Fabian Sommer/picture alliance/dpa/AP
ILLUSTRATION – April 28, 2021, Berlin: On the screen of a smartphone you see the logo of the Play Store app of the American company Google. Photo by: Fabian Sommer/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images
Epic Games, the maker of the hit game “Fortnite,” today launches a battle against Google in federal court in a closely watched antitrust showdown that could reshape the way smartphone users get Android apps and pay for in-app content.
Epic’s lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California takes aim at the Google Play Store, focusing on Google’s fees for in-app subscriptions and one-time transactions, along with other terms that app developers say like Epic helped Google maintain an illegal monopoly in app distribution.
The legal battle follows years of debate over whether app store operators like Google and Apple foster an open, competitive app ecosystem. The two companies claim their app stores help unlock billions in revenue for small businesses, while ensuring Android and iOS users benefit from the security oversight the tech giants provide.
The jury will be able to hear high-profile witnesses from both sides testify, including Google CEO Sundar Pichai and Epic CEO Tim Sweeney.
The lawsuit dates back to 2020, when Epic launched Project Liberty, a scheme to circumvent Apple and Google’s app store terms. That move by Epic forced a confrontation with the technology giants.
Epic has updated the Fortnite app to encourage players to pay for in-app content directly through Epic’s own website – rather than through Apple and Google’s in-app payment systems. This gamble led to a violation of the app stores’ developer terms.
The move also prompted both app stores to remove the Fortnite app from their platforms. It meant that Apple users could no longer play Fortnite on iOS devices. Epic’s case involving Apple may soon be reviewed by the Supreme Court. Fortnite is still available on Android devices through various non-Google channels.
In the meantime, Sweeney has done just that so-called that Google “monitors, monitors, and taxes transactions between users and developers” in violation of U.S. antitrust law.
Google has argued that Epic simply wants access to the Play Store’s 2.5 billion users worldwide, without having to pay to support the platform, and that a win for Epic would be Google’s ability to create a competitive Android alternative to Apple’s iOS offer could hurt.
“The most relevant for us is to show the jury how Android has created more choice, flexibility and openness than any other platform, and that Epic has actually leveraged that level of choice and flexibility,” said Wilson White, vice president president of Google. of public policy and government affairs. “As a result, these unnecessary claims they have filed should fail.”
The lawsuit against Google initially involved a wide range of plaintiffs, including dozens of attorneys general and individual consumers, as well as Match Group, the online dating giant that owns apps like Tinder, Hinge and Match. But Google successfully narrowed the list of opponents it would face at trial as it reached multiple settlements removing other plaintiffs from the case.
Epic will now face Google alone in court.