Google reportedly thought-about shopping for Epic Video games to silence antitrust complaints
Enlarge / Let’s see, you landed on my Google Ads space, and if you have three houses, that’s $ 1,400.
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In 2018, Google and Epic Games started a year-long dispute over Fortnite on the Play Store. Instead of distributing the game on Google Play, Epic decided that sideloading would be the way to get Fortnite on Android, thereby circumventing Google’s 30 percent drop in sales. Epic then filed an antitrust complaint against Google, and newly unsealed court documents discovered by The Verge reveal an interesting solution Google was tackling at the time: the company was considering buying Epic.
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In the document, Epic repeatedly states that Google viewed Epic’s Play Store as a “contagion” that could disrupt Google’s walled garden, and Google “even considered buying all or part of Epic to suppress this threat”. Epic CEO Tim Sweeney tweeted that the plan was “unknown to us at the time,” suggesting Google never made a takeover bid. In 2018, investors gave Epic Games a $ 15 billion valuation, so Google would have needed a pretty hefty bid. Today, Epic’s final funding round is $ 29 billion. Imagine how different things could be today if Google had an established game developer!
Epic’s antitrust complaints against Google revolve around the security, functionality and contractual barriers that Google is allegedly putting in place around third-party app stores on Android. To side-load an app on Android (like a third-party app store), users have to type through several scary messages warning them that side-loading is dangerous. Less tech-savvy users could be turned away by the frictionless installation process. And after installing it, third-party app stores still can’t update apps in the background like they do with Google Play.
When Epic embarked on its plan to move Fortnite outside of Google Play, a new document states, “Senior Google Play Managers Began Reaching Out to Epic” to warn them that life outside the walled garden wasn’t easy will be:
A manager contacted Epic’s vice president and co-founder to gauge Epic’s interest in a special offer, including discussing “the experience of getting Fortnite on Android” through direct download. The manager’s call notes stated that she viewed direct downloading from Fortnite as “publicly abysmal” and “a terrible experience” and that Epic should “be concerned most don’t go through the 15+ steps.”
Later in the same document, Epic detailed the alleged contents of a Google document entitled “Answer to Epic”:
In an internal document entitled “Response to Epic”, a Google employee stated that the “installation friction” associated with the direct download was “not just a bad experience” for users, but that Google “knew from its data that it will drastically limit ”. [Epic’s] achieve. “The document goes on to state that”[f]uture [Fortnite] Updates are questioned in terms of targeting, update experience via the web ”; that the direct download approach has been “most associated with malicious apps” which would be “incompatible with” [Epic’s] Brand / Demography “; and the “[t]This approach creates a lot of confusion among users, since [Google Play] will still attract [billions] of users who are looking for Fortnite and run into dead ends, the solution of which is not clear. “
The Google side of that argument would say that Android is much more open than iOS, which doesn’t allow sideloading at all. Google’s security stats regularly show an 8-10x increase in malware on devices that allow sideloading, which is why the security alerts are in place. In the court document, Epic claims that Google started spreading these stats through the media as an attack on Epic, but Google’s “Android Security Year in Review” series of this information dates back to 2014 before Fortnite even existed.
Google makes a concession to Epic in the upcoming Android 12 version and adds a new permission that allows third-party app stores to update apps in the background. The indifference of the Android ecosystem to sending updates means that many users only get a new operating system when they buy a new phone. So it should take around four years for Android 12 to reach the majority of users.
Google’s tough tactics around the Play Store also brought him an antitrust lawsuit from 36 states. In this suit it is alleged that the company tried to “preventively destroy” competing app stores such as the Samsung Galaxy Store. Today the Galaxy Store is one of Fortnite’s largest Android distributors.