Saturday, December 14, 2019

‘Fortnite’ developer Epic pushes popular game with payment system that would cut out Google

The creator of “Fortnite” is challenging Google’s policy of taking a cut of payments made for app-related purchases at a time when regulators have started scrutinizing those kind of arrangements between tech companies and their vendors.

Epic Games Inc. is asking Google GOOG, -0.18% GOOGL, -0.12%  to release in its app store a version of “Fortnite” with a built-in payment system that allows the developer to keep all in-game revenue. Google, a unit of Alphabet Inc., currently takes a 30% cut for the kind of in-game purchases players make on games downloaded via its app store.

Epic’s move effectively puts Google in the uncomfortable position of having to either approve the game and forgo a lucrative revenue stream or potentially provide antitrust regulators with evidence it may be unduly pressuring smaller companies.

“We believe this form of tying of a mandatory payment service with a 30% fee is illegal in the case of a distribution platform with over 50% market share,” Epic Chief Executive Tim Sweeney said in a statement. “Epic doesn’t seek a special exception for ourselves; rather we expect to see a general change to smartphone industry practices in this regard.”

“Fortnite” is free to play and sells virtual currency for real money that users can spend on in-game perks such as avatar costumes and dance moves.

An expanded version of this report appears on WSJ.com.

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Epic Games Asks Court to Declare 'Fortnite' Dancing Pumpkin Doesn't Infringe on Viral Character

Fortnite maker Epic Games is asking a New York federal judge to declare that its dancing pumpkin feature doesn't infringe on the copyright or trademark rights in a former Omaha news anchor's "Dancing Pumpkin Man" character.

The popular game's Fortnitemares edition offered a "Pump It Up" feature that gave a player's character a pumpkin head. Matthew Geiler, through his company Sick Picnic Media, sent Epic a cease and desist claiming the company was using his character's likeness without permission and threatened to sue. Further complicating the situation: the parties entered into a licensing deal over the choreography from Geiler's viral video. (More on that below.) Epic on Friday fired first, asking the court to clear up the controversy.

Fortnite includes features called "emotes" that allow a player "to express his or her emotions in the game or to taunt other players" using short, preprogrammed movements, according to Epic's complaint. 

Here's an example of the emote at issue from the complaint:

a group of people posing for the camera © Provided by The Hollywood Reporter

Kirkland & Ellis

Epic's attorney Dale Cendali describes in the filing how it works. "In the Pump It Up Emote, the avatar performs a brief dance to a Halloween-themed song developed by Epic Games while the head of whatever avatar the player has selected is transformed into a jack-o'-lantern face designed by Epic Games," she writes. "The jack-o'-lantern face has moving green flames pouring from the eyes, nose and mouth, a broad, grinning mouth, a long, prominent stem that curves, and dark striations delineating the segments of the pumpkin giving it a yellow-and-orange design. The Pump It Up Emote can be performed by any avatar in the game, including fantastically dressed male avatars, female avatars, and avatars of other species."

Cendali argues there's no similarity to the video in which "Geiler is dressed in a plain black unitard he did not make, wearing as a mask a jack-o'-lantern decoration he did not create, dancing to a song he did not write in front of a static, generic graveyard image." She also argues that, even if there were similarity, Geiler's creation doesn't have the level of specificity required to garner copyright protection. (A long list of famous pumpkin-headed characters is included.) On the trademark front, Cendali argues that Geiler has no trademark rights in his character because it's not used in commerce to identify the source or origin of a product or service. 

Further, Epic argues, Geiler licensed the choreography to the game maker in August in exchange for $10,000. (Read the agreement here.) Epic is asking the court to enter a declaratory judgement of non-infringement and award attorneys' fees and costs. 

This isn't the first time Epic has been in court over an emote based on a viral video. Both Backpack Kid and Orange Shirt Kid, as well as Fresh Prince star Alfonso Ribeiro and rapper 2 Milly, previously filed and withdrew complaints. 

Geiler has not yet responded to a request for comment on the complaint. Both the filing and the "Dancing Pumpkin Man" video are posted below.

Friday, December 13, 2019

Fortnite Star Wars event: How to watch 'Rise of Skywalker' scene at Risky Reels

There were rumors of a Fortnite event happening at Risky Reels, and now we know what it is. Epic Games has teamed up with Star Wars to show an exclusive scene from the upcoming "Rise of Skywalker" movie, set to release in theaters on Dec. 20.

Players in-game can currently see a teaser for "Rise of Skywalker" on the Risky Reels movie screen. It opens up with a video that says "This footage has been rated F for Fortnite" followed by all of the details you need to know about the event.

Fortnite Star Wars event details https://images.daznservices.com/di/library/sporting_news/4c/f1/fortnite-star-wars-event-details_bvewqx2f5nvf1b6i909l2up9m.png?t=-518547906&w=500&quality=80

The phrasing of the posters you can see around the map indicate this is not a full blown trailer for the movie. Instead, it will show a scene from the movie that has not yet been released to the public.

How to watch the Star Wars event in Fortnite

Epic Games hasn't released a ton of details about how the event will unfold. All we know is it will start on December 14th with the doors opening at 1:30 p.m. ET and the show starting at 2:00 p.m. ET. It's not clear what will happen between that half hour, but it seems like you'll need to get in a game at some point during that time frame.

We assume the game will go into a mode where you are unable to fight others, like what we've seen in previous events. What's not clear is whether you actually need to be near Risky Reels in order to view the trailer. Because if that's the case, then that will be one very busy location.

In previous events, Risky Reels has displayed videos on its screen. But it looks like Fortnite made some changes to the location, and it now shows a large projector.

This is likely to help people from further away be able to see the scene.

What is happening at the Star Wars event?

This won't be a trailer for the new movie, but rather a previously unreleased scene from "Rise of Skywalker." The posters also mention "with J.J. Abrams," who is the director of the film. While information is limited, it seems as if he'll have a role in this event as well.

In addition to releasing a trailer, people who participate will be eligible for a special edition Star Wars glider.

Fortnite has previously released other Star Wars items including a Rey, Finn and Sith trooper skins. Also available are a Star Wars emote and banner. 

‘Fortnite’ Developer Challenges Google Over App-Store Fees

The creator of "Fortnite" is challenging Google's policy of taking a cut of payments made for app-related purchases at a time when regulators have started scrutinizing those kind of arrangements between tech companies and their vendors.

Epic Games Inc. is asking Google to release in its app store a version of "Fortnite" with a built-in payment system that allows the developer to keep all in-game revenue. Google, a unit of Alphabet Inc., GOOG 0.39% currently takes a 30% cut for the kind of in-game purchases players make on games downloaded via its app store.

Epic's move effectively puts Google in the uncomfortable position of having to either approve the game and forgo a lucrative revenue stream or potentially provide antitrust regulators with evidence it may be unduly pressuring smaller companies.

"We believe this form of tying of a mandatory payment service with a 30% fee is illegal in the case of a distribution platform with over 50% market share," Epic Chief Executive Tim Sweeney said in a statement. "Epic doesn't seek a special exception for ourselves; rather we expect to see a general change to smartphone industry practices in this regard."

"Fortnite" is free to play and sells virtual currency for real money that users can spend on in-game perks such as avatar costumes and dance moves.

The shooter game has been accessible on mobile devices running Google's Android operating system since last year, though only by downloading it from Epic's website. Now the game maker wants to distribute the free game also via Google's app store, called Google Play, which could help broaden its reach. That is where Google then takes a 30% cut on sales.

"Google Play has a business model and billing policy that allow us to invest in our platform and tools to help developers build successful businesses while keeping users safe," Google said in a statement. It said it expected companies that want to distribute their apps through its channel to "participate under the same terms as other developers," adding they can also distribute their game to Android users without going through Google's channel.

Google and Apple Inc., which also charges app developers to distribute their software, account for the overwhelming majority of sales generated from download fees and in-app purchases. Legislators are investigating whether the companies are stifling competition and making it too challenging for developers to profit off their apps.

Other companies have fought back or sought ways around Google and Apple's app-store fees. In March Spotify Technology SA filed an antitrust complaint against Apple in Europe, in which the streaming-music company accused Apple of abusing its app store to limit competition against its own Apple Music. Spotify claimed that Apple makes it difficult for rival subscription services to market themselves to users without using Apple's payment system.

Apple defended its practice of taking a 30% cut of sales through its App Store in response to Spotify's criticism. It has said it is entitled to take a share of app sales because it built the store and employs staf f who review thousands of apps for compliance with rules around privacy and content.

The tension came as U.S. regulators have been stepping up their investigations of whether some of the biggest tech companies are abusing their market position.

Google's app store policy also is under scrutiny overseas. Disconnect Inc., another app developer, this year complained to European regulators that Google was abusing its market position. Google has called the complaint "baseless."

"Fortnite" also is available on Apple devices. Apple, which only allows distribution through its App Store, gets a 30% cut from Epic.

Apple has generated $15.3 billion in app store revenue this year, while Google has collected $8.3 billion, according to estimates from app-analytics firm Sensor Tower Inc.

"Fortnite" has been one of the most popular games on the videogame market in the past two years.  Epic, in March, said the game had 250 million players. Nielsen� �s SuperData in June said the game generated $3.9 billion in estimated lifetime revenue. "Fortnite" launched in mid-2017.

Epic formally submitted "Fortnite" to Google for release this week. Apps from developers that are new to Google Play, such as Epic, typically must wait up to seven days to get a signoff from Google.

Epic has sparred with Google before. When "Fortnite" came to Android devices last year, Google researchers found a security hole in the app developers software that left users' phones vulnerable to hackers. Google publicly disclosed the flaw even though Epic asked it to wait until the software had been patched.

Last year, Epic set up a rival game-download store. It collects just 12% of sales from developers, who also have the option of using their own payment system.

Mr. Sweeney, in a June interview with the Journal, said that revenue-sharing arrangement still leaves Epic with a decent profit margin. Google and Apple, with the ir stores each taking a 30% cut, are "making more profit than most developers themselves make," he added.

Write to Sarah E. Needleman at sarah.needleman@wsj.com

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Thursday, December 12, 2019

Fortnite update add split-screen for couch co-op on PS4, Xbox One

Fortnite

Grab a partner and a couch to win that Victory Royale. 

Epic Games

Fortnite's latest update adds a new feature to make playing with a friend a little easier. Now two people can play the popular battle royale game together on a couch. 

Update 11.30 on Thursday added a split-screen option for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One players. Two people can now share the same screen while playing during a Duos or Squads match. Developer Epic Games says the feature is a work in progress and asks players to report any bugs via the in-game Feedback tool. 

Thursday's update also began setting up the map for the upcoming holiday event. The island now has snow everywhere and a few other changes, such as winter houses and Christmas decorations. 

Epic has yet to provide a start time for the holiday event, but it could be mentioned Thursday night during The Game Awards or on Saturday when never-before-seen footage of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is scheduled to be shown in Risky Reels. 

Leaks Suggest Fortnite Is Adding An Annual Battle Pass

New leaks suggest Epic Games is planning to shake up Fortnite's traditional Battle Pass structure by introducing an all-new, all-encompassing Annual Pass.

Fornite patch version v11.30 rolled out across all platforms today, and Fortnite News has discovered files hidden within the latest update that refer to a "2020 Annual Pass." The year-long commitment grants access to all 2020 Battle Passes plus seven exclusive cosmetics, and also comes with the more expensive Battle Pass "Battle Bundle" versions, which instantly unlock 25% of the content in each Battle Pass as soon as they release.

There's no sign of a release date for the Annual Pass, nor any details on pricing. With Christmas coming up, it would make sense for Epic to launch it in time to fill digital stockings with the gift of a year's worth of Fortnite. We may know more concrete details tonight as a Fortnite announcement is expected to take place at The Game Awards. The annual show is set to kick off at 5:30 PM PT / 7:30 PM CST / 8:30 PM ET on December 12 (and 1:30 AM GMT on December 13) and can be streamed here on GameSpot and on Mixer, Twitch, YouTube, and elsewhere.

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    Wednesday, December 11, 2019

    Fortnite--Epic Games Is In Court After Paying $10k For Dance Routine

    Fortnite is full of dance moves and costumes based on memes and properties, but every now and then developer Epic Games runs into trouble when content in their game is accused of being taken from elsewhere. In court documents obtained by The Hollywood Reporter, details have emerged of a new legal scandal involving one of the game's dance moves and a pumpkin head costume.

    The strange detail here, though, is that Epic actually bought the rights to the dance--but they've been accused of copyright infringement over the effect of pairing the dance with certain costume elements. Furthermore, Epic Games are actually the plantiffs in this case, seeking to have the court declare that they are not committing infringement.

    Matthew Geiler, who responded to the lawsuit through his company Sick Picnic Media, sold Epic Games the rights to the dance in the video below for $10,000. Geiler believes that Epic Games is using his likeness without permission, though, as the Halloween 'Fortnitemares' event allowed the player to dress their character up in a pumpkin head and performing the dance with it on.

    The argument put forward by Epic Games' lawyer, Dale Cendali, is that there are no similarities between the jack-o-lantern costume available to players and Geiler's own, and that the concept of a person with a carved pumpkin for a face did not originate with Geiler, and is essentially public domain. Because of this, the elements of Geiler's video beyond the dance do not warrant copyright protection.

    Epic Games has good reason to be careful, as they've been sued before over dance routines. Suits were filed by "Backpack Kid" and Alfonso Ribeiro, among others. All of these suits were eventually dropped. Epic Games seeks a judgment of non-infringement plus legal costs. You can view the full lawsuit filing in The Hollywood Reporter's original article.

    A special Fortnite announcement is anticipated during this week's Game Awards.