On Monday, Fortnite publisher Epic Games will drag a tech giant into court, alleging that its mobile app store is an illegal monopoly. You may be feeling some déjà vu!
After all, didn’t Epic already go to trial with Apple, resulting in a ruling where Apple (mostly) won? Didn’t Epic fail to #FreeFortnite with its Llamacorn legal gambit? Didn’t that all happen years ago? What are we doing here again?
“With respect to Google’s desire to abandon a jury trial at this point... the request is denied.”
A jury will decide whether Google’s Android app store is an illegal monopoly in the Epic v. Google trial, starting Monday, November 6th.
The jury wasn’t on lock: when Match Group reached a surprise settlement with Google, leaving Epic to fight alone, Judge James Donato said he’d hear arguments for a bench trial instead. He heard them — but says no, Google already agreed to the jury trial.
Match Group and Google announced a settlement on Tuesday in Match’s lawsuit against the company. The last-minute decision leaves Google scheduled to go up against Fortnite publisher Epic Games alone in an antitrust trial that starts next week, with Epic alleging that Google Play’s payment policies are anticompetitive.
Match sued Google in May 2022, alleging the company “illegally monopolized the market” for app distribution with Google Play and imposed an “extortionate tax” with the fees it takes from transactions on the marketplace. Its claims dovetailed with an existing complaint from Epic as well as a coalition of state attorneys general. Google and the states announced their own settlement in September.
It’s been almost 10 months since a trial date was set in Epic’s antitrust lawsuit against Google, and with all of the other big tech cases going on right now, including Google’s other antitrust proceedings, you’d be forgiven for forgetting about this one. But believe it or not, the trial will start in less than a month, on November 6th, in the United States District Court in California’s Northern District.
The court released a tentative list of witnesses, mostly executives and leads from both companies, on Thursday. Epic listed 53 witnesses it either will or might call, including Google and Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai, Google and Alphabet CFO Ruth Porat, and Epic CEO Tim Sweeney.
Activision Blizzard and Riot Games at one point told Google they might launch their own mobile app stores, according to new documents filed in Epic’s antitrust lawsuit against the search giant. The details came to light as part of allegations about major deals signed with the two companies. Google allegedly agreed to pay Activision about $360 million over three years and Riot about $30 million for a one-year deal.
In one document, Google exec Karen Aviram Beatty is reporting back from a conversation with Activision Blizzard’s now-CFO Armin Zerza one month before the two companies signed the huge deal. “If this deal falls through, [Zerza] claims that they will launch their own mobile distribution platform (partnering with another “major mobile company” — presume Epic), double down with Amazon / Twitch (or MSFT) for Cloud / eSports [sic], and pull away from Stadia,” Beatty wrote (emphasis mine). While Zerza may have just been doing some hardline negotiating, Activision has not yet launched its own app store on mobile, so it seems the company was happy with how the deal eventually turned out.
Epic Games has filed a motion for a preliminary injunction to stop Google from removing independent music storefront Bandcamp from the Android app store — which Google has apparently threatened to do because Bandcamp is using its own billing system instead of paying Google an app store fee.
Bandcamp, which Epic acquired in March, has used its own billing system on Android since 2015, and was able to do so because of rules exempting digital music from having to use Google’s billing system, according to a blog post from Bandcamp co-founder and CEO Ethan Diamond. “However, Google is now modifying its rules to require Bandcamp (and other apps like it) to exclusively use Google Play Billing for payments for digital goods and services, and pay a revenue share to Google,” Diamond says.
Google announced on Wednesday that it would test letting Android developers use their own billing systems in their apps, the first step in what could lead to a dramatic reshaping of the app economy. However, Epic Games, which has been a strong proponent for opening app marketplaces and sued Google after the search giant removed Fortnite from Google Play for including direct payments, still isn’t happy. It plans to continue advocating for an app ecosystem that offers more choices, according to a statement the company shared with The Verge.
“Apple and Google continue to abuse their market power with policies that stifle innovation, inflate prices and reduce consumer choice,” Corie Wright, Epic’s VP of public policy, said in the statement. “One deal does not change the anticompetitive status quo. We will continue to fight for fair and open platforms for all developers and consumers and work with policymakers and regulators to hold these gatekeepers accountable for their anticompetitive conduct.”
Newly unredacted sections of Epic’s antitrust complaint against Google reveal new details on the lengths to which Google went to undermine third-party app stores on the Android platform. According to the new text, starting in 2019, Google ran a “Premier Device Program” that gave Android phone makers a greater share of search revenue than they would normally receive. In exchange, the OEMs agreed to ship their devices without any third-party app stores preinstalled. Specifically, they followed a rule that prohibited “apps with APK install privileges” without Google’s approval, leaving the Play Store as the only built-in digital marketplace for software.
As noted by Leah Nylen, products that qualified as a Premier Device would receive a 12 percent share of Google search revenue compared to the 8 percent they’d normally earn. Google sweetened the deal further for companies like LG and Motorola, offering them between 3 and 6 percent of what customers spent in the Google Play Store on their devices.
Google considered buying Epic Games as the companies sparred over Epic’s Fortnite Android app, according to newly unsealed court filings. Last night, Google lifted some of its redactions in Epic’s antitrust complaint against Google, which Epic amended and refiled last month. The complaint still omits many details about Google’s dealings with specific companies, but the new details reflect internal Google communications about competition on the Android platform.
Epic claims Google was threatened by its plans to sidestep Google’s official Play Store commission by distributing Fortnite through other channels, and in an unredacted segment, it quotes an internal Google document calling Epic’s plans a “contagion” threatening Google. Here’s Epic’s description of the situation:
Epic has renewed its fight against mobile platforms’ app store restrictions, filing an update to its antitrust case against Google. The filing adds mostly redacted details about Google’s alleged monopolistic behavior on Android, including banning Epic’s game Fortnite from the Google Play Store last year. The amended complaint comes soon after a judge officially linked the case with a recent multi-state lawsuit, which took aim at Google’s Play Store policies.
Epic’s complaint builds on information gleaned from government antitrust probes and documents produced since the original suit. One addition, for instance, includes details revealed last year about “the close relationship that Google maintains with Apple,” including an agreement to pay between $8 and $12 billion to be Apple’s default search provider. It also includes new information about Google’s supposed anti-competitive conduct, including its deals with phone makers and alternate app stores. Most of this information, however, has been sealed — leaving only hints about the claims that the case could hinge on.
On Wednesday, a coalition of state attorneys general launched a new antitrust lawsuit against Google, accusing the search giant of abusing its control of the Android app store, as reported by Bloomberg.
The lawsuit, filed by 36 states and Washington, DC, in California federal court, challenges Google’s policy forcing Google Play app developers to pay a 30 percent commission fee on sales made through the app. Google recently expanded the fees to cover more digital goods purchased on the Play Store, taking particular aim at a number of prominent apps that had previously been able to sidestep the tax. The full complaint, which you can view here or at the bottom of this article, lists the defendants as Google, Alphabet, and subsidiaries in Ireland and Asia.
If you weren’t watching tech news yesterday, you missed an entire afternoon’s worth of cramming handfuls of popcorn in your mouth as you stared wide-eyed at the screen wondering what madness was coming next. It was A Day. Epic baited both Apple and Google into banning Fortnite from their respective app stores and did so with a full game plan in mind — including an in-game anti-Apple video event and two very public lawsuits.
Beyond Epic, I have many tech topics to weigh in on from this week that I haven’t had a chance to tackle because I’ve been working on our review and video for the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra — hit me up if you have questions you’d like to see addressed in that.
Epic Games sued Google over pulling Fortnite from the Google Play Store Thursday evening, following a similar lawsuit against Apple.
We might have expected that. What we didn’t expect: Epic claims that Google forced phone manufacturer OnePlus to break off a deal that would have seen a special Fortnite launcher preinstalled on OnePlus phones — and demanded that another Android phonemaker, LG, abandon any plans to do the same.
Epic Games has released its battle royale hit Fortnite through the official Play Store on Android, 18 months after releasing the game as third-party software downloadable outside Google’s official mobile app marketplace. Epic says it’s doing so because Google puts third-party software at a disadvantage by warning users of potential security issues that may not exist and characterizing any software not issued through the Play Store as malware.
“After 18 months of operating Fortnite on Android outside of the Google Play Store, we’ve come to a basic realization,” reads Epic’s statement. “Google puts software downloadable outside of Google Play at a disadvantage, through technical and business measures such as scary, repetitive security pop-ups for downloaded and updated software, restrictive manufacturer and carrier agreements and dealings, Google public relations characterizing third party software sources as malware, and new efforts such as Google Play Protect to outright block software obtained outside the Google Play store.”
Google has publicly rebuffed game developer Epic over its reported attempt to distribute its popular battle royale hit Fortnite through the Play Store without paying the company’s standard 30 percent fee.
In a statement to The Verge, Google says the Android platform is dependent on the existing Play Store terms because that is how the company is able to reinvest in its platform to help it grow and to provide ample security measures.