Epic's latest injunction feels more like paving the way for an Epic Mobile App Store than monopoly busting

It's not quite David and Goliath here anymore, and it's starting to show.

Epic's latest injunction feels more like paving the way for an Epic Mobile App Store than monopoly busting
  • Epic have launched a new injunction against Google
  • This time they've targeted what they feel are anti-competition aspects of the company's operations
  • Android is already open to alternative App Stores

What do you do when you finally get a chip away at the ice? You wind up to take a second crack. At least, that's the attitude that Epic Games appear to be taking at this new stage in their crusade against Apple and Google's digital marketplaces.

As reported over on pocketgamer.biz, Epic won an antitrust battle against Google back in December.  That is to say that they got a U.S judge to agree that Google Play's restrictions had hampered quality and innovation and that this had resulted in a collateral bloat in pricing for consumers. People might have thought that Epic might rest for at least a short while, perhaps concentrating on their own camp.

However, they've not rested at all, spearheading a new injunction against Google that would last six years, as reported by Reuters.

Their proposal is a lengthy read, and the intro is - as ever - geared at opening up the ecosystem:

"The goal of this injunction is to open up to competition the two markets found by the jury: the market for the distribution of Android apps (“Android App Distribution Market”) and the market for Android in-app billing services for digital goods and services transactions (“Android In-App Payment Solutions Market”), to the benefit of developers of Android apps (“Developers”), developers of payment solutions for use in Android apps and users of Android mobile devices (“Users”)"

Of course, Epic are one of the developers who are set to benefit most from this. Their conflict with the mobile platform holders started over five years ago now, and started out back when they launched Fortnite onto both mobile platforms to great success. At first, they took major issues with Google Play, especially considering Android was a more open platform that allowed for sideloading; however, within a short while it became very public that they had issues with Apple's platform charges (30%). In time, that issue with Apple arguably became an issue with the entire Alphabet and Apple-dominated ecosystem.

A highlight of the timeline so far:

- March 12, 2018: Fortnite's mobile beta sign up is live, but you might want to wait a couple of hours
- March 29, 2018: Fortnite's made over $5 million in its first 10 days
- August 6, 2018: Unpicking Tim Sweeney's disingenuous rejection of Google Play Store
- August 13, 2018: Can we forgive Epic's sins of omission? 
- August 28, 2018: Fortnite's Android installer was vulnerable to hackers and Epic's mad at Google for telling us
August 13, 2020: Apple has removed Fortnite from the App Store
August 14, 2020: What does Epic's battle with Apple mean for players?
January 2, 2023: Fortnite may return to iOS by the end of the year
January 22, 2024: So what does the Epic v Apple outcome mean for you?
March 13, 2024: Apple backs down in Epic developer account debacle - What does it mean for players?

I don't blame you if you've not been following this from the start - it's been going on for over half a decade and is full of twists and turns. However, a major piece of information that has to be discussed at the same time is that Epic have also been fighting the battle against other stores, like Valve. Their Valve battles didn't progress in quite the same way, with Epic launching their own storefront on PC and promising (and, from what I can tell, delivering) better cuts to the developers on the platform.

Mobile is a different market, of course, with Apple and Android devices historically coming with preinstalled and preferred storefronts. Over the years, this has been chipped away at, complaints of anti-consumer, anti-choice, monopolisation have increased, and the EU even stepped in and gave a lot of megacorps (including Apple and Alphabet) a good kicking. Among other things, this collective effort does mean we can expect Fortnite back on iOS and Android on - almost - Epic's own terms by the end of the year.

Back to the courtroom

With all of the above considered, Epic's latest effort certainly appears to be angled at clearing their course to a smooth launch for their own storefront, removing obstacles such as the blocking of promoting other storefronts and busting open exclusivity deals. 

The main orders that have been proposed are a block on:
1. Placement and Preinstallation Terms for Third-Party App Stores
2. Agreements with Actual or Potential Competing Distributors
3. Exclusivity
4. MFNs/Limits on Differentiated Content
5. Google's ability to suspend and remove developer accounts from the Google Play Store.

There's more too - Section B aims to block any tinkering with or redirecting of third-party appstore content to the Google version. This extends beyond Google Play Store and also means that anybody using an in-game browser, or a browser in-general on their phone, could not be redirected via the OS to the Google Play Store version of an App. Further down it also declares that Google shouldn't be able to promote the Play Store as part of the OS.

Reading it from the top, it is, in many ways, an attempt at creating a great equaliser. To create an Android platform that doesn't promote Google's own Play Store over any other, and doesn't use its position as the OS provider to promote their own store.

The thing is though, as you read down it becomes more personal - especially if you know the history between these giants - including a large section specifically chalking up protections against Epic as a result of this. It's also worth remembering that Epic is, of course, 40% owned by Tencent, who are arguably one of the largest games companies in the world. We don't have issues with Tencent, however, that 40% stake makes this a battle between giants, not a case of David and Goliath.

What are the implications?

Epic had its whole Anti-Retaliation section in there, but if the document gets shredded then this doesn't mean much. In fact, even though Epic appears to be on a winning streak (I mean, Disney just invested $1.5bn into them) there's no guarantee that they'll be able to move the needle.

There are people in this world who get their way through asking, demanding, harassing, annoying, or simply actioning what they want. While Epic continue to battle as though they are an underdog striving for a better industry, there may be a point where this whole thing goes too far depending on how attached Google are to their hardware, OS and Play Store divisions.

There's a lot of money sloshing around in games, more than ever. And it is true that a bigger industry with more competition and more...well, money... should result in better rates for developers and lower costs for consumers.

Is 2024 going to be the year where this changes through heavy, sweeping injunctions like this? Probably not, but continued pressure will certainly start to open and even the playing field.

Dann Sullivan
Dann Sullivan
A job in retail resulted in a sidestep into games writing back in 2011. Since then Dann has run or operated several indie game focused websites. They're currently the Editor-in-Chief of Pocket Gamer Brands, and are determined to help the site celebrate the latest and greatest games coming to mobile.