Epic Sues Google Too, But with a Twist

Posted on August 14, 2020 by Paul Thurrott in Android, Apple, Games, Google, Mobile, Mobile gaming with 25 Comments

Epic isn’t just going after Apple’s illegal business practices, it’s going after Google’s too. But Epic’s claims against Google include an additional element. In addition to the standard anti-competitive behavior it complained about with Apple, Epic says that Google prevented it from having Fortnite preinstalled on OnePlus handset, an illegal restraint of trade.

“Epic’s experience with OnePlus, is illustrative [of Google’s illegal business practices],” the Epic lawsuit against Google reads. “Epic struck a deal with OnePlus to make Epic games available on its phones through an Epic Games app. The Epic Games app would have allowed users to seamlessly install and update Epic games, including Fortnite, without obstacles imposed by Google’s Android OS. But Google forced OnePlus to renege on the deal, citing Google’s ‘particular concern’ about Epic having the ability to install and update mobile games while ‘bypassing the Google Play Store’.”

Epic also points out that another phone maker, LG, wouldn’t even discuss preloading Fortnite and the Epic Games app on its devices because “its contract with Google did not allow it to enable the direct distribution of apps.”

It’s worth pointing out that some phone makers, including Samsung, the world’s largest smartphone manufacturer, do enable the direct distribution of apps via their own apps like the Galaxy Store, so it’s unclear why Google’s contracts vary by hardware maker so dramatically. But here’s one theory: Smaller handset makers like OnePlus and LG are far more vulnerable to Google’s threats, whereas Google needs Samsung.

Anyway, Epic points out other Google business practices that go beyond the complaints it made against Apple.

“Google contractually prohibits app developers from offering on the Google Play Store any app that could be used to download other apps, i.e., any app that could compete with the Google Play Store in app distribution,” the lawsuit continues. “Google further requires app developers to distribute their apps through the Google Play Store if they wish to advertise their apps through valuable advertising channels controlled by Google, such as ad placements on Google Search or on YouTube that are specially optimized to advertise mobile apps. Finally, Google stifles or blocks consumers’ ability to download app stores and apps directly from developers’ websites … the process of directly downloading Fortnite on an Android device can involve a dozen steps, requiring the user to change default settings and bravely click through multiple dire warnings. And even if a persistent user manages to install a competing app store, Google prevents such stores from competing on equal footing with the Google Play Store by blocking them from offering basic functions, such as automatic updating of apps in the background, which is available for apps downloaded from the Google Play Store.”

According to Epic, Google engages in this behavior specifically to eliminate consumer choice and competition in mobile app distribution. Google’s promise of an “open” ecosystem—as compared to Apple’s lock-in walled garden—is therefore a lie.

As with its Apple lawsuit, Epic is not asking for financial compensation or special treatment, though it can prove that it’s been injured financially and has evidence that Google tried to collude with it privately and offered the firm a preferential arrangement. Instead, Epic would like to see Google be forced to end its “unlawful and anti-competitive restrictions on app developers and consumers … Epic is not bringing this case to recover these damages; Epic is not seeking any monetary relief, but rather only an order enjoining Google from continuing to impose its anti-competitive conduct on the Android ecosystem.”

Again. Bravo.

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