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Nvidia to Bring 'Fortnite' Back to iPhones Amid Epic's App Store Fight

11/19/2020 | 03:55pm

By Sarah E. Needleman

Epic Games Inc. and other developers battling Apple Inc. over its App Store controls are getting an ally in Nvidia Corp., as the graphics-chip company said it is expanding a service that would let users play games including "Fortnite" on their iPhones.

Nvidia on Thursday launched a test version of its GeForce Now platform on Apple's iOS mobile operating system. It lets people play games through their Safari browsers, rather than through apps.

The chip maker said hundreds of games are available, though these don't yet include Epic's popular "Fortnite," whose app version Apple blocked from its App Store in August as part of a legal battle with Epic.

Alphabet Inc.'s Google also booted the game from its app marketplace. Apple and Google said Epic violated their rules by adding an unapproved payment system to "Fortnite" that circumvented the 30% commission they collect on in-app purchases.

Apple and Nvidia have had a long, though mixed, relationship. Apple has moved mostly to using graphics-chip units, Nvidia's specialty, from rival Advanced Micro Devices Inc. But the relationship would fundamentally change if Nvidia's $40 billion plan to buy British chip designer Arm Holdings wins regulatory approval. Apple uses Arm-based chips in its smartphones and laptops.

Apple didn't immediately respond to a request for comment. Its App Store guidelines include limitations for game-streaming apps that companies such as Facebook Inc. and Microsoft Corp. have criticized. Apple's guidelines allow iOS users to stream games outside of the App Store via the internet and web-browser apps.

Apple's App Store policies have drawn regulatory scrutiny. The European Commission this year opened two antitrust probes to determine whether Apple violated competition laws with its App Store and Apple Pay service. And in October, a House subcommittee accused Apple of wielding anticompetitive power that harms rivals and benefits itself. In particular, the subcommittee report questioned the size of the App Store fee. The Cupertino, Calif.-based company said this week that it would halve the commission it charges smaller developers that sell software through its App Store in a partial concession in its battle with critics over how it wields power over the system.

With GeForce Now's new Safari option, subscribers can stream games directly over the internet from the Apple browser on iOS devices. But players are limited in that it doesn't support keyboard and mouse-only games because of platform restraints.

The appeal of game streaming, also called cloud gaming, is that users don't need to download games to their devices, which takes up memory. They can stream games from any internet-connected device, eliminating the need to spend hundreds of dollars on dedicated hardware such as consoles. But the nascent technology poses challenges for companies to execute smoothly, as games need to support multiple players with minimal delay regardless of their location.

Nvidia said it was working with Epic Games, which has been among the most vocal critics of Apple's app store policy, on an optimal way to play "Fortnite" over a browser while on a mobile device. That is delaying the game's availability, though Nvidia said it was "coming soon."

Nvidia said it added GeForce Now to Google's Chrome browsers on Chromebooks in August and is working to expand it to more Chrome platforms early next year. Previously, the service was only available as an app for computers, Android devices and the company's Nvidia Shield, a media player similar to Apple TV and Amazon.com's Inc. Fire TV Stick.

GeForce Now, which exited its broader test status earlier this year, has grown to more than five million free and paid subscribers who can access more than 750 games.

Several other tech giants have moved into cloud gaming in the past year, including Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft and Google. In addition, Sony Corp. has offered it for several years through the PlayStation Now service on its consoles.

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

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

11-19-20 1554ET

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