra pennies from each user is even worse.
Remember when Pokemon Go first came out, and because it wasn’t available to everyone all at once people started uploading modified versions of the app to third-party stores with malicious code onboard to steal your data or turn your phone into a bitcoin mining machine for someone else? That kind of thing only happens when an app is distributed outside of the Google Play Store, because Google puts tremendous resources behind making sure the apps in the store are safe for you to use. Fortnite is going to be available through the Epic Games website, but there’s very little to stop someone from putting out ads for downloading Fortnite for Android on the day this game is available and redirecting those users to a version of the game with similarly malicious code.
Epic Games has decided it’s cool to roll the dice on your behalf and hope you follow their instructions.
The Google Play Store also offers financial protection for parents who let their kid play a game with the credit card loaded. Stories of App Stores charging parents thousands of dollars because the kid wasn’t paying attention rarely end in the parent needing to pay those huge fines because the mistake is reversed and Google handles this process. Epic Games is now the only company involved in this process, because purchases made in Fortnite on Android won’t go through the Google Play Store. If Epic decides you have to pay for the things your kids did by mistake, there’s no appeal process in place anymore.
Perhaps most important is the way you install apps outside the Google Play Store. In order to side-load an app on any Android phone not running the newest version you need to turn off a safety lock that allows these installations to happen. If you don’t re-enable this feature back off after Fortnite is installed, anything can be installed in the background without your permission. But every time an update for Fortnite needs to be installed, you will need to toggle this feature again. This isn’t the case if your phone is running Android 8.0 or newer, but at last count 88% of all Android phones were running a version older than 8.0.
In the past, this exact same loophole has lead to data leaks and huge problems with data privacy. Instead of keeping their users safe, many of whom are children, Epic Games has decided it’s cool to roll the dice on your behalf and hope you follow their instructions.
The only reasons provided for this terrible decision by Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney are financial. Sweeney says Epic wants to use its own installer like it does on the PC, and wants to bypass the 30% cut Google takes on all Play Store transactions. It’s worth pointing out this 30% tax is identical to the one Apple places in its Play Store, but Apple doesn’t let users sideload apps ‚ÄĒ an option Epic has here with Android.
Even if you do all of the right things every time you are still at a greater risk when playing Fortnite on Android than on any other platform.
It’s also likely Epic Games knows the largest audience for Fortnite users are in places with a less-friendly Google Play Services relationship. China doesn’t allow Google Mobile Services through its Great Firewall, and the EU is currently battling with Google on whether the Play Store should be a part of Android phones sold there. This combined audience is considerably larger than the people who would play in the U.S. and elsewhere, plus distributing a single version of Fortnite is easier than maintaining multiple versions to distribute in different stores.
So, basically, screw the users. This way is easier and makes us more money.
Unfortunately, there’s very little anyone can do about this. You can choose to not give Epic a credit card number when you do play. You can (and should anyway) enable Two-Factor Authentication on your Epic Games account, and try to remember to keep your phone unable to install apps from unknown sources every time an update comes in. But ultimately, even if you do all of the right things every time you are still at a greater risk when playing Fortnite on Android than on any other platform. Epic knows this, and they’re doing it anyway. And that sucks.