That wasn’t very non-monopolistic of you, Google.
While Epic Games’ continuing fight with Apple is well-documented, the company is now embroiled in an antitrust lawsuit against Google over the removal of Fortnite from the Play Store. According to newly published court records, Google considered simply buying out the company to avoid legal action at some point.
In the documents, Epic claims that Google was afraid of Epic’s moves to dodge the 30% commission charged on payments through Google Play and offer Fortnite (and its very lucrative associated microtransactions) directly, quoting an internal document describing Epic’s plans as a “contagion” that could spread to other developers and platforms. In Epic’s own words:
Google has gone so far as to share its monopoly profits with business partners to secure their agreement to fence out competition, has developed a series of internal projects to address the “contagion” it perceived from efforts by Epic and others to offer consumers and developers competitive alternatives, and has even contemplated buying some or all of Epic to squelch this threat.
It’s unclear when these discussions took place, given the documents only feature Epic quoting internal messages second-hand, and Epic CEO Tim Sweeney stated that Google had never sought out to Epic with these discussions – in fact, Epic were unaware of them.
Whether this would have been a negotiation to buy Epic or some sort of hostile takeover attempt is unclear.
Here Google also talks about the “frankly abysmal” sideloading experience they created, all while touting Android publicly as an “open platform”.
— Tim Sweeney (@TimSweeneyEpic) August 6, 2021
The company also claims that Google contacted Epic’s vice president and co-founder to gauge interest in a special deal to bring Fortnite to the Play Store, as well as discussing how directly downloading and sideloading the game was “frankly abysmal” and “an awful experience” – a fact Epic’s lawyers claim is intentional, claiming that Google has erected barriers to make sideloading apps segregated.
According to them, Google’s own employees have admitted internally that they give a “[p]oor user experience” for potential sideloaders with “15+ steps to get app [via sideloading] vs 2 steps with Play or on iOS”, a far cry from the experience of directly downloading and installing, say, Google Chrome on a Windows PC.
In any case, the deal offer was refused, and Epic claims that Google replied to its decision to distribute Fortnite directly by sending “interesting” facts about the hazards of sideloaded apps to journalists covering the story.
The complaint accuses Google of anticompetitive behaviour with its apps dating back to 2009, when it entered into agreements with OEMs and mobile network operators to “drive developer and user communities towards Android market” and away from competing OEM- or MNO-owned storefronts, and more recently, when it rejected an attempted deal to include a dedicated Epic Games store with OnePlus phones.