Epic Games and Google have launched their initial arguments in a San Francisco courtroom, marking the commencement of a highly anticipated antitrust trial that traces back to Fortnite’s removal from Google Play in August 2020.
Epic Games, represented by lead attorney Gary Bornstein, initiated the proceedings. Bornstein underscored Google’s dominance on the Android platform, pointing out that in 2020, it accounted for over 90% of app installations. He alleged that Google employed a “bribe or block” tactic to deter competition, referring to Project Hug, where Google purportedly paid companies like Activision Blizzard and Riot Games to dissuade them from creating their own Android app stores.
Bornstein acknowledged Project Liberty, Epic’s plan to challenge Apple and Google, leading up to the Fortnite hotfix and ensuing lawsuits, but asserted that there was no actual harm or potential harm to anyone. He argued that Google’s assertion of allowing sideloading of apps as an alternative to Google Play was undermined by the complexity of the process, which involves 16 steps and numerous warnings about unknown software.
“Fortnite was the biggest game in the world, Google knew it was not an unknown app,” Bornstein stated. “Google called it unknown so it could put up warnings just like those.”
On the other hand, Google’s opening statement focused on defining the market and highlighting Google Play’s competition with the iPhone rather than other Android app stores.
Google attorney Glen Pomerantz emphasized that users have the choice to download apps from alternative sources like the Samsung Galaxy Store but opt for Google Play instead. He defended the 16-step sideloading process as a security measure, emphasizing that Android users have a genuine choice and are notified of potential risks.
Pomerantz addressed the Project Hug allegations, refuting claims of secret deals with Samsung and asserting that nothing prevents Riot Games from establishing a competing app store.
Google also defended its 30% transaction fee, characterizing it as a market fee rather than a monopoly fee. The antitrust trial revolves around Epic’s allegations that Google’s practices, including the 30% fee and anti-steering policies, stifle competition. Google countersued for breach of contract when Fortnite was removed from the Play store.
“The service fee you see here is exactly the same fee that Epic pays in the Nintendo store, the Xbox store, the Steam store,” he said. “All these stores charge a mega developer like Epic the same 30% fee.”
To underscore the potential for alternative revenue sharing models, he mentioned his involvement in assisting Telltale Games in establishing a digital store that operated on a 95/5 revenue share. Additionally, he asserted that he was the one who proposed the idea for Epic to allow developers to retain 80% or more of their revenue when the Epic Games Store was launched.
The trial is expected to continue for at least the next two weeks, featuring key witnesses such as Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney and Google’s parent company, Alphabet’s CEO Sundar Pichai. Google’s attorney also revealed plans to call Apple’s App Store head, presumably Phil Schiller, to the stand.