Fortnite has been removed from the Apple App Store and Google Play Store. Apple and Google’s decisions to remove the gaming app from their digital storefronts seemed to come out of nowhere but this situation has actually been brewing behind the scenes for quite some time.
That would actually explain how Fortnite developer Epic Games could respond so quickly to Apple’s action, posting a video short titled “Nineteen Eighty Fortnite” which takes some…less than subtle jabs at the tech giant.
Yet, once you get past some of the video’s obvious visual gags, you’ll find that this short actually features quite a bit of commentary regarding the current situation. Let’s break down the origins of the video as well as what it all means.
What is the Fortnite 1984 Video?
Shortly after Apple publicly announced that it was removing Fortnite from the App Store, Epic posted the above video to various social media platforms and even aired it within Fortnite as part of a special screening event.
The video showcases various Fortnite characters watching in horror as a figure with an apple for a head (wink, wink) informs the hushed masses that today is a celebration of the anniversary of the “Platform Unification Directives.” The speech is interrupted by another Fortnite character (the only one portrayed in color) who rushes towards the screen, throws one of the game’s stylized pickaxes at it, and walks away as the following text is displayed:
“Epic Games has defied the App Store Monopoly. In retaliation, Apple is blocking Fortnite from a billion devices. Join the fight to stop 2020 from becoming ‘1984.’#FreeFortnite”
For those who don’t know, the Fortnite 1984 video is actually a parody of this Apple advertisement:
Apple aired the above commercial nationally for the first time during the 1984 Super Bowl. It was meant to be a shot at IBM who top Apple executives (including Steve Jobs) felt had a monopoly over the computer industry, leaving little room for reasonable competition. The style, message, and air date of the video were allusions to George Orwell’s 1949 novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, which portrayed a society oppressed by a totalitarian government that relied on tools such as mass surveillance and propaganda to control its people. The novel is the foundation of the idea of an “Orwellian” society.
The original Apple ad is considered to be one of the most monumental and memorable advertisements ever created. It’s been parodied numerous times by various companies, including Valve who used a version of it to promote Half-Life 2. At first glance, you may think that the Fortnite version of that advertisement is also just a winking parody of the ad. However, there’s actually a little more to it than that.
What Does the Fortnite 1984 Video Mean?
To understand the meaning of Fortnite‘s 1984 video, you first have to understand the conflict between Apple and Epic Games.
Basically, Epic recently pushed an update to the Android and iOS versions of Fortnite which allowed users to purchase in-game currency directly from Epic at a reduced price. Before that update, any in-game transactions made in the mobile versions of Fortnite were subject to the rules and regulations of the Apple and Google storefronts. For the purposes of our discussion, the most important of said rules and regulations involve the 30% fee that Apple and Google collect from most transactions made in apps that have been approved on the App Store and Play Store. They’ve both been especially adamant that the 30% fee should apply to gaming apps.
By attempting to circumvent that 30% fee, Apple and Google said that Epic Games was in violation of their respective policies. As such, they removed the Fortnite app from their official online stores and both stated that they hoped to resolve the issue with Epic Games in the near future.
What Epic is trying to say with the Fortnite 1984 video is that Apple has effectively created a bit of a monopoly for itself that is similar to the one that Apple once accused IBM of presiding over. In fact, in legal papers filed against Apple, Epic Games stated the following:
“Apple has become what it once railed against: the behemoth seeking to control markets, block competition, and stifle innovation.”
That last part is worth expanding on a bit. Recently, Apple stated that it would not approve the launch of Google’s Stadia app or Microsoft’s Project xCloud app on iOS platforms. Both apps in their previously planned forms would allow users to download games from outside of the Apple ecosystem. Apple says that would hinder the App Store’s goal to be a “safe and trusted place for customers to discover and download apps” but many have suggested that Apple is also upset that it won’t be able to take a cut of the games players purchase through those cloud services.
This issue is complicated by the fact that Apple has granted other companies exceptions to the 30% fee and the regulations and restrictions that go along with it in the past. For instance, Amazon’s Apple app lets you rent and buy videos directly from Amazon and not through the Apple App Store via the Apple payment program.
For what it’s worth, Epic’s case against Google seems to be based more on its worries that Google is becoming increasingly controlling of the Android marketplace through the use of programs designed to discourage the installation of certain third-party apps as well as impose restrictions (such as the ability to market on YouTube) on those who don’t host their apps on Google Play.
While the 30% fee (and the money Epic loses because of it) is certainly a big part of this story, Epic is also trying to say that by blocking services like xCloud and Stadia and by forcing smaller developers to pay Apple and work entirely within its economic and technological systems (while granting exceptions for certain larger companies) Apple simply has too much control. A similar argument led to the creation of the Epic Games Store which charges developers a much smaller fee to distribute games on the platform than competitors like Steam. There again, Epic Games felt that both the loss of revenue and alternatives would ultimately stifle innovation and create a monopolistic environment.
In short, it all goes back to the fact that Epic believes that Apple has become the company it once mocked in its own 1984 video which itself was intended to invoke the frightening imagery of Orwell’s 1984 novel and (let’s not forget) to sell some computers.
Is the Fortnite 1984 Video Accurate?
As a parody of the original Apple commercial, the Fortnite 1984 video is fairly accurate. The characters in the Fortnite crowd are more expressive, whereas the crowd in the Apple video was clearly desensitized, and some of the dialogue and shots have been changed, but the basic idea certainly seems to remain the same.
Thematically, the video has been somewhat controversial to say the very least. We don’t imagine that Orwell hoped that his work would eventually be used by rival multi-billion-dollar companies squabbling over percentages. For that matter, the original Apple ad was always somewhat questionable in regards to the accuracy of its 1984 comparisons even before Apple’s growth into one of the largest and most controlling tech companies in the world.
There’s also an issue with the years these ads were released. Apple’s use of the 1984 motif was somewhat easier to view as a parody (despite the very real anger at the heart of it) due to the fact that it aired in 1984 and was somewhat playfully saying “1984 doesn’t look like 1984…yet.” Epic Games asking people to “Join the fight to stop 2020 from becoming 1984” in relation to in-app transaction fees for a video game feels (at the very least) ill-advised when weighed against the scope of the social, health, and political crises that have turned 2020 into a hellscape. Millions of people are fighting for their rights, jobs, and health in the midst of historic tragedies. This wasn’t the best time for this, Epic.
In any case, this matter is far from resolved, and we’ll keep an eye on any updates regarding this battle of the billionaires.