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Epic Games files competition lawsuit against Google in the UK over Fortnite's ejection from Play Store

Epic by name, epic (lawsuit) by nature

Epic Games intends to file a competition lawsuit against Google in the UK as part of the ongoing Fortnite-kicked-off-platforms saga, according to documents lodged with the Competition Appeal Tribunal.

The lawsuit will allege that Google, holder of "a dominant position in the Android app distribution market", has unfairly restricted "competition from alternative app stores and other channels for the distribution of apps" [PDF].

The legal action the games dev is taking in the UK is similar to a US lawsuit it filed against Apple, which ejected Epic from its App Store in a commercial spat about cult game Fortnite.

The dispute is over exclusivity and how much of a cut Google takes from in-game microtransactions in Fortnite. As we reported back in 2018, Epic launched the Android version of Fortnite through its own website rather than the Google Play Store, the official app repository for Android. This initially deprived Google of its 30 per cent cut of Android app sale prices, though the app was later released through the Play Store.

At the time, Epic chief exec Tim Sweeney had a good old spleen-venting session about the "economics of the store ecosystem as it exists right now".

In August 2020, Epic introduced what its Competition Appeal Tribunal (CAT) claim described as "a direct payment option into the Fortnite app on the Google Play Store. This enabled consumers to pay Epic directly for in-app content instead of using Google's payment processor." Google responded by ejecting Fortnite from the Play Store altogether.

Epic is set to allege that Google is "using its market position to charge unfair prices for the distribution of apps via the Google Play Store and/or in relation to the purchase of digital in-app content within those apps," breaking section 18 of the Competition Act 1998 and Article 101 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.

It wants the CAT to order Google to restore Fortnite to the Play Store – and to tell the Chocolate Factory to "cease interfering with OEMs' ability freely to enter into agreements with Epic in respect of the pre-installation of the Epic Games Store and/or Epic's apps for Android mobile devices sold in the UK."

On top of that, Epic also wants "an order requiring Google to remove or amend the technical restrictions to ensure that consumers can directly download apps/app stores without obstruction, including ensuring that those apps/app stores are able to operate in the same way as the Google Play Store with respect to app installation, app updates, and access to operating system features," something likely to ring alarm bells among Android security watchers.

Before Epic can formally do any of that, however, it needs permission to serve the case on Google; as a foreign company headquartered outside the UK, Google has a chance to show that Epic's case should properly be brought in its homeland instead of in Britain.

Google sent us a statement: "The open Android ecosystem lets developers distribute apps through multiple app stores. For game developers who choose to use the Play Store, we have consistent policies that are fair to developers and keep the store safe for users. While Fortnite remains available on Android, we can no longer make it available on Play because it violates our policies. However, we welcome the opportunity to continue our discussions with Epic and bring Fortnite back to Google Play."

The Register will be reporting from the jurisdiction hearing, which is listed to take place on 21 January. ®

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