Epic lawsuit reveals Google paid off developers to maintain its Play Store dominance

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Epic Games had taken head-on both Apple and Google regarding both the companies monopoly on their app stores. The ongoing legal battle revealed that Google spends millions of dollars to keep game developers on the Play Store. More than that, some unredacted documents also reveal that the tech giant was planning to take over Epic by teaming up with Tencent, and the people at Google even floated the idea of disabling sideloading on Android entirely.

Erasing the reducted parts was obviously did not sit right with Google and the company’s lawyer issued a statement that reads, “Google objects to Epic’s disregard for the court’s protective order and the improper disclosure of its confidential information.” But the presiding judge over this case James Donato removed the redactions.

The unredacted document now reveals that Google paid off game developers millions of dollars in incentives to keep their games available on the Play Store. This was first called Project Hug and it later came to be known as the Apps and Games Velocity Program. Epic Games further alleges that Google also developed Project Banyan which aimed to buy out Samsung’s app store. Project Hug was described as “a hug developer close and show love plan”, or “a surge plan to throw extra love/promotion to top developers and games (including Tencent portfolio companies).” On the other hand, the Google Play Finance team, in a report published in 2019, raised an issue that Epic Games may try to partner with OEMs to pre-install its games.

Project Hug, highlighted by Epic Games, was a huge success for Google as by the end of 2020 they successfully managed to sign deals with its targets, the most memorable among them would be the deal with Activision Blizzard.

Google spokesperson Peter Schottenfels commented that “Google Play competes with other app stores on Android devices and on rival operating systems for developer attention and business. 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.”

Moreover, Google also ran a “Premier Device Program”. By giving the Android device manufacturers a large chunk of the search revenue had directed them not to ship smartphones with third-party app stores preinstalled. This means that a user could only install apps from the Google Play Store.

“Google’s Premier Device Program was not publicly known and was not known to Epic, before Google recently began producing relevant documents in this litigation,” Epic’s lawyers wrote in the complaint. “Google has sought to conceal its most restrictive anticompetitive conduct by, among other things, including in the agreements themselves a provision restricting signatories from making ‘any public statement regarding [the] Agreement without the other party’s prior written approval.’”

The complaint goes on: many of the world’s largest Android OEMs, including Motorola, LG, Oppo, Vivo, and OnePlus, agreed to exclusivity for most new Android devices. Google allegedly canceled a deal with OnePlus as Google feared that Epic Games would have the ability to install and update mobile games on their smartphones, whereas LG was forbidden to preinstall the Epic Games app on their smartphones.

In a statement, a Google spokesperson said, “As we have stated previously, Epic’s lawsuit is baseless and mischaracterizes our business conversations. Android provides more choices in mobile devices for developers and consumers.”

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