The immensely popular free-to-play video game Fortnite, created by Epic Games, is finally dragging tech titan Google to court over allegations of monopolistic practices with its Google Play app store. This lawsuit comes after years of delays and follows a similar lawsuit against Apple. What exactly is the core of this battle, what is at stake, and how did we get here? Let’s delve into the details.
Llamacorn Hammers and Surprise Lawsuits for Revisions: The Road to Now
This journey began on August 13, 2020, when Fortnite publisher Epic Games rolled out a stealth update to bypass Google Play’s standard 30% fee on in-app purchases by allowing players to pay directly. This bold move quickly got Fortnite banned from the Google Play store for violating policies.
Epic was ready for this showdown. A few hours later, Epic revealed two lawsuits against Google and Apple, plus a dramatic attack ad that parodies Apple’s iconic 1984 commercial, showing a Fortnite character throwing a unicorn flame hammer to break a screen depicting the “monopoly taxes” from technology giants.
While Apple’s lawsuit moved quickly into a high-profile trial in 2021, Google’s case faced delay after delay, dragging on for years. Now, more than 3 years since those sensational surprise lawsuits, the Epic vs. Google will finally start on November 6, 2022.
Epic’s central argument: Google Play fees form an illegal monopoly
At its core, Epic maintains that Google has made it virtually impossible for developers and users to avoid the standard 30% cut of Google Play app transactions, forming an illegal monopoly. This supposedly allows Google to make unfair profits while inflating app prices since other app stores cannot viably compete.
Epic also claims that Google is illegally linking its Play Store to its Google Play Billing payment system, also blocking competitors from processing app payments.
The burning question: Does Google have a monopoly on Android?
A crucial determination for the trial is defining the relevant market and whether Google has an illegal monopoly in that area. Epic maintains that Google specifically monopolizes Android app distribution and in-app payments.
Google claims that Android competes extensively with Apple’s iOS. If the court accepts that view, Google has a strong advantage. But if the court agrees that Android app markets are the right perspective, that benefits Epic.
Reviewing Epic’s lawsuit against Apple
For some context, let’s take a look at how Epic’s antitrust claims against Apple’s iOS App Store fared. The judge ruled largely in favor of Apple, deciding that it did not have an unfair monopoly in the market for “digital mobile game transactions.”
However, the judge prohibited Apple from preventing developers from informing users about alternative payment methods. Epic was ordered to pay damages to Apple for breach of contracts.
How is this case against Google different from that against Apple?
Epic emphasizes that this is a different case with different arguments and evidence that must be judged on their own merits. Additionally, instead of a judge, a jury will decide this case, potentially interpreting the evidence differently.
Furthermore, Google cannot mention to the jury that Apple previously prevailed. The contexts are unique enough that the outcome here is still very open.
Other Google Antitrust Lawsuits and Settlements
Importantly, Epic is not the only party that has sued Google over antitrust issues lately. Dozens of state attorneys general and some consumers reached a tentative settlement with Google over similar Google Play claims. Match Group, owner of dating apps like Tinder, also struck a deal at the last minute.
But Epic remains focused on pursuing its antitrust claims against Google to the end.
Could Epic and Google still choose to reach a deal?
At this last stage, the chances seem slim. Epic appears unwilling to reach a deal unless Google’s standard Play Store commission disappears entirely. Google has so far made no public concessions to meet Epic’s demands.
Unless something changes, Epic and Google appear headed for a court showdown.
Allegations of shady deals and other juicy dramas
Court documents indicate that there is no shortage of unpleasant accusations between these giants. Epic obtained evidence of Google’s questionable “Project Hug” in which it allegedly paid phone makers to only offer the Google Play Store.
Google also considered buying Epic to eliminate the threat of Fortnite dropping Play Store commissions. Both parties are accused of deleting incriminating messages.
However, bad behavior is not one-sided. The emails show that Epic premeditated the circumvention of its payment system, which Google disputes in its countersuit.
Star witnesses: Google and Epic CEOs take the stand
Witness lists promise fascinating testimony. Google CEO Sundar Pichai and Epic CEO Tim Sweeney are expected to attend along with other executives. We can expect some uncomfortable hypocrisies to emerge on both sides.
When should we expect a verdict?
The judge plans a five-week trial, from November to December 2022. He expects a verdict before the holidays after closing arguments. Stay tuned here for in-depth coverage!
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