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The sideloader weeps tonight: Unsealed court docs claim Google said 'install friction' would ‘drastically limit' Epic's reach

Plus: Google 'contemplated buying some or all of Epic'

A freshly unsealed filing [PDF] in the Epic smackdown between the maker of the Fortnite video game and Google reveals claims that a "senior Google Play" exec had noted users might be put off by the "frankly abysmal... awful experience" of directly downloading and installing games on Android kit.

Another juicy detail uncovered by the still partially redacted document was that Google had thought about buying all or part of Epic and had approached the company about establishing a "special deal" for Fortnite.

The allegations were made public late last week.

The case was first flung at Google by the Fortnite maker on 13 August last year in the US District Court for the Northern District of California. In the complaint, the developer alleged anticompetitive practices by the tech giant across the Android ecosystem, which Google largely controls, after it was booted from the Play Store.

On the morning of the lawsuit, the developer had announced a method for Epic's players to buy in-game currency without using Apple and Google's proprietary payment systems. The sueball was one of two 60-plus-page pre-prepared suits filed by Epic Games, which also develops the Unreal Engine, on the afternoon of 13 August 2020 after it was yanked from both Apple and Google's official app stores earlier that day for its move. The action was described by Apple at the time as "calculated," and it soon countersued for breach of contract; here's The Register's take on the Apple v Epic trial, whose closing arguments were delivered in late May this year.

As for the Google action, Epic's original complaint against the Alphabet offshoot, also dated 13 August 2020, [PDF], characterised Google's commission as a "30 per cent 'tax' on app purchases and in-app transactions".

The 2020 complaint claimed that Google "unlawfully maintains monopolies in multiple related markets" in the Android mobile ecosystem.

Google, however, soon fired back, claiming developers were trying to abuse antitrust laws to force the tech giant to help its competitors. Last year it asked the California federal court to dismiss both the claims of Epic Games and other app developers taking aim at Google's app store and in-app payment system, claiming in a November 2020 motion [PDF] that Google has "no duty under the antitrust laws to allow competing app stores on Google Play" and that Epic et al had failed to show anticompetitive harm.

The comments by the execs aired in the recently unsealed filing, therefore, seemingly aren't great news for Google, which the docs additionally claim had contemplated purchasing part or all of Epic Games.

The filing stated:

Google ... 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.

The dev's filing also cited an internal Google document titled "Response to Epic", wherein a staffer is said to have "explained that the 'install friction' associated with direct downloading was 'not only a bad experience' for users but that Google knew 'from its data that it will drastically limit [Epic's] reach'."

It went on to claim that a "senior Google Play manager... contacted Epic's vice president and co-founder to gauge Epic's interest in a special deal and, among other things, discussed "the experience of getting Fortnite on Android" via direct downloading.

The manager's call notes state that she viewed direct downloading Fortnite as "frankly abysmal" and "an awful experience," and that Epic should "worry that most will not go through the 15+ steps."

Google [PDF], meanwhile, noted in a January response this year about Epic's allegations "challenging Google's conduct protecting users from malware" that the Fortnite maker could not "dispute they want Google to change its unilateral practices to address security concerns on Android, which, in the context of product design, is not a basis for antitrust liability."

It further contended that "OEMs and consumers are free to install competing app stores, and users are free to directly download apps."

As with the Apple lawsuit, Epic's complaint against Google seeks injunctive relief, meaning it wants the court to stop future exclusionary conduct in the Google Play Store (and ultimately the Apple Store too). It is hoping to change the way developers distribute and monetise software. During the Apple trial, Cupertino sought to paint Epic Games as aiming to get the benefits of the iOS app store, including security protection for users, but without paying towards it.

Although Epic has made a point of not filing for monetary relief, a decision in its favour would obviously be hugely financially beneficial.

We have asked Google for comment.

The case continues. ®

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