In context: In August 2020, Epic Games initiated a two-pronged attack when it implemented a direct payment method for Fortnite’s in-app purchases, skirting the Apple’s and Google’s store commissions. The stunt got the game removed from the App Store and Google Play, which Epic used as the impetus for filing antitrust lawsuits against both tech giants.
On Monday, Google filed a countersuit against Epic Games, claiming breach of contract. The complaint alleges that introducing an external payment system to avoid paying Play Store commissions on in-app purchases was a willful breach of the Google Play Developer Distribution Agreement (DDA).
Unlike iOS, developers have more than one way to distribute apps to users. However, when they choose to sell their apps through Google Play, they agree to pay the 30-percent commission on in-app purchases.
Google claims that Epic violated this agreement when it submitted an update that added the off-platform payment method. It further adds that it continues to violate this clause, considering that many users purchased Fortnite through the Play Store and are still using the alternative payment system. Google claims it is entitled to a portion of those sales.
“Google did not disable Epic’s developer account and indicated that Epic could publish a new, compliant version of Fortnite,” the countersuit argues. “The users that downloaded the non-compliant version of Fortnite before its removal from Google Play are still able to use Epic’s hotfixed external payment mechanism to make in-app purchases—allowing Epic to evade its contractually agreed service fee to Google for those purchases.”
The lawsuit puts Epic in a challenging position. The only way to fix the situation is to issue a Fortnite patch that removes the external payment system. However, users are not likely to download the update when they can still get lower prices using the alternative method. So Epic will also have to temporarily take down its payment platform to incentivize players to update the game.
Additionally, it has been a year since all of this began. While Google’s documents do not list the damages dollar value, 30 percent of a year’s worth of Fortnite revenue from Android users is likely a substantial lump sum.
The likelihood of Google winning its counterclaim seems high considering that Apple filed a similar lawsuit and got awarded more than $3.6 million. That figure does not appear significant, but it is only based on revenue ($12,167,719) received between August 2020 and October 2020. If it wins, Google’s award could be seven times that amount or more.
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