Fortnite Skipping Google Play to The Detriment of User Security

Epic is skipping Google’s Android app store (the advertising publisher calls it Google Play as if that meant anything) for their upcoming Android version of the free-to-play Fortnite (which is already on iOS and almost every gaming and computing platform.) There’s a beta signup here and the compatibility situation on Android is already a nightmare, check out the list of supported devices. It is extremely specific and the few Android devices I have aren’t supported.

Epic’s Tim Sweeney was pretty straightforward about why they’re avoiding Google’s app store in this interview with Dean Takahashi:

There’s typically a 30/70 split, and from the 70 percent, the developer pays all the costs of developing the game, operating it, marketing it, acquiring users and everything else. For most developers that eats up the majority of their revenue. We’re trying to make our software available to users in as economically efficient a way as possible. That means distributing the software directly to them, taking payment through Mastercard, Visa, Paypal, and other options, and not having a store take 30 percent.

I’m not sure how well this is going to work out for people playing Fortnite. Google’s app store security is awful and routinely distributes software that compromises user privacy and security already, but at least they can moderate that. To get started with Fortnite on Android users are going to have to disable built-in security functionality that disallows third-party apps. Sideloading applications is useful and should be possible on any computer we use, but there are going to be negative consequences for users who don’t fully understand the risks involved.

Parents and tech savvy folks helping their friends and family are going to be busy when they realize their devices are compromised by installing a phony version of Fortnite, or a version that works but steals their credit card data. Try searching your favorite web search engine for the premium currency in the game, “Fortnite Free V-Bucks”, those scammers are oiled up and ready for anyone who falls into their trap.

Julia Alexander investigated the versions of these “V-Buck” scams that run on YouTube:

Since Fortnite’s meteoric rise, there have been multiple YouTube videos running as ads that pitch Fortnite players easy ways to get free V-Bucks. (V-Bucks are Fortnite’s premium in-game currency, which lets them purchase limited-edition skins, gear and weapons.) Search “free V-Bucks” in YouTube’s search bar, and more than 4.3 million results will populate.

PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds Out on iOS and Android

I've never been more excited to get pants on.

You can call it PUBG, you can call it plunkbat, but the mobile version of PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds is out on iOS and Android. Now we know what you’re paying for when you buy the $30 Windows version on Steam, pants, and a shirt and shoes. This free-to-play-as-heck mobile PUBG doesn’t include any of those to start, you’re going to have to find them in the game or in the exploitative loot boxes you get for playing it. At least if you don’t want to be an exhibitionist non-conformer, which if you do, go right ahead.

I’ve played one match and it was perfectly cromulent PUBGeeing, players are still getting used to the controls so I managed to get four small victories before losing in 16th place.

It’s out for free now on Android and iOS, it doesn’t cross-play with the Windows version at all.

Free Player Data

TouchArcade’s Eli Hodapp has an anonymously sourced article from a free-to-play game developer:

You might not use Facebook, but your connections give you away. If you play with friends, or you have a significant other who plays, we can see the same IP address, and learn who you are playing with. When we don’t know information, we try to gather it in a game. Have you played a game with different country flags? We use those to not only appeal to your nationalistic pride, but to figure out where you are (or where you identify). Your IP address says you are in America, but you buy virtual items featuring the flag of another country, we can start to figure out if you are on vacation, or immigrated. Perhaps English is not your first language. We use all of this to send you personalized Push Notifications, and show you store specials and items we think you will want.

And if you are a whale, we take Facebook stalking to a whole new level. You spend enough money, we will friend you. Not officially, but with a fake account. Maybe it’s a hot girl who shows too much cleavage? That’s us. We learned as much before friending you, but once you let us in, we have the keys to the kingdom. We will use everything to figure out how to sell to you. I remember we had a whale in one game that loved American Football despite living in Saudi Arabia. We built several custom virtual items in both his favorite team colors and their opponents, just to sell to this one guy. You better believe he bought them. And these are just vanity items. We will flat out adjust a game to make it behave just like it did last time the person bought IAP. Was a level too hard? Well now they are all that same difficulty.

I’ve seen plenty of bad things in free-to-play games to anecdotally support the anonymous developer in the article above. For example, players earning premium in-game currency through offers that require their social security number and other extremely personal information that nobody should be asking for. The analytics function to dehumanize people playing the game, remove any chance the game had at being legitimately enjoyable without spending more and more money, and churn through players and their cash until the game is no longer profitable for the developer to operate. At this point it will be shut down as ungracefully as possible in order to move players on to the next game and the cycle repeats.