When Epic publicly rejected Apple and Google's App Store terms and hit the "Sue All" button in 2020, it seemed like the battle was just beginning. Apparently though, the daggers had already been out for a while, and were as sharp as possible. Today we learned that a Google executive even proposed to resolve a dispute with Epic by reaching an agreement with Tencent to wrest control of the company from founder and CEO Tim Sweeney.
Tencent, the Chinese group that owns Riot Games and parts of several other large developers, owns 40% of Epic Games, while Sweeney is the majority shareholder. According to a court document filed by Epic today, an anonymous Google executive once suggested that if Epic isn't playing well, Google should talk to Tencent about buying Epic stock "to gain more control" from the Fortnite developer, or even can do it working with Tencent to take over Epic entirely.
"Google has realized that Epic may not accept its offer." As a "potential alternative," a senior Google executive suggested that Google "consider approaching Tencent," a company that has a minority stake in Epic, (i) buy Epic shares from Tencent to gain more control over Epic. or (ii) Join Tencent to buy 100% of Epic.
The details come from a unredacted complaint Epic filed today in the US District Court in Northern California. Tencent was still hidden along with other details. But yesterday the court rejected the search giant's request to keep this information sealed, which is why the full document has now been made public.
"It appears, sadly, that Google was indeed contemplating a coordinated, multinational hostile takeover attempt of Epic in response to Fortnite launching outside of Google Play," Sweeney wrote on Twitter.
Epic's lawsuit against Google is very similar to the lawsuit filed by Apple, which was prosecuted earlier this year. Epic says Google's anti-competitive actions are "forcing app developers and consumers" to use the Google Play Store, which requires sales cut just like Apple's App Store.
The big difference is that Apple's App Store is mandatory on iPhones, but for phones running Google's Android operating system, Epic had the option to launch Fortnite as a side-download app, which it did. According to the filing, Google feared that the Fortnite launcher, which later became the Epic Games Store, was a "contagion" that would alienate others from the Google Play Store.
Epic presents Google as a scheme that tried to strike a special deal to prevent the Google Play Store from rejecting it, while at the same Tencent surprise everyone. The complaint also notes that Google made similar side agreements with other game publishers, including Activision Blizzard, to keep them on the Google Play Store, and describes the agreements Google made with phone manufacturers to prevent them from pre-installing non-Google stores, resulting in "exclusivity".
Epic is seeking an injunction requiring Google to stop what Sweeney and his company consider anti-competitive measures. As in the case of Apple, Epic frames the lawsuit as a fight for software freedom and says Google has failed to deliver on its promise to maintain "an open and competitive Android ecosystem for all users and industry participants."