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 trial comes after years of delays and follows a similar lawsuit against Apple. What exactly is the core of this battle, what’s at stake, and how did we get here? Let’s take a deep dive into the details.
Llamacorn Hammers and Surprise Hotfix Lawsuits: The Path to Now
This journey began back on August 13, 2020 when Fortnite publisher Epic Games implemented a sneaky hotfix update to bypass Google Play’s standard 30% fee on in-app purchases by letting players pay directly. This bold move promptly got Fortnite kicked off the Google Play store for violating policies.
Epic was ready for this showdown. Mere hours later, Epic unveiled two lawsuits against Google and Apple plus a dramatic attack ad parodying Apple’s iconic 1984 commercial, depicting a Fortnite character throwing a unicorn-llama hammer to smash a screen representing the tech giants’ “monopolistic taxes.”
While the Apple lawsuit progressed quickly to a high-profile trial in 2021, Google’s case faced delay after delay, stretching on for years. Now, over 3 years since those sensational surprise lawsuits, the Epic vs. Google antitrust trial will finally commence on November 6, 2022.
Epic’s Core Argument: Google Play’s Fees Form an Illegal Monopoly
At its heart, Epic argues that Google has made it virtually impossible for developers and users to avoid Google Play’s standard 30% cut of app transactions, forming an illegal monopoly. This allegedly lets Google unfairly profit while inflating app prices, since other app stores can’t viably compete.
Epic also asserts Google is illegally tying its Play Store to its Google Play Billing payment system, blocking competitors in app payment processing too.
The Burning Question: Does Google Have an Android Monopoly?
A crucial determination for the trial is defining the relevant market and whether Google has an unlawful monopoly in that arena. Epic contends Google monopolizes Android app distribution and in-app payments specifically.
Google asserts Android competes broadly with Apple’s iOS. If the court accepts that perspective, Google has a strong upper hand. But if the court agrees Android app markets are the appropriate lens, that benefits Epic.
Reviewing Epic’s Lawsuit Against Apple
For some context, let’s look back at how Epic’s antitrust claims against Apple’s iOS App Store fared. The judge largely ruled in Apple’s favor, deciding it didn’t have an unfair monopoly in the market of “digital mobile gaming transactions.”
However, the judge did prohibit Apple from preventing developers from informing users of alternate payment methods. Epic was ordered to pay damages to Apple for breaching contracts.
How Could This Case Against Google Differ from Apple?
Epic stresses this is a distinct case with different arguments and evidence to be judged on its own merits. Additionally, instead of a judge, a jury will decide this case, potentially interpreting the evidence differently.
Plus, Google can’t mention to the jury that Apple prevailed previously. The contexts are unique enough that the outcome here remains wide open.
Other Google Antitrust Lawsuits and Settlements
Importantly, Epic isn’t the only party that’s sued Google over antitrust issues lately. Dozens of state attorneys general plus some consumers reached a tentative settlement with Google over similar Google Play claims. Match Group, owner of dating apps like Tinder, also settled at the last minute.
But Epic remains laser-focused on seeing its antitrust claims against Google through to the end.
Could Epic and Google Still Choose to Settle?
At this late stage, chances look slim. Epic seems unwilling to settle unless Google’s standard Play Store commission goes away entirely. Google hasn’t publicly made concessions to satisfy Epic’s demands so far.
Unless something changes, Epic and Google appear headed for a courtroom showdown.
Allegations of Shady Deals and Other Juicy Drama
Court filings indicate no shortage of unsavory accusations between these giants. Epic obtained evidence of Google’s questionable “Project Hug” where it allegedly paid phone makers to only carry the Google Play Store.
Google also considered buying Epic toremove the threat of Fortnite abandoning Play Store commissions. Both sides are accused of deleting incriminating messages.
The bad behavior isn’t one-sided though. Emails show Epic pre-meditated its payment system circumvention, which Google contests in its counterclaim.
Star Witnesses – Google and Epic CEOs Take the Stand
The witness lists promise riveting testimony. Google CEO Sundar Pichai and Epic CEO Tim Sweeney are expected to attend alongside other executives. We can expect some inconvenient hypocrisies to emerge on both sides.
When Should We Expect a Verdict?
The judge foresees a 5-week trial from November into December 2022. He expects a verdict before the holidays after closing arguments. Stay tuned here for in-depth coverage!