Google loses antitrust trial brought by Epic Games: what does it mean for the industry?


A Californian district court has found Google created a monopoly with its Google Play app store.

This is the result of a long-running, landmark Epic Games versus Google case, which began in 2020.

Court documents filed on December 11 show the jury concluded against Google on all counts, in favour of Epic Games’s grievances.

The case, and its companion suit raised against Apple in 2020, are linked to why Epic Games's Fortnite is not available from either Google Play on Android or the App Store on iPhones.

But what is the issue?

Why did Epic Games sue Google?

Epic Games has rallied against how the Android and iPhone app ecosystems operate, predominantly the way the platform holders take a 30% cut in payments made through phone apps and games.

Fortnite was removed from the App Store, and subsequently from Google Play, in 2020 after Epic Games implemented its own payments system, bypassing Apple’s own — and thereby bypassing Apple’s 30% cut.

The court case has found Google has engaged in “anticompetitive conduct” in both its “Android app distribution market” and its “in-app billing services”, and that Google “unlawfully tied the use of the Google Play Store to the use of Google Play Billing”.

Epic Games boss Tim Sweeney celebrated the ruling.

“Victory over Google! After 4 weeks of detailed court testimony, the California jury found against the Google Play monopoly on all counts. The Court’s work on remedies will start in January,” Sweeney posted on X, formerly known as Twitter.

What form these upcoming “remedies” will take is yet to be seen.

Why does this matter so much to Epic Games? V-Bucks. This is the currency used in Fortnite. And as Fortnite is a free-to-play game, this currency is how the game makes money. It’s used to buy custom skins and items inside the game.

When Apple or Google take 30% of in-app purchases, they take 30% of a free-to-play game’s revenue. Fortnite is estimated to have made upwards of $26 billion since the game launched in 2017, across all platforms.

Epic Games versus Apple

The complicating factor here is the comparable Epic Games versus Apple antitrust case, which largely found in favour of Apple. It was decided in September 2021 and upheld after appeals that ended in April 2023.

There is arguably a more cogent argument of monopolistic practices in the Apple App Store than Google Play. Where Android owners can install third-party app stores on their phones and tablets, including Epic Games’s own, this is not possible on an iPhone unless the device has been rooted or hacked.

However, as part of the appeals process, the US courts ruled Apple will have to implement third-party payment options, providing developers with ways to circumvent Apple fees.

It currently charges 30% for publishers who make more than $1 million a year, and 15% for smaller developers. This was part of its App Store Small Business Program, announced in November 2020. Google followed suit in July 2021, with lower 15% fees below $1 million.

Both Epic Games and Apple have appealed these lower court rulings, again. Epic Games has asked the Supreme Court to step in to take on the case, while Apple has asked the Supreme Court to void the order to implement third-party payment systems.

What this means for the industry

The case is still up in the air, but the impact on the wider industry could be dramatic, and spread out further than just mobile platforms.

Microsoft and Sony take 30% commission for purchases made on the Xbox and PlayStation platforms. Could this be under threat too?

Console-makers often sell consoles at a loss, safe in the knowledge profits can be made through these software fees, and revenues from first-party developers.

As recently as November 2023, a class action lawsuit was brought against Sony, over claims its PlayStation Store charges are unfairly high. Sony also stopped selling digital games through third-party retailers in April 2019, giving it greater control over the pricing of PlayStation software.

Leading PC gaming platform Steam also charges 30% commission.

Epic Games runs its own games store, for PC and Mac, and charges a lower 12% commission. In October, it also announced its Now on Epic programme, where developers who have released games on other platforms can bring them to Epic Games and receive 100% of revenues for the first six months.

Similarly, Microsoft dropped its PC Store’s commission to 12% in 2021, mirroring Epic Games.

What do the Microsoft Store and Epic Games have in common? They are both desperate for greater market share, and are not market leaders.

When will Fortnite come to Google Play and the App Store?

If you think all of this legal kerfuffle is a bunch of big tech and gaming companies shouting at each other, you may be more interested in when Fortnite will return to iPhones and Google Play.

It's unlikely that these cases are actually settled. And this likely rests on what the Supreme Court does next, in response to the Epic Games versus Apple case.

However, if you use an Android phone, you can download the Epic Games launcher through the Fortnite website.

The Standard has contacted Google for comment.