Epic Games CEO says Google has ‘real control’ over Android apps

Epic Games CEO says Google has 'real control' over Android apps

It was a long-awaited day in court for Epic Games Chief Executive Tim Sweeney, who testified in San Francisco federal court on Monday in the company’s legal battle against Google.

The fight between the companies began in the summer of 2020 when Epic, the company behind the popular video game Fortnite, wanted Google to stop charging app developers a 30 percent fee for purchases made on its Play Store on Android devices.

When Google refused, Epic installed its own payment system in the Fortnite app on Android, thereby charging consumers lower prices.

Google responded by removing Fortnite from its Play Store on August 13, 2020. The same day, Mr. Sweeney sued Google, accusing the tech giant of claiming monopoly control over mobile game developers on its Play Store.

“I want to make it clear to everyone what is actually happening on these platforms,” Mr. Sweeney said on the witness stand on Monday. “I want everyone to see and understand that Google exercises real control over the availability of apps on Android.”

In 2021, a federal judge rejected most of Epic’s arguments in a similar case against Apple. This time, a nine-member jury will decide whether Google violated antitrust laws by exploiting smaller rivals in a trial that ends next month.

This result could have wide-ranging implications. If Epic wins, Google may be forced to allow other companies to offer competing payment systems on the Play Store.

Since the trial began two weeks ago, Mr. Sweeney has been sitting in the front row of the courtroom almost every day. He was determined to go it alone in the lawsuit: Google last month announced a settlement with the other plaintiff in the case, Match Group, a dating app company. In September, Google settled with dozens of state attorneys general who sued the company on similar grounds.

In his testimony, Mr. Sweeney stressed that his goal was to distribute the game to more users rather than seeking monetary damages, and that Google’s fee prevented Epic from expanding its business. In a cross-examination, Google’s lawyer, Jonathan Kravis, said that Epic had paid a 30 percent commission fee to gaming console companies including Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft and had earned a total of $12 billion from the consoles.

Mr. Sweeney nodded toward the numbers, although he had said earlier on Monday that Epic was currently losing money.

Mr Kravis also pushed back at Mr Sweeney’s claim of passing the savings from the fees on to customers. For example, Epic is charging the same price for in-game purchases across all platforms, including its store, where it doesn’t charge any fees.

“You’re keeping the money in your pocket, right?” Mr. Kravis asked.

Mr. Sweeney did not deny the allegation, but he said Epic was saving about 3 percent by not using a payment processor. Later in testimony, he also said that a contract with Sony prevented Epic from selling Fortnite’s in-game product on PlayStation for less than its price, and that when Epic sold such products through the companies’ personal computers, Apple and Microsoft were not paid anything when the products were delivered.

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