Cary’s Epic Games submits Google app store changes after antitrust verdict

In December, a nine-person federal court jury unanimously handed North Carolina’s largest video game developer, Epic Games, a massive victory in its years-long antitrust fight with Google. The jury determined Google’s Android app store has been propped up by anti-competitive obstacles that harmed smartphone app developers and consumers.

At the heart of the case was the payment system of the Google Play Store, a platform hundreds of millions globally use to download apps on Android devices.

What remedies Google must take is up to U.S. District Judge James Donato, who asked Epic to propose steps it wished Google to take. On Thursday, Epic filed its proposal.

The Cary-based creator of Fortnite and Gears of War demanded Google make it easier for consumers and developers to download apps from third-party platforms and to choose their own in-app payment systems. Epic asked that Google not be permitted to enter agreements that prevent developers from leaving the Google Play Store “without Google’s consent.”

Without asking for direct compensation, Epic also asked Donato to ensure the game developer will have unobstructed access to operate on Google’s app store. “Under Epic’s proposed injunction, Epic will be able to bring the Epic Games Store to Android devices, without delays and barriers,” company spokesperson Natalie Muñoz said in a statement Friday.

Donato is not bound to follow Epic’s recommendations. And when his decision does arrive, Google has indicated it will appeal. Donato gave Google until May 2 to respond to Epic’s proposal.

In an email to The News & Observer on Friday, Google criticized the remedies Epic requested.

“Epic’s filing to the US Federal Court shows again that it simply wants the benefits of Google Play without having to pay for it,” a company spokesperson said. “We’ll continue to challenge the verdict, as Android is an open mobile platform that faces fierce competition from the Apple App Store, as well as app stores on Android devices, PCs and gaming consoles.”

In December, Google agreed to pay $700 million to settle a separate app store antitrust lawsuit brought by 53 attorneys general, including North Carolina attorney general and gubernatorial candidate Josh Stein. Epic’s vice president of public policy Corie Wright derided this deal as “a one-time payout with no true relief for consumers or developers.”

Epic-Google timeline

Google has highlighted how many Android phones come preinstalled with alternatives to the Google Play Store. For example, every Samsung phone comes with Samsung’s Galaxy Store. Epic counters that the Galaxy Store is not substantial competition, as most Android app downloads come from the Google Play Store.

Like Apple, Google charges fees on app purchases made through its platform. On larger developers, the extra charges have ranged between 15% and 30%, which critics have referred to as the “Apple tax” and “Google tax.” Apple and Google contend these fees are justified for the cost of maintaining secure platforms.

In August 2020, Epic offered iPhone and Android users a different way to purchase v-bucks, the in-game currency of its popular game Fortnite. This directly violated both companies’ policies. Both booted Epic off their app platforms and Epic quickly sued.

In 2021, a district court judge ruled Apple’s App Store and in-app payment system did not operate as unlawful monopolies. Epic appealed this decision, but an appellate court affirmed the ruling last year and the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case.

Unlike Apple on its iOS operating system, Google actually allows developers to download their own apps on Androids through a process known as sideloading. Google pointed to this during its Epic trial as evidence it wasn’t violating antitrust law. Epic argued that Google made sideloading needlessly cumbersome and scary by requiring users to wade through multiple steps and security warnings.

Four months ago, the jury agreed with Epic. Now the judge must decide what that verdict means. And with a probable appeal, the case could last months, if not years.