What Challenger Brands Can Learn from Fortnite’s Fight with Apple

Challenger Brand Fortnite faces off against incumbent Apple

Unless you’ve been living under a rock the last three years, there’s a good chance you’ve heard of Fortnite. Developed by Epic Games, it’s a video game that was catapulted to success for its free-to-play entry model, battle-royale experience, and approach to personalization and progression across all platforms and mobile devices. To put it into perspective it is, despite being free-to-play, one of the most successful games in the world, bringing in a huge $1.8bn in revenue in 2019 (SuperData).

In the last week however, Fortnite has sent shockwaves through the video game and technology sectors when, on Thursday August 13th, it became unavailable to download on mobile platforms. Both Apple and Google removed the game from their respective stores because of a violation of rules. More specifically, because Epic Games introduced a new, direct-purchase option on mobile devices that bypassed payment via Apple and Google’s stores. The company even offered a 20% discount to players who chose to purchase V-Bucks (the in-game currency) via this new, dedicated method instead of using Apple’s system (which comes complete with a commission charge of up to 30%).

What has ensued is the beginnings of a hefty legal battle, with both sides releasing statements, Epic suing Apple over the amount of control it has over their App Store and, most recently, Apple offering Epic Games a two week ultimatum: Stop breaking the rules or be cut off from from Mac and iOS development tools for good.

While it marks another punch in a long line of fistthrows from Epic Games towards the technology mega-brands, it also acts as a pivotal point and teaching tool for Challengers. Rather than sit back and let Apple’s fee structure drive their normal narrative and settle in the knowledge that this is the way it has to be, they chose to stand up and challenge the status quo.

Here’s why their approach was particularly powerful:

Fortnite took their fight to the streets.

On the same day the app was removed from the App Store, Epic Games launched their #FreeFortnite initiative, calling on their community of grassroot advocates – the players – to “join the fight against @appstore on social media”.

They leveraged the incumbent’s power to their advantage, in a style that stayed true to the brand.

As part of #FreeFortnite, Epic Games released a video parody of the iconic 1984 Apple ad in the signature Fortnite graphic style. Titled Nineteen Eighty-Fortnite, it takes a message originally intended to defy Microsoft but cleverly twists it so Epic Games can tell their own story of defiance.

Fortnite made their Challenger story press ready.

The press is often kind to Apple, not wanting to criticize the brand. By crafting their press release as a call-to-action made of actionable, press-ready quotes (like the one below), reporters can share the story without compromising their relationship with Apple.

“[Apple’s] rules are designed to cement their monopoly, to limit consumer choice, and to stifle competition in digital goods specifically,” the statement reads. “Apple doesn’t force customers to use their payment system to add 30% to the price of their dinner when they purchase a meal through Grubhub or DoorDash. Apple even allows Amazon Prime Video to process payments directly as a special deal while holding other apps to a different standard. So why do customers have to use Apple’s payment services and increase their prices to pay a 30% app tax for games such as Fortnite? There’s no good reason.”

They delivered more value to customers.

Alongside making a lot of noise, Epic has made their stance and approach to payments transparent. As well as outlining why they’re doing what they’re doing, they’ve backed it up with a clear, 20% discount on V-Bucks.

Only time will tell how this story develops, and it will be interesting to see which way it turns. That said, we believe Challengers should see this as a victory. You may not have the same resources or platform as Epic Games, but you do have the power to stand up to industry incumbents, and instigate change that matters.


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