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Epic Games exposes Google's shady Play Store practices in ongoing legal battle

The Google Logo in Black and White under a sepia shade
The Google Logo in Black and White under a sepia shade (Image credit: Android Central)

What you need to know

  • Court documents filed by Epic describe shady practices by Google to keep its tight hold on the Play Store.
  • One project apparently paid top game developers to keep them from moving away from the Play Store.
  • Another program reportedly secured deals with OEMs to limit third-party app stores on their devices.

While Epic's fight with Apple continues, the battle between Epic and Google heats up as newly unredacted documents reveal ways that Google sought to maintain its grasp on the Play Store and app developers.

Court documents from Epic describe various ways that Google has allegedly coaxed developers and OEMs from straying from the Play Store. Many of these practices have been called out in ongoing litigation against Google. However, the documents from Epic Games appear to provide more detail about Google's activities.

First pointed out by The Verge, "Project Hug" was a program that Google implemented after fears that Epic would influence other top gaming developers to forgo the Play Store for their own distribution channels. The program apparently involved Google spending "hundreds of millions of dollars on secret deals" with top developers that were at risk of competing with the Play Store.

As explained by Android executives in internal documents, Project Hug, which was created and developed alongside Project Banyan, was "a hug developers close and show love plan", or "a surge plan to throw extra love/promotion to top developers and games (including Tencent portfolio companies)".

It appears that many developers were concerned about revenue share and considered moving to their own distribution and payment platforms. However, Google was reportedly able to secure most of these developers into the program.

Additionally, the court documents highlight Google's "Premier Device Program" (via The Verge) that provided OEMs of the best Android phones with a larger share of Google's search revenue provided they limit their devices from access to third-party app stores.

The program also mandated that the Google App Store be "placed on the Default Home Screen and Google Play app is set as default marketplace for applications, games, books, movies, music, and all other digital content (including subscriptions)." Devices in the program would not be allowed to preinstall any third-party app stores as a requirement.

Google did not immediately respond to our request for comment on either program.

The document highlights problems that have been laid out in the various lawsuits targeting the Play Store, including limiting third-party app stores from competing against the Play Store and requiring the use of its own billing system for in-app purchases.

Meanwhile, Google says that its Play Store policies benefit developers and consumers. The company has maintained that Android gives users more choice than other operating systems and that devices often ship with other app stores, such as the best Amazon Fire tablets.

Despite that, it remains clear that Google is facing an uphill battle with the litigation piling up against its Play Store policies.

Derrek is a long-time Nokia and LG fanboy who loves astronomy, videography, and sci-fi movies. When he's not working, he's most likely working out or smoldering at the camera.

1 Comment
  • Not sure why this is big news or come as a shock to some. To me this is standard practice in the business world, you see a competitor as a threat you analyze it then take the best course of action on how to deal with it and go about executing that plan. Nothing out of the ordinary as far as I am concern. Reading about this story, it seems the issue is with the community who bought into all the pr talking points Google fed them over the years about how open Google and Android is while they were sabotaging everything behind the scene. Anyone who paid any attention beyond the standard talking points could see what was actually doing. While everyone was crucifying Apple for having a walled garden (which by the way is their right to do) Google went about doing the same with just a twist (sideloading). Just allowing that allowed them to keep pushing the idea they were open and their fanatics took it and ran with it. Now those same folks are trying to reconciled how they got played (maybe they don't care, they just did not like Apple so it does not matter what Google did). I am here to say to those folks, welcome to the real world.