Epic decision sees jury find Google's Play store is illegal monopoly
Fortnite dev hails 'a win for all app developers and consumers around the world'
Epic Games has won its antitrust battle against Google.
The case was heard by the United States District Court for the Northern District of California. As The Register has reported, the matter tested Epic's allegations that Google stifles competition by requiring developers to pay it commissions even if they use third-party payment services, and paid some developers to secure their exclusive presence on the Play store.
The case commenced in early November and on Monday a nine-member jury found in Epic's favor.
As it was a jury case, the reasoning was not revealed.
Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney thanked the jurors anyway in a post that declared "Today's verdict is a win for all app developers and consumers around the world."
Sweeney wrote that the verdict "proves that Google's app store practices are illegal and they abuse their monopoly to extract exorbitant fees, stifle competition and reduce innovation."
In Sweeney's telling, the jurors heard "evidence that Google was willing to pay billions of dollars to stifle alternative app stores by paying developers to abandon their own store efforts and direct distribution plans, and offering highly lucrative agreements with device manufacturers in exchange for excluding competing app stores."
Google denies such skulduggery and in statement reported by Axios vowed to appeal on grounds that the search and ads giant faces strong competition from Apple and rival app stores for Android.
The dispute started in 2020 when Google ditched Epic's mega-hit Fortnite from the Play store after the game's developer implemented third-party payment options for in-game purchases – circumventing Google Play’s facilities for such payments. Google asserted Epic's actions contravened its terms and conditions. Epic fought back with its antitrust argument.
As the dispute unfolded, Google seemingly conceded by introducing a scheme called user choice billing that allowed some apps to access third-party payment services. But Google still charged commission on those payments, arguing that the cost of operating its Play store justified the charges.
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Epic Games was not satisfied by that move, and pressed ahead with its case – and another against Apple that considered very similar issues.
The Apple case produced some small wins for Epic. But the Google decision is … erm … Epic, as it appears to be a full-throated declaration that the Play store is a monopoly.
The case will return to court in early 2024, when the presiding judge will consider remedies – which could include forcing Google to offload the Play store.
But this is far from the end of the matter – both for Epic Games and for the wider issue of tech monopolies.
Google's parent, Alphabet, seemingly plans an appeal in this case, even as the app store business continues to open up ever so slightly.
Meanwhile, antitrust cases continue against Alphabet and its Big Tech peers in many jurisdictions.
And as Epic's Sweeney points out, legislators are increasingly taking action to erode Big Tech's power, with the UK's Digital Markets, Competition and Consumer Bill, and the EU's Digital Markets Act his exemplars of such activity. ®