Epic Games and Match Group are seeking to bolster their antitrust lawsuits against Google by adding new counts to their original complaint, filed last year, that outline steps Google allegedly took to dominate the Android app market. The companies on Friday filed a motion to amend their complaints in their cases against Google, which now alleges that Google paid their competitors not to launch other app stores that would have put them in competition with Google Play. That would be a direct violation of the US antitrust law known as the Sherman Act, the amended complaint says.
Epic Games and Match Group first detailed Google’s plans in a filing last year, where they described a Google program known as “Project Hug,” or later, the “Apps and Games Velocity Program.” That effort focused on paying game developers hundreds of millions of dollars in incentives to keep their games on the Google Play Store, he said.
The program itself arrived after Epic Games released Fortnite outside of Google Play in 2018, where it bypassed Google’s marketplace fees. (The game later returned to Google Play in April 2020 until it was removed for allowing users to bypass Google fees when making in-app purchases.) Google, at the time, was concerned that Epic might choose to partner with a OEM like Samsung for pre-installation agreement. He also worried that other companies might follow Epic’s lead, leading a new wave of alternative Android app stores.
The project was said to have involved helping developers with additional promotions, resources and investment, and was considered a success as Google signed deals with many of Project Hug’s targets, including Activision Blizzard.
Now, Epic Games and Match Group are trying to add to their complaint with two new allegations detailing how Google either paid or otherwise induced its potential competitors to agree not to distribute Android apps in competition with the Play Store , including through their own competing app stores. Google, it says, had identified developers “at greater risk of … attrition from Play” and then approached them with a deal offer.
The complaint now finds this to be a “per se” violation of Section 1 of the Sherman Act, which prohibits “any contract, combination in the form of trust or otherwise, or conspiracy, in restraint of trade or commerce between the several States, or with foreign nations,” he says.
Essentially, this means that the acts they accuse Google of are so prejudicial to competition that they are almost always illegal, and that no defense or justification on Google’s part should be allowed. Typically, violations per se involve “simple agreements between competing businesses to fix prices, divide markets, or platform offers,” the FTC explains.
Google, of course, has a different take on the matter.
The company last July filed a countersuit against Match, saying the dating app giant is trying to use its services for free. Google now says that Epic knew about these agreements since filing its amended complaint in July 2021 and now wants to add new allegations without attaching or citing new evidence. It also claims that programs like “Project Hug” are a sign of healthy competition between platforms and app stores, not violations of antitrust agreements.
“Epic and Match are adding more inaccurate allegations to their failed lawsuits, and we look forward to setting the record straight in court,” a Google spokesperson said in a statement. “The program on which Epic and Match base their claims simply incentivizes developers to provide privileges and early access to Google Play users when they release new or updated content. it doesn’t stop developers from creating competing app stores, as they claim. In fact, the program is proof that Google Play competes fairly with many competitors for developers, who have many choices for operating systems and app stores,” they added.