Epic Games Lawsuit Reveals How Far Google Allegedly Went to Maintain Android App Market

Google worked harder than initially suspected to keep Fortnite on its Play Store.
Google worked harder than initially suspected to keep Fortnite on its Play Store. / Photo courtesy of Epic Games

After Epic Games last year added a way for Fortnite players on Android devices to pay it directly, circumventing the Google Play Store and cutting Google out of the transactions, Google promptly removed Fortnite from its store, and Epic Games slapped the tech giant with a suit alleging monopolistic practices.

The judge in the case, Judge James Donato, unsealed a fully unredacted version of Epic's original complaint against Google (H/T Leah Nylen), and it reveals new details about the extent of Google's efforts to prevent Epic from establishing itself as a Google Play Store alternative on Android devices.

To Google, Epic's departure from the Play Store could set a precedent that other developers followed, encouraging them to launch games outside of the Google Play Store. That could represent a revenue loss of "up to $6B / $1.1B in 2022," per Epic's complaint.

To prevent that loss, Google paid top developers, including Activision Blizzard, to stay on the Play Store. At least 20 such deals were struck, worth hundreds of millions of dollars, according to the documents (no specific figure is named.) It also agreed to share more of its revenue with phone makers if they agreed not to preinstall any other app stores, such as the Epic Games Store.

Previous reporting indicated Google had forced phone maker OnePlus to kill a deal that would have preinstalled the Fortnite Launcher on its phones. The unsealed complaint shows LG and Motorola made a deal with Google in which they received 12% of the search revenue from their customers, and up to 6% of the money they spent in the Play Store, to be exclusive to Google. OnePlus owner, BBK, and sister brands Oppo and Vivo joined the deal, as did Nokia phone maker HMD Global, Sony, Sharp, Xiaomi and another, unnamed brand.

These tactics are reminiscent of those Google used against Samsung's Galaxy Store, and which prompted an antitrust lawsuit filed by 36 state attorneys general in July.

Google also tried to sneakily buy Epic Games by approaching Chinese multimedia giant Tencent, which holds a 40% stake in Epic Games, according to court documents. The proposals included either buying Tencent's Epic shares or joining up with Tencent to buy the remaining 60% of shares.

Google even approached Epic directly in July 2018, when it offered $208 million in "special benefits" over three years to bring Fortnite to Google Play. That would have amounted to Google taking around 25% of the game's revenue, down from the standard 30% it claims on the Play Store.