‘Fake open platform’: Epic Games takes aim at Android

Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney has testified that Google’s Android operating system is a “fake open platform” in a high-stakes antitrust lawsuit over claims that the technology giant thwarts app market competition.

Sweeney, who founded the company that makes the blockbuster Fortnite, took the witness stand on Monday in San Francisco federal court to reinforce his claims that Google Play policies are unlawful and allow Google to maintain a monopoly in the Android mobile-app distribution market.

The court fight started in 2020 when Epic marketed Fortnite on Android and side-stepped the Google Play billing system and the 30% revenue cut it was taking from app developers.

“We very much wanted to avoid that and do business directly with our customers,” Sweeney told jurors.

Google denies abusing its market power. The jury trial started two weeks ago and is expected to wrap up in early December. If Epic prevails, Google could be forced to allow competing app marketplaces and payment methods on its app store, threatening billions of dollars in revenue generated by Google Play.

Sweeney previously testified in a 2021 trial in a similar antitrust targeting Apple’s App Store policies as unfair and self-serving. Epic mostly lost that fight, which was decided by a federal judge in Oakland, California, after a trial. An appeals court upheld the judge’s ruling and Epic is now asking the US supreme court to review it.

Read: Apple wins Epic court battle

The Epic CEO testified that Google tried to cut a deal with his company that he rejected and went on to strike “secret” accords with mobile device makers to maintain Google Play as the dominant Android app marketplace.

‘Fake open platform’

Sweeney said in 2018 he believed Android wasn’t closed to developers, but subsequently realised Google’s operating system was a “fake open platform” that was actually just as closed as he found Apple’s App Store to be in terms of policies for developers.

Epic made US$5.1-billion in revenue in 2020, Sweeney revealed when he testified in the Apple case. He founded Cary, North Carolina-based Epic in 1991, when he was still a student at the University of Maryland. It has since grown into one of the world’s biggest closely held videogame companies, with Sweeney as the majority shareholder and China’s Tencent Holdings controlling a 40% stake.

Sweeney, whose net worth is estimated at $9.7-billion, is a long-time advocate of open software ecosystems. He’s also known for his love for hiking and conservation efforts, including purchasing land to be turned into public parks.

Tim Sweeney. Image: Official GDC

Since the 2017 release of the “battle royale” game Fortnite, Epic has become a household name among videogame enthusiasts and the game has more than 400 million users. The company also offers a popular suite of software used to build videogames called Unreal Engine.

The company retrenched 870 employees in September as it sought to rein in costs, amid layoffs across the broader technology industry.  — Malathi Nayak, (c) 2023 Bloomberg LP

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Source: techcentral.co.za