According to newly submitted documents in Epic’s antitrust lawsuit against Google, Activision Blizzard and Riot Games once informed Google they would open their mobile app marketplaces. The information was made public as a result of claims involving significant agreements made with the two businesses. According to reports, Google agreed to provide Activision with $360 million over three years and Riot $30 million for a one-year contract.
One month before the two companies’ landmark agreement, Google executive Karen Aviram Beatty reports on a chat she had with Activision Blizzard’s then-CFO Armin Zerza in one document. If this agreement fails, “[Zerza] states that they will develop their mobile distribution platform (partnering with another “big mobile company”—presumably Epic), double down with Amazon/Twitch/MSFT for Cloud/eSports, and withdraw away from Stadia,” Beatty said (emphasis mine). Activision has not yet released its app store for mobile devices, indicating that the firm was satisfied with the outcome of the transaction, even though Zerza may have just been using a tough bargaining strategy.
A deposition from an anonymous witness who appears to be connected to “Project Hug,” Google’s initiative to encourage and promote Play Store creators, is another document. The witness claims in the deposition that Riot Games informed Google that it was thinking about building a rival Android app store. When asked about considering opening their app shops, the witness later claims that “Riot and Activision Blizzard King were the ones that were the most direct with us.”
Project Hug agreements first came to light in August 2021 as part of an unredacted Epic complaint. But Epic, in a newly amended complaint filed Thursday, alleges Project Hug deals are designed to “prevent the developer from opening a competing store or otherwise distributing its apps outside of the Google Play Store.”
Epic originally launched Fortnite outside of Google Play in 2018, which let it bypass Google’s fees, and Epic has already argued that Project Hug was designed to entice developers to stick with Play instead of making their stores. (Epic eventually brought Fortnite to the Play Store in 2020, but it was removed a few months later.) But based on the new documents, it seems Activision and Riot were thinking of striking out on their own.
In statements to The Verge, Google and Activision pushed back on Epic’s allegations. Google said that programs like Project Hug don’t prevent developers from creating their app stores, and Activision said that Google didn’t make them agree not to compete with Google Play.
“Epic is mischaracterizing business conversations”
“Epic is mischaracterizing business conversations,” Google spokesperson Michael Appel said. “Programs like Project Hug provide incentives for developers to give benefits and early access to Google Play users when they release new or updated content; it does not prevent developers from creating competing app stores, as Epic falsely alleges. The program is proof that Google Play competes fairly with numerous rivals for developers, who have several choices for distributing their apps and digital content.”
“Activision testified in court that Google and Activision never entered into an agreement that Activision would not open its app store,” Activision spokesperson Joe Christinat said. “Google never asked us, pressured us, or made us agree not to compete with Google Play. We submitted documents and testimony that prove this. Epic’s allegations are nonsense.”
Riot didn’t reply to a request for comment.
One of Epic’s exhibits also contains a list of more than 20 companies Google has signed Project Hug (now technically the “Games Velocity Program”) deals with as of July 2022. Activision and Riot are both listed, as are big gaming companies like EA, Niantic, Nintendo, Tencent, and Ubisoft.
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