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The Week in Gaming: So what does Apple’s Fortnite battle royale mean for players?
Welcome to The Week in Gaming, the place where we pause each week to take a look at the video game news beats both big and small that you might be missing — while also taking a peek around the corner at what's ahead. Check in each Friday for news (and occasionally even views) on everything from sprawling RPGs to Metroidvania platformers to the latest in VR and free-to-play. We'll even throw in a good old-fashioned board game every now and then!
Who should get to keep the cash from all those V-Bucks Fortnite players blithely drop on in-game fun bits? For anyone who’s more interested in snagging a snazzy new weapon skin or radding out with the newest emote while dressed as Deadpool, it’s probably not much of a preoccupying question. But the answer will likely end up having long-term effects that players will definitely care about — especially if they’re dropping in on Fortnite on a mobile device.
In a sensational testing of corporate will that’s pitting Fortnite and Unreal Engine maker Epic Games against both Apple and Google, Epic is suing for the freedom to bypass Apple’s conventional 30-percent revenue haul from every dollar spent on in-game transactions. This week, both Apple and Google moved quickly to halt Epic’s newly-introduced workaround — one that would direct the moolah from in-game V-Bucks purchases straight to Epic instead of its Apple and Google apps hosts — by dropping the Fortnite app from their respective mobile storefronts.
Taking particular aim at Apple, Epic responded by filing an antitrust lawsuit that not only seeks to force Apple to reinstate the Fortnite app, but also to fully accommodate Epic’s demand to lock Apple out of its 30 percent share of in-game transactions. In theory, an Epic victory could open the floodgates for other iOS game publishers to begin profiting directly from V-Bucks-style microtransactions, and would certainly mark a fundamental shift in Apple’s tightly-curated iOS gaming ecosystem.
“Trolling” is probably too glib a word for Epic’s aggressive effort to win the casual public over to its side, but the company has hit social media hard and heavy, posting a satirical “Nineteen Eighty-Fortnite” short that riffs on Apple’s famous 1984 Super Bowl commercial (with Apple now in the role of Big Brother, and Fortnite the plucky revolutionary), and even promoting an Aug. 23 Fortnite tournament that dangles anti-Apple prizes as rewards.No matter how the conflict shakes out, the stakes appear potentially huge. Epic said this week that Apple followed up its Fortnite App store move by threatening to block Epic’s access to developer tools for iOS and Mac platforms unless the company complies with the store’s guidelines. If that happens, it could affect players in a big way, keeping Epic’s widely-used Unreal Engine development tool — already used to create everything from The Mandalorian to car commercials to the games themselves — from being a go-to source for future iOS games, including those targeted for the Apple Arcade service.
Epic is a highly-valued juggernaut of a gaming and tech company, but weighing its scale against that of Apple is definitely a David-versus-Goliath case of comparing Apples and oranges. Forbes reported in June that Epic was approaching an overall valuation of $17 billion, but that’s less than even a bite into Apple’s nation-sized $2 trillion market value. While each tech titan’s financial heft may not mean much in court, it could put Apple in a position to ride out the conflict if the lawsuit drags on, or doesn’t go Epic’s way.
Despite the broader possible effects of the Epic-Apple feud, Fortnite will be where the rubber meets the road for many players in the short term — and unless things are resolved and the Fortnite app is reinstated at the App Store, it means iOS players (as well as Android players, if Google also sticks to its guns) simply can’t play the game. When Epic releases future patches for Fortnite, iOS versions won’t be able to download them, and players simply won’t have access to new chapter updates, map changes, character skins, new weapons, or pretty much anything else…unless they switch to a different platform.
The next big date to watch for further developments is Aug. 28, which is Apple’s deadline for pulling development access for Unreal Engine if Epic doesn’t back down. In the meantime, you can peruse Epic’s lawsuit filing against Apple here, which pulls no punches in declaring how fundamental the company believes its position is to the future of gaming — as well as to Unreal Engine’s integral, industry-wide significance as a go-to creation tool for entertainment of all kinds.
The best of the rest
Call of Duty goes Cold — There’s plenty of mystery surrounding how the next Call of Duty game will fit into the franchise’s overall timeline, but there’s no guessing at its tone. Treyarch has dropped a psy-ops bomb of a trailer to tease the announcement of Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War, and it’s rife with Soviet-era newsreel footage and closed-circuit voyeurism into the USSR’s mission to subvert the United States from the inside.There’s no gameplay or even any cinematic story stuff here; it’s all real-world mind games on a national espionage scale. The speaker — reported by Polygon to be real-world KGB defector Yuri Bezmenov — sets the stage for what you’ll be up against in Cold War, and it sounds like what the post-WWII U.S. was up against before the Soviet regime finally imploded in 1991. “It takes from 15 to 20 years to demoralize a nation,” Bezmenov ominously intones, as the clip frames all the skulduggery around a real Soviet spy codenamed “Perseus” — a potentially apocryphal operator (and one who was never caught) assigned to infiltrate the Manhattan Project.
Defeating an enemy you can’t see has all sorts of interesting implications in one of the world’s most popular shooter franchises, and thankfully we don’t have a long wait until Treyarch and publisher Activision share much more. Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War is set for a worldwide reveal event on Aug. 26.
Nintendo Indies — We haven’t had a Nintendo Direct in a while that’s zeroed in on a big-name game like the upcoming Breath of the Wild Zelda sequel or an update on the long-awaited, freshly-rebooted 4th Metroid Prime game. But this week’s Direct gave us a ton of treats from the indie world, showcasing games that are either bound for the Switch sometime soon or, in typical Nintendo fashion, were ready to download only seconds after the showcase ended.
Perhaps the biggest games revealed to be making their way to the Switch were Hades (previously an Epic Store exclusive & coming to the Switch this fall) and Subnautica (as well as as the sequel Subnautica: Below Zero), both set to hit the Switch next year. Coming sooner is a honkin’ sweet update to Untitled Goose Game, which gave us a gander at an all-new second goose set to arrive as a free update on all platforms starting Sept. 23. Does that mean we've gotta start calling it Untitled Geese Game from now on? You can check out Nintendo's complete summary of all the Switch's incoming indie games here.
Batman, man of mystery — What is Warner Bros. Montreal teasing with all this stealthy cape-and-dagger Batman intrigue? With only a day to go until the studio presumably will pull the curtains back at DC FanDome to unveil everything it’s been hiding, it’s probably not worth diving too deep down the rabbit hole at this late hour to go spelunking in the Batcave for theories. But all this week, the developer’s social media channels have been rolling out a series of cryptic videos and viral links that heap new questions on the long-burning mystery.Fan speculation and some dedicated attempts at code cracking have Bat-fans assuming the next Batman game will have something to do with the Court of Owls, the shady Gotham manipulators introduced in writer Scott Snyder and artist Greg Capullo’s New 52 comics storyline. The same rumors also buzz the game’s possible title as Gotham Knights, though we’re happy to wait until Warner Bros. Montreal just reveals the game itself and replaces all the sneaky (but totally engrossing) imagery and connect-the-dots truth-scrambling (check the middle tweet above!) at its official website.
DC FanDome kicks off Saturday, Aug. 22, with the studio’s online announcement set to arrive sometime around midday EST. ’Til then, have fun trying to put the pieces together — but keep an eye on the skies for the real Bat-Signal.
- Minecraft is blocking out a crossover made in prehistoric paradise: a new Jurassic World DLC expansion that puts you in charge of taming the dinosaurs…hopefully with more success than John Hammond had the first time around. Available on Minecraft Marketplace, the update lets you “[m]anage the dinosaur resort of your dreams,” turning players loose to build exhibits, set off on dino DNA-hunting expeditions, and even train the reptilian giants themselves. There’re 60 beasts in all to wrangle, so head over to Minecraft Marketplace and craft your own dinosaur-themed success story.
- If you love FromSoftware’s Souls series but have a demon of a time investing so much heart and, well, soul into besting all those notoriously difficult bosses, a new game from developer Cold Symmetry and publisher Playstack may have found the sweet spot between easy victory and controller-throwing defeat. Mortal Shell released this week to largely favorable acclaim, with reviewers saying the Souls-inspired action-RPG will definitely test your skill — but with a more streamlined and accessible, pick-up-and-play presentation. Check out the moody trailer and take your best stab: Mortal Shell is out now for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC.
- League of Legends is an esports mainstay, but the upcoming Red Bull Solo Q tournament is throwing a wrinkle into the typical 5v5 format by pitting individual players against one another in 1v1 duels. Set to kick off Aug. 30 with a first qualifying round, Solo Q is also getting wings with a special crossover that puts an unlock code on select Red Bull cans, redeemable online to open “an additional path” into the event, as well as a unique Summoner. Additional qualifying dates open up on Sept. 20, Oct. 4, and Oct. 18, with registration (here’s the link) for the Aug. 30 competition opening up 48 hours ahead of time.
- Fresh off consolidating its EA Access and Origin Access streaming services under a single new banner, the newly-christened EA Play subscription service is about to make its big debut at Steam. “The ultimate game destination for anyone who loves EA games” including everything from Star Wars Battlefront II to The Sims to Mass Effect and Need for Speed, the platform changes nothing about the exclusive challenges, rewards, game discounts, early access, and other bells and whistles that current members are used to. EA Play’s Steam launch is set for Aug. 31, so check out EA’s full rundown and FAQ for all the benefits and pricing over at the announcement’s landing page.
- Square Enix and developer People Can Fly have set Aug. 25 as the debut of the third episode in the Outriders Broadcast series of webisodes teasing new info for the upcoming sci-fi game. “Players will learn more about the devastating powers, deep class customization systems, and challenging journey that awaits them in the highly anticipated upcoming RPG-Shooter,” says Square Enix, so mark your calendars now for a fresh batch of Outriders info next week.
- Larian Studios has revealed Baldur’s Gate 3 will hit early access for Steam and Google Stadia beginning on Sept. 30. The first foray into the Dungeons & Dragons-inspired world will let players wend their way through a development version of the game’s opening act, as the studio revealed during its recent "Panel From Hell" presentation. So far, Baldur’s Gate 3 has only been announced for Stadia and PC, though Larian hasn’t said it won’t eye a release for consoles sometime in the future.
- Days after showing off new details for Deathloop, the upcoming time-trapped assassin’s standoff from Bethesda and Dishonored developer Arkane Studios, Arkane has announced it’s delaying the timed PS5 exclusive from this holiday season until the second quarter of 2021. As is the case for tons of movies and games this summer, the coronavirus pandemic is partially to blame. “As we’ve adjusted to work-from-home, we found that delivering this new and exciting experience, at the polish and quality level that defines both an Arkane game and a true next-gen experience, is taking longer than usual,” the studio tweeted.
- Sony is slashing the prices on a handful of PlayStation 4 games through Sept. 3, running an under-$20 sale on titles like Skyrim, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, Dark Souls Remastered, Devil May Cry 5, and The Division 2 — all of which ring in at $20 or — in the case of Batman: Arkham Knight at just $5 — much less. Check out the full lineup over at the PlayStation Store.
- What’s better than sneaking around in Luigi’s Mansion? Picking up Luigi’s Mansion 3 at a reduced price for the Nintendo Switch. For a limited time, the Mario maker is running a pretty sweet sale on select titles at the Nintendo eShop — including deeply discounted bargains like Diablo III: Eternal Collection for $29.99 and Star Wars Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy for $9.99. Nintendo doesn’t discount its games often, so make like Mario and bop on over to the online storefront to round out your Switch’s gaming library.