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Epic claims that Google offered preferential treatment to keep devs on Play Store

In a new legal filing, Epic Games says that Google developed a program to keep high-earning game developers on the Google Play store by offering back-alley incentives in a program called 'Google Hug.'

In an unredacted copy of Epic’s antitrust suit against Google, Epic alleges that Google’s anticompetitive practices extend to offering special financial incentives to game and app developers to maintain their presence on the Google Play store.

This news comes after a California judge ordered that Epic’s suit against Google be released in an unredacted form. In the suit, Epic alleges that Google developed a program called “Project Hug” to retain developers most at risk of abandoning the Play Store.

This program—which Epic says Google extended to Epic over conversations about listing Fortnite on the Play store—offered millions of dollars worth of additional Google products, placement, and sponsorships to at least 20 developers.

Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney tweeted out that these offers included a rebate of 5 percent of Play Store fees, but they were categorized as YouTube deals, cloud service discounts, and other subtle offerings meant to reduce the sting of Google’s 30 percent cut on app transactions.

Elsewhere in the antitrust suit, Epic alleges that Apple and Google’s dominance over the mobile app market was partly managed by a relationship between the two companies that saw them operate as a duopoly rather than a free and open marketplace. Epic cited the notes from one meeting between Apple and Google execs where the company representatives wrote that “our vision is that we work as if we are one company.”

(As a reminder, Epic is also suing Apple for anticompetitive practices on the iOS store.)

Today, “Project Hug” now apparently operates under the title of the Games Velocity Program. It was apparently developed in conjunction with another initiative called “Project Banyan,” which was meant to balance Samsung’s desire to open its own app store on its Android phones with a deal that would still see Google generating revenue off Apps sold on that store using Google Pay billing.

Google spokesperson Peter something something told The Verge that the Games Velocity Program was standard operating procedure for the company, and that it was the sign of a healthy, competive marketplace.

“Google Play competes with other app stores on Android devices and on rival operating systems for developer attention and business,” he said. “We’ve long had programs in place that support best-in-class developers with enhanced resources and investments to help them reach more customers across Google Play. These programs are a sign of healthy competition between operating systems and app stores and benefit developers tremendously.”

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