Fortnite Sneaks Back onto the iPhone

Fortnite on iPhone Credit: Dmitriy Prayzel / Shutterstock
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Apple kicked Fortnite to the curb well over a year ago, banning it from the App Store and terminating Epic Games’ developer account after the latter company violated the App Store’s terms of service in an attempt to force a lawsuit.

However, it looks like Epic Games has found a back way into the hands of iPhone gamers. Thanks to its partnership with Nvidia, subscribers to the GeForce NOW gaming service will soon be able to enjoy playing Fortnite on their iPhone and iPad once again.

Fortnite’s Return

Despite repeated legal attempts to force Apple to reinstate Fortnite, the courts have consistently sided with the App Store in this matter, flatly telling Epic that its “current predicament appears of its own making.” Basically, the judge ruled that Epic doesn’t get to deliberately and flagrantly breach the terms of its contract and then expect the courts to declare those terms void before the lawsuit was even finished.

Even when the dust finally did settle on Epic’s landmark case against Apple, not much changed. The court sided with Apple on every count except for one, which was to declare Apple’s anti-steering measures anticompetitive, and Apple managed to get a stay even on that one, pending the outcome of an appeal. In the end, Apple was even awarded around $3.6 million in damages for Epic’s breach of contract.

When the case was over, Apple and Epic remained at an impasse concerning Fortnite. Not surprisingly, Epic doesn’t consider the matter finished, and while it failed to prevail in court, it’s not about to return Fortnite to the App Store under the very terms that it’s very loudly railed against for the past 18 months.

For its part, Apple has said from the very beginning that it would welcome Fortnite back with open arms as long as Epic Games is willing to comply with the App Store rules. It was this position on Apple’s part, in fact, that has led the courts to deny Epic’s request for an injunction that would force the matter.

Apple has never refused to allow Fortnite back into the App Store — it’s merely pointed out that it has to play by the same rules as every other app.

The ball has always been in Epic’s court, but this obviously something that the game maker simply doesn’t want to do. Fortunately, it looks like it may soon be able to have its cake and eat it too, thanks to Apple’s more relaxed approach to game streaming services.

For years, Apple has made it clear that game streaming services were not welcome on the App Store, basically stating that they weren’t in line with how Apple prefers to run its digital marketplace.

In the latter part of 2020, around the same time the Epic Games situation was starting to blow up, Apple relented slightly, offering to allow game streaming services, but only under some fairly restrictive conditions. Not surprisingly, major gaming companies like Microsoft were not impressed by this token gesture on Apple’s part, since the rules still required every game in the catalogue to be submitted and reviewed as individual apps on the App Store.

Apple did offer a more significant concession, however, pointing out that the open web was just that — open — and there wasn’t much Apple could do to prevent game streaming services from working in the Safari browser.

It turns out this wasn’t merely an empty statement on Apple’s part, though. Not long after it made this change, it also began actively working with cloud gaming services such as Amazon’s Luna to help them provide a solid and reliable gaming experience in the browser.

While it’s unclear how many game streaming services worked closely with Apple’s developers, it wasn’t long before we saw Google Stadia, Microsoft Xbox Game Pass, Nvidia GeForce NOW, and even Facebook Gaming all appearing as web-based game streaming services.

Fortnite on GeForce NOW

We actually suspected Fortnite was poised to make a return when Nvidia GeForce NOW first launched for mobile Safari in November 2020, but at the time, Fortnite was mysteriously missing from the catalogue of titles.

The reasons for this were unclear at the time. Some suspected Apple had a hand in this due to the ongoing litigation, but that always seemed unlikely as Apple would be reluctant to meddle in the open web — and we almost certainly would have heard a very loud hue and cry from Epic Games’ CEO, Tim Sweeney, who has never been shy about speaking his mind, especially where Apple is concerned.

It turns out the reason for Fortnite’s absence was actually much simpler. Although Fortnite was already available on GeForce NOW, it was designed to be played on consoles and PCs, not touch screen devices. It’s apparently taken a year for Nvidia and Epic to work out those details, and the game is now available to GeForce NOW subscribers as a closed beta.

To be clear, there’s a waitlist, so you’ll have to sign up and wait for your turn. Nvidia also notes that “admission to the beta is not guaranteed,” and those who are selected won’t begin receiving access until later this month.

Nvidia also hasn’t announced what will happen after the closed beta period ends, or even how long the beta period will be, other than to say they’ll “evaluate the experience and make further announcements at a later date.”

Presumably, the full version of Fortnite will come to GeForce NOW eventually. It’s anybody’s guess right now when that will actually happen, but it’s probably safe to say that it’s going to land on the streaming service long before it has any chance of finding its way back into the App Store.

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