Google gave “Call of Duty” parent Activision-Blizzard a whopping $360 million in incentives in 2020 to launch its video game on the “Play” app store, according to lawyers in Epic Games’ antitrust lawsuit targeting Google’s Android app marketplace empire.
Lawyers for “Fortnite” maker Epic Games argue that Google relied on payments to game and app developers, known internally as “Project Hug,” as part of an effort to “bribe and block” potential competitors from launching their own app stores or otherwise challenging its monopoly.
The Epic Games trial is the second major US antitrust trial currently facing Google, which is also locked in a heated battle with the US Justice Department over its alleged monopoly over the online search market.
Additionally, Google is under federal scrutiny related to its digital advertising practices and its “Maps” business.
Epic attorney Lauren Moskowitz asserted Tuesday that the payments to Activision-Blizzard and other developers were part of Google’s strategy to tamp down “noise” over its policy of taking a 30% cut of revenue from in-app purchases, Bloomberg reported.
Google has denied wrongdoing, asserting that the payments to developers were fair compensation in a competitive app market where rivals like Samsung and Apple.
The company has also noted that developers who received payments were not blocked from creating their own app stores.
An unredacted version of Epic Games’ complaint against Google last year revealed the Big Tech giant has secured at least 24 deals with major app developers.
Aside from the Activision-Blizzard payment, Google purportedly agreed to pay $30 million in 2020 to Riot Games, the maker of the popular “League of Legends” video game franchise.
A 10-person jury was shown a series of emails from 2019 in which a Google employee told Lawrence Koh, the former director of games business development for Google Play, that Activision-Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick was upset about the 30% revenue cut.
The jury also learned of internal projections that reportedly showed Google Play could took a $2.5 billion hit to its margins from 2019 to 2022 if it lost the participation of key developers.
Koh pushed back on Epic’s argument during Google’s cross-examination, stating that he had “never” bribed a developer to stop it from launching its own app store.
The ex-Google executive said the payments were meant to ensure that companies launched their games in Play with the same quality standards as it did in other marketplaces.
Activision-Blizzard pushed back on Epic’s assertions at the trial.
“As we said in 2022, Google never asked us, pressured us, or made us agree not to compete with Google Play,” an Activision spokesperson told Bloomberg.
The Google v. Epic trial is expected to last approximately four weeks.
A similar lawsuit filed by Epic against Apple ended in a split-verdict that largely favored Apple, though both companies are appealing to the Supreme Court to intervene.
WIth Post wires