Epic Games emerges victorious in antitrust battle with Google over Fortnite

On Monday, a jury sided with Epic Games over Google in an antitrust case that could reshape how app marketplaces like Google Play are allowed to operate.

The unanimous verdict wraps up a three-year-long legal battle between the companies. Epic, creator of the popular online multiplayer game Fortnite, first filed its lawsuit against Google in 2020 alleging that the tech giant’s app store practices violated federal and California state antitrust laws.

The lawsuit against Google was just one piece of Epic’s flashy effort to rally app developers large and small against mobile software’s entrenched gatekeepers. Epic’s war against Apple and Google centers around its hit game Fortnite, which is free-to-play and available on nearly every software platform imaginable, current App Store and Google Play drama notwithstanding.

Epic argues that both tech giants violate antitrust laws by forcing app users to make payments through their own systems and taking a significant cut of in-app revenues in the process. In their defense, Apple and Google generally point to concerns around security to justify their shared desire to steer app users toward a central software authority.

Apple and Google do differ in their handling of third party apps — iOS doesn’t allow them while Android permits “sideloading” apps — a fact that changed the shape of Epic’s battle against Google. Still, Google cautions customers against installing external apps and the process isn’t nearly as straightforward as simply downloading something on Google Play.

On the face of those facts, it wasn’t obvious that Epic would prevail in its case against Google Play’s relatively less restricted ecosystem, but prevail it did.

“Today’s verdict is a win for all app developers and consumers around the world,” Epic Games wrote in a statement about the verdict. “It proves that Google’s app store practices are illegal and they abuse their monopoly to extract exorbitant fees, stifle competition and reduce innovation.”

Epic praised regulation in the works that could place further limitations on Apple and Google’s dominant software practices, citing the UK’s Digital Markets, Competition and Consumer Bill and the EU’s Digital Markets Act in the EU.

In a statement provided to TechCrunch, Google’s VP of Government Affairs & Public Policy Wilson White confirmed the company’s plans to appeal.

“We plan to challenge the verdict. Android and Google Play provide more choice and openness than any other major mobile platform,” White said. “… We will continue to defend the Android business model and remain deeply committed to our users, partners, and the broader Android ecosystem.”

If any of this sounds familiar, it’s likely because Epic took the same fight to Apple. That much-publicized campaign began with a spoof on Apple’s iconic “1984” advertisement and culminated in a mixed ruling two years ago.

The court’s decision mostly favored Apple, though did require the iPhone maker to open up its software market by allowing developers to direct customers to alternative payment options. In September, both companies asked the Supreme Court to reconsider the ruling and take on the case, so basically everything is still up in the air.

Epic began pointing Fortnite players to direct downloads back in 2018, steering them away from Google’s Play Store. In 2020, Epic released Fortnite through Google’s official app marketplace, but still slammed the company for discouraging users from downloading third-party apps. Now, the popular game is no longer available on Google Play, nor can it be installed on iOS devices through Apple’s App Store.

This won’t be the last we hear of Epic’s multi-front battle; Google is sure to appeal soon. Still, between the somewhat unexpected win in court and last week’s massive launch of Lego Fortnite, which attracted more than 2.4 million concurrent players, everything is coming up Epic right now.

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