Is Fortnite Coming Back to the iPhone?

Is Fortnite Coming Back to the iPhone Credit: Nikkimeel / Shutterstock
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Even as the Epic Games lawsuit against Apple waits for its day in court, it looks like Fortnite could actually make a return to the iPhone and iPad through the back door as more game streaming services embrace Apple’s requirements for game streaming services.

For those who may have missed it, Epic Games went to the mattresses with Apple back in August when it snuck its own in-app purchasing method into Fortnite in a flagrant and blatant violation of Apple’s rules for the App Store.

Naturally, Apple gave Fortnite the boot, and Epic Games had a lawsuit ready to go within the hour. Since then, the battle between the two tech giants has only gotten more heated, with Apple upping the stakes by terminating Epic’s developer account, while Epic tried to get the courts to force Apple to let Fortnite back on the App Store with its policy-violating in-app purchasing system intact.

When the dust on all of this settled, Fortnite remained off the App Store, since the courts naturally refused to basically hand Epic a win before the actual lawsuit has even started, and the actual case to figure this all out will go to the courts sometime next year. While Epic claims that the ban has cost is 60% of its Fortnite users, however, it looks like that may be about to change with the arrival of another game streaming service on the iOS platform.

Apple and Game Streaming

To be clear, Apple hasn’t softened its stance on Epic Games, although it did open the door very slightly to allowing game streaming services on the iOS platform — something that was previously expressly prohibited by the terms of the App Store.

While most of the big game streaming service developers were less than impressed with Apple’s changes, which would have still required each game to be released as a separate app on the App Store, it turns out that Apple also pointed out another way by which developers could bypass the App Store entirely — the “open Internet and web browser apps.”

Technically speaking, of course, this was always an option — after all, Apple can’t really control what’s available through the Safari browser — but it seems that actually spelling it out in its revised App Store guidelines was enough to give developers the encouragement they needed to begin pursuing this avenue instead.

Perhaps ironically, the first one to step up to the plate and take advantage of this wasn’t Microsoft’s Xbox Game Pass or Google’s Stadia, but rather Amazon’s entirely new Luna gaming service, and best of all Luna’s engineers blazed a new trail by actually getting Apple’s Safari WebKit team to help with the process, adding an extra confirmation that this was an approach that Apple really was 100 percent on board with.

So it wasn’t soon after that Microsoft announced its own plans to bring Xbox Game Pass to iOS as a “direct, browser-based solution” sometime next year, after the more traditional app-based version failed to meet Apple’s requirements. While Microsoft has yet to say anything official on the matter, its Xbox head, Phil Spencer, has publicly committed to doing whatever it takes to get the company’s game streaming service onto iOS devices, and recently told an internal all-hands meeting that Microsoft would be working on a browser-based solution for next year.

Nvidia Joins the Party

With Amazon having already led the way, and Microsoft likely not far behind, it looks like Nvidia’s GeForce Now cloud gaming service will be the next one to embrace the “open Internet” as a means to getting its footprint onto iOS devices.

To be clear, Nvidia actually announced its plans back in August, although at the time the goal was primarily to reach Google’s Chromebooks, which don’t really support any kind of native app store at all (Google announced earlier this year that what passed for apps on Chromebooks will be killed off entirely by 2022). However, the company clearly saw this as the first step toward a larger goal of embracing “all relevant connected devices in the future,” including PCs, smartphones, and tablets.

While GeForce Now isn’t able to stream to the iOS version of Google Chrome, since it doesn’t use the same browser engine on iOS, Nvidia is aiming to stream to any “WebRTC compliant browser,” which would include Safari on iOS, and it looks like it may finally be ready to put those plans into motion, even beating Microsoft to the punch with a Safari-capable version of GeForce Now arriving in time for the holiday season.

The news comes from BBC, whose sources indicate that Nvidia already has a working version of GeForce Now for mobile Safari, and although a formal announcement hasn’t come, those familiar with Nvidia’s plans are indicating that it’s expected to do so “before the winter holidays.”

Fortnite Sneaks Back In

Although GeForce Now coming to iOS would be a big deal in its own right, what makes this news particularly interesting is that Fortnite is available on that particular game streaming platform, meaning that chances are pretty good that Fortnite players would once again gain access to the game on their iPhones and iPads.

While the BBC notes that it’s entirely possible that Fortnite could be excluded from the list of games available in the Safari-based version of GeForce Now, if this were to happen it’s fairly unlikely that it would be at Apple’s request, since the iPhone maker has generally taken a hands-off approach to browser-based apps, and in fact actually makes a pretty big deal about the open web being kept open.

Further, Apple has repeatedly said that it would welcome Fortnite back to the App Store with open arms if Epic Games would simply remove its own in-app purchasing system and come back into compliance with the App Store’s rules. The fact that Epic has refused to do so leaves the ball entirely in its court, which is a large part of the reason why the judge in the case has not been favourable to Epic’s request, calling the game developer’s claimed injury as a problem of its own making.

In the case of GeForce Now, or other game streaming services, Apple doesn’t have any rules requiring in-app purchases to go through its system, nor does it really have any means to enforce this, so there’s no reason to assume that Epic wouldn’t be completely free to use its own purchasing system in the mobile Safari version of Fortnite, subject of course to whatever rules Nvidia has laid down for its GeForce Now gaming service.

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