Fortnite on Android: how it works and what it’s like to play | Computing

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During a presentation of Samsung's latest phones in New York on Thursday night, developer Epic Games made its blockbusting online shooter available to hundreds of millions more potential players.

The game is now available in beta form on devices, though for a couple of days it will be exclusive to Galaxy handsets – and anyone who buys a Galaxy Note 9 and Tab S4 will get access to an exclusive Galaxy skin for their character to wear. After the exclusivity period, owners of other handsets that meet the baseline technical requirements (available at Epic's Android FAQ), will be able to head to the Fortnite website and sign up for an invite.

Downloading (or “sideloading” to use the correct parlance) is straightforward, though with a 1.9gb file size, it is also time-consuming and may be unfamiliar for people who have never bought a game outside the Google Play store, where Fortnite is unavailable. You need to point your browser at Epic Games or go to the Galaxy store, and download the installer, which will require you to switch on the option to download apps from unknown sources.

You will need to download the Fortnite installer from either Epic Games or the Samsung store. This will give you access to the game file, and any future updates.

You will need to download the Fortnite installer from either Epic Games or the Samsung store. This will give you access to the game file, and any future updates. Photograph: Epic Games

This process works differently depending on what phone you have (and handsets running the newer Oreo OS have a more rigorous security system built in), but if you do make changes to get hold of the game, it is a good idea to go back and reverse them as soon as you have finished downloading, or you may leave yourself open to malicious software.

Once you are in, you will be able to access any Fortnite account you have already set up either on Epic Games or on PC, Xbox, Switch or PlayStation (if you do not have one already, you will need to sign up, which is free, but also time-consuming). The game works cross-platform (apart from with PlayStation) so you can, in theory, play on your Android phone against console gamers – though, considering the compromised control set-up, this is unlikely to end well.

Fortnite works the same way on Android as it does on iOS devices – through an initially confusing array of onscreen virtual controls. Movement is via a circular “joystick” in the bottom left, which works fine until you are in the heat of battle and forget exactly where it is in relation to your thumb, leaving your character stranded and vulnerable for a few precious milliseconds. There aresmaller icons for jumping, firing the gun and selecting an item, which are sensibly placed, but a bit fiddly for people with small displays and big digits.

Thankfully, there are lots of helpful aids for touchscreen users, including autorun and an autofire option, which will automtically trigger your current weapon if there is another player in your sights. You also get visual prompts if there is a treasure chest nearby, or if there are gunshots or footsteps in your vicinity, making up slightly for your comprised spatial movement.

The game runs smoothly on our test handset, a Galaxy S8, with no lag or juddering, even in the more demanding 50/50 mode where you have two giant teams fighting it out in the same area with a lot of onscreen shooting and explosions. Playing for an hour or so does drain the battery rather significantly though, and some users have reported issues with the handset heating up, which is not something we experienced.

Overall, it is the same experience as the iOS version, and as good as a mobile interpretation of a fast-paced PC and console shooter can get without support for a bluetooth controller (which is coming, according to Epic's chief executive, Tim Sweeney). While it was once rare to find thoughtfully designed mobile versions of big gaming hits, the market is changing.

A still from Fortnite

Fortnite uses virtual controls, which can be tricky on smaller displays. Photograph: Epic Games

“Recently, a number of console games have been redeveloped for mobile,” says Patrik Wilkens, vice-president of mobile at Spil Games. “Fortnite and PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds are seeing great success at the moment. Minecraft is a constant in the Google Play Store top paid apps, while games like Civilization VI, GTA: San Andreas and Final Fantasy Brave Exvius are doing well.”

“Porting to mobile opens up new audiences, even in markets where console versions of those games have been successful. Partly this is about reaching the device players have in their pockets. Partly it's about developers spreading risk by using multiple direct channels.”

The important test for the global success of Fortnite will be how well it runs on lower-end devices, which are more prevalent, especially in new gaming markets such as India, which is second only to China in terms of app downloads.

If it copes, Epic has got itself a very significant new platform. “While the Android market does not tend to monetise as well upfront as Apple, there are amazing examples of highly successful games,” says Oscar Clark, a mobile industry consultant at Fundamentally Games.

“It's already free-to-play, the value proposition is already understood by the audience and a lot of hardcore players are Android users. So it comes down to performance on lower end devices … if it works well across the range we might see Android revenues equalling or even exceeding iOS.”

Fortnite has been downloaded more than 125m times on its various platforms, but now Epic Games has estimated that the game is playable on about 250m current Android handsets. It seems we are only at the beginning of the Battle Royale phenomenon.

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