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Fortnite Bypassing Google Play Store is a Good And Bad Thing

When the hottest game of the year arrives on Android in a few weeks, you’ll have to skip the Play Store to download it. And that can be a potentially slippery slope.

Vishal Mathur | News18.com@vishalmathur85

Updated:August 6, 2018, 9:39 AM IST
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Fortnite Bypassing Google Play Store is a Good And Bad Thing
When the hottest game of the year arrives on Android in a few weeks, you’ll have to skip the Play Store to download it. And that can be a potentially slippery slope.
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The Fortnite game is a decisively a global phenomenon now. Much like Pokemon Go before it, for example. According to numbers shared by research firm SuperData Research in May this year, Fortnite had generated $296 million in the month of April across mobile, console, and PC platforms. It is also estimated that Fortnite will make as much as $2 billion in revenue this year, for developer Epic Games. Now that is, a lot of money.

Till now, if you wanted to Fortnite on a mobile device, it is available only for the Apple iPhone. After a significant wait, the game will finally be arriving on Android devices as well. But not exactly how you may have imagined. Epic Games has confirmed that it’ll bypass the Google Play Store to serve you the game. Epic CEO Tim Sweeny said in a tweet posted over the weekend, “Everyone active in the Android ecosystem, including Google, manufacturers, carriers, and now Epic Games, will need to work together to maximize the security of Android as an open platform. We recognize we're taking on a big responsibility here and take it seriously.”

For all the trumpeting of being an open platform, Google also takes a 30 percent cut from all in-app purchases made via the Play Store on Google devices. This isn’t entirely dissimilar from what Apple does. In-app purchases are now very common in otherwise free to download apps, and remain a solid source of revenue for developers. The motivation clearly is to not share the cut with Google.

So, what does Epic Games suggest? You will be able to download the game directly from Epic Games, and install it on your phone. However, it will not be this simple. The process is known as “sideloading”—and this is generally not recommended for most users, unless you really know what you are doing and what the source of the app that you are sideloading is. The security risk is that when you install apps bypassing the Play Store, you also bypass Google’s security checks.

On most Android phones, you’ll need to head into Settings and enable Unknown Sources. If your phone runs Android Oreo 8.0 or 8.1 version, you’ll not need to enable Unknown Sources—and also take advantage of the newest security updates. However, Google’s latest numbers show that only 12.1 percent of all Android devices globally run the newest Android, almost an year since it became available. As of earlier this year, there were already 2.3 billion Android phones in use. The Android fragmentation issue will become important here.

The fallout of this could point us in a completely different direction. If Fortnite sees even a fraction of the success on Android as it did on iOS, developers and consumers will surely take notice of the new prioritization of security. And that could impact Google’s moral high ground when it comes to the Play Store, the apps and the cut from the in-app purchases.

The flipside is that to prove a point, and to show Google they aren’t the boss, Epic Games is putting your phone and your data at risk, potentially. "30 percent is disproportionate to the cost of the services these stores perform, such as payment processing, download bandwidth, and customer service," Sweeney has said publicly. However, the same protests weren’t aimed at Apple, considering any in-app purchases on the App Store on iOS devices also attract a 30 percent cut.

Another important factor to consider is that the largest demographic of potential downloaders of Fortnite will be children. For all the calls for being responsible while downloading new software and double checking for verified sources, chances are, children will not be. In June this year, security firm Malwarebytes blew the lid on the fake Fortnite apps being shared as links in YouTube videos, by the millions. "It's so realistic that some may recognise it from the Apple iOS version. By stealing the icon directly from Apple, how could it not look real?" said Malwarebytes in an official statement. In fact, the fake app redirects users to a web page on the web browser in the phone, making them download a number of apps simultaneously in order to enable the supposed gameplay for the Fortnite app that they are downloading. The malware gets easy access to your device, and therefore your data.

The reality is, Epic Games cannot and will not be held responsible if you happen to download a fake Fortnite app on your Android phone, just because the app icon and the website seemed real. And that is how scams begin.

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