Google allegedly considered buying Epic Games to remove app store competition

Google views Epic Games efforts to allow users to install games without the need for the Google Play Store as a 'contagion', court documents say.
Written by Campbell Kwan, Contributor

Last year, Epic Games' flagship game Fortnite was booted off Apple and Google's app stores after the games developer introduced a new payment system that sidestepped their payment systems and in-app purchase commissions. Shortly after, Epic would go on to file antitrust lawsuits against both Apple and Google across numerous jurisdictions, with unsealed court documents revealing that, prior to the legal stoush, Google allegedly attempted to acquire Epic Games to remove this app store threat.

First reported by The Verge, the unsealed court document was submitted as part of Epic Game's lawsuit against Google in the United States. Epic Games has a similar lawsuit filed against Google in Australia.

In the document [PDF], Epic claims Google was threatened by its plans to sidestep Google's official Play Store commission by distributing Fortnite through other channels. To address those concerns, Google allegedly considered buying "some or all of Epic Games" to remove the games developer as a competitor.

"Google has gone so far as to share its monopoly profits with business partners to secure their agreement to fence out competition, has developed a series of internal projects to address the 'contagion' it perceived from efforts by Epic and others to offer consumers and developers competitive alternatives, and has even contemplated buying some or all of Epic to squelch this threat," Epic wrote in the documents.

Google also allegedly used contractual and technical barriers to make it harder for users to sideload Epic Games' apps onto devices. This included blocking OEMs, such as OnePlus, from making deals with Epic Games to allow users to install and update Epic Games' apps without using the Google Play Store.

According to Epic Games, the company had already "invested substantial resources" into optimising a special version of Fortnite for OnePlus and a deal was already struck with OnePlus before the OEM was forced by Google to renege the deal.

In addition, Epic Games claimed it was offered a "special deal" by Google to launch Fortnite on the Play Store as another measure to stop the company's sideloading efforts. When making the offer, senior Google Play managers allegedly acknowledged that sideloading was an "awful experience" and warned about the "15+ steps" that users would have to go through if Epic Games didn't accept the deal.

Epic Games rejected Google's special deal, opting instead to distribute Fortnite for Android via Epic's website and through a partnership with Samsung.

Beyond the fight with Epic Games, Google was issued a separate antitrust suit last month by US attorneys-general from 36 states and Washington DC. Like the Epic Games lawsuits, the attorneys-general allege that Android is much less open than Google claims as it restricts third-party app stores and discourages the direct downloading of apps.


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