Fortnite is returning to iOS devices, but not in the App Store. Instead, it will be playable through the Safari mobile browser using GeForce Now (opens in new tab), which is kicking off a closed beta test of the reworked mobile version of Fortnite next week.
Epic's mega-hit battle royale Fortnite hasn't been on the App Store since August 2020, when Apple removed it from the App Store (opens in new tab). That followed the launch of a direct payment system in Fortnite that bypassed Apple's own payment processing, and the 30 percent fee it charges. Epic promoted its internal payment system by offering Fortnite V-Bucks at a discount—but only if they were purchased directly.
That touched off a high-profile legal dispute (opens in new tab) between Epic and Apple that's still ongoing. Apple came out largely on top in the initial ruling, although Epic did win on one big point (opens in new tab): The court declared that Apple cannot prevent app developers from using their own "purchasing mechanisms" alongside Apple's own. But the judge also ruled that the App Store contract between Epic and Apple was valid and enforceable, and that Apple was within its rights to terminate the contract because Epic knowingly broke it—and when, after the ruling was made, Epic asked Apple to restore its developer account, Apple said no (opens in new tab).
It seemed that situation would hold for a long while. Apple said it wouldn't allow Fortnite to return to the App Store until all appeals in the case had been exhausted, a process that Epic CEO Tim Sweeney said could take as long as five years. But the addition of a mobile version of Fortnite, available through GeForce Now, opens the door to Epic and Fortnite fans—a crack, at least—by bypassing not just Apple's payment system, but the App Store entirely.
Importantly, this isn't just regular Fortnite blasted to your phone, but a "touch-friendly" version of the game developed by Nvidia and Epic. "While PC games in the GeForce Now library are best experienced on mobile with a gamepad, the introduction of touch controls built by the GeForce Now team offers more options for players, starting with Fortnite," Nvidia said.
"And we’re just getting started. Cloud-to-mobile gaming is a great opportunity for publishers to get their games into more gamers’ hands with touch-friendly versions of their games. PC games or game engines, like Unreal Engine 4, which support Windows touch events can easily enable mobile touch support on GeForce Now."
The initial closed beta test of Fortnite mobile on GeForce Now will kick off next week, and it will be open to everyone, although only a limited number of players will be admitted. You don't need a GeForce Now account to register for the beta (opens in new tab), but you will if you get in and actually want to play. Fortunately, either a free or Priority (paid) membership will do.
It'll be very interesting to see how Apple will respond to this maneuver. My guess is that it will do nothing: Legal standing aside, having to run Fortnite through GeForce Now is an added layer of complication that will likely put off gamers who aren't overly tech-savvy. Fortnite is also still absent from the App Store, and thus completely out of mind for a large portion of its potential audience. Committed Fortnite fans may be pleased to see it playable on their iPhones again (assuming the beta goes well) but I don't think it will significantly change the big picture for Epic.
I've reached out to Apple and Epic for comment, and will update if I receive a reply.