Epic claims Google has paid Activision, other huge sums not to compete with the Play Store
Google has paid publishers not to compete with the Play Store, according to a new filing in Epic’s ongoing legal offensive. In an unredacted copy of Epic’s lawsuit against Google, the Fortnite maker claims that Google has paid off other companies investigating the possibility of launching an alternative app store. Epic calls this behavior anti-competitive, but naturally Google disagrees.
The unredacted documents discuss several instances of Google paying publishers as part of “Project Hug.” This initiative was mentioned in previous versions of the filing, but without much detail. The payments included cash for posting content on YouTube, which most brands do anyway, as well as credits for Google ads and cloud services. According to Reuters, Epic says Google paid $30 million to Riot Games, the maker of League of Legends, following news that the publisher was considering an internal app store. Activision Blizzard also saw a big payday when they considered their own mobile game store. Google agreed to work with the company and pay $360 million over three years.
Google says this is a mischaracterization of its activities, and these agreements to keep developers happy with its services are evidence of healthy competition. However, Google can’t deny that a major app store competitor on Android would eat into its bottom line. Google has consistently relied on device manufacturers to only bundle the Play Store, and their own analysis predicted billions in losses if the Play Store was no longer the dominant way to get apps on Android.
Epic’s lawsuit against Apple took center stage since its initial filing, but Fornite was kicked out of the Play Store just as quickly as it was from the App Store. Epic began its crusade against high developer fees in 2020, and there’s been some movement since then, with both Google and Apple lowering the traditional 30 percent cut they took for each sale. However, Epic largely lost the case against Apple, although there is still a minor case on appeal.
Apple and Google take very different approaches to managing apps on their respective mobile platforms. Apple locks down the iPhone, preventing anyone from installing apps outside the walled garden. Bypassing that limitation requires a “jailbreaking” hack, which is much harder to do these days. On Android, you can install apps outside of the Play Store (known as sideloading) by toggling a single setting. However, Epic claims that Google is still behaving in an anti-competitive manner by paying publishers not to launch alternative stores where people can get these apps.