Fortnite dev Epic Games captured headlines yesterday by its coordinated effort to update Fortnite to bypass strict mobile payment rules, having Fortnite removed from Apple's App Store as a result, and swiftly filing a lawsuit against Apple for anti-competitive behavior, all in a matter of hours.
Google, slower to the punch, also opted to remove Fortnite from its first-party Google Play Store last night for the same reasons as Apple.
Now, following its lawsuit against Apple and Google's own removal of Fortnite, Epic has filed a similar lawsuit against Google (via The Verge), though there are some key differences between the two cases due to how each platform owner handles their mobile ecosystems.
Google, for one, does not have as tight of a grip on Android as Apple keeps on iOS, but Epic argues in its lawsuit that Google’s claims that Android is an open platform no longer ring true. The core complaints are the same: Epic is asking the court to “end Google’s unlawful monopolization and anti-competitive restraints” in markets for Android app distribution and payment processing for app-related purchases.
Google does allow other developers to host their own storefronts on Android--both Amazon and now Epic have launched apps that do just that--but Epic argues that Google eliminates “competition in the distribution of Android apps using myriad contractual and technical barriers.”
Epic’s own fraught history with Google Play provides a perfect example of what the lawsuit is taking issue with here. Rather than launch through Google’s first-party Google Play Store and forfeit 30 percent of its revenue to Google, Epic first launched its own launcher for Fortnite outside of the Play Store. But, as Epic vocally highlighted earlier this year, downloading any sort of app or launcher outside of the Play Store requires Android users to jump through a series of hoops that take the form of “scary, repetitive security pop-ups,” which put third-party apps at an immediate disadvantage according to an April 2020 statement from Epic.
Due to this alleged guise of openness, Epic’s lawsuit now says that “Google’s actions force app developers and consumers into Google’s own monopolized ‘app store’—the Google Play Store. Google has thus installed itself as an unavoidable middleman for app developers who wish to reach Android users and vice versa.”
“If not for Google’s anti-competitive behavior, the Android ecosystem could live up to Google’s promise of open competition, providing Android users and developers with competing app stores that offer more innovation, significantly lower prices and a choice of payment processors,” continues the lawsuit.
That crux of the argument, that more competition would benefit mobile users and developers alike, mirrors Epic’s lawsuit against Apple as well. In both lawsuits, Epic paints its attacks as altruistic rather than moves made out of its own self interest or pursuit of higher profits.
While an end to what Epic describes anti-competitive platform monopolies would allow Epic to fully launch its own competing storefront to both platforms on equal footing as first-party offerings and reap the financial benefits of its own (comparatively generous) revenue share deals, Epic maintains that these lawsuits are about the principle of the matter and, as such, the company isn’t asking the court for monetary compensation in either case, only that Google and Apple be made to embrace some healthy competition.