Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney on Monday portrayed Google as a ruthless tyrant resorting to shady tactics to protect a predatory payment system.
His testimony came as a witness in an antitrust case involving Epic Games’ attempt to upend Google’s store for Android phone apps.
Sweeney’s more than two-hour appearance on the witness stand in San Francisco came less than a week after Google CEO Sundar Pichai defended the way his company runs its Play Store for Android apps before the 10-member jury.
It is one of two antitrust cases against Google, whose $1.7 trillion tech empire is under threat from legal attacks aimed at breaking it up.
Testimony in the Android phone app case is expected to be completed before Christmas.
The other case, focused on the dominant search engine Google, ended last week but will not be decided by a federal judge in Washington, DC, until next year.
While Sweeney tried to portray Google as a greedy monopolist questioned by his own lawyer, Google lawyer Jonathan Kravis tried to flip the script.
Much of his cross-examination appeared aimed at portraying Sweeney as an executive primarily interested in circumventing a long-standing commission system to boost his video game company’s profits.
Epic, the maker of the popular Fortnite game, claims that Google engaged in illegal price gouging by taking commissions of between 15% and 30% on in-app digital transactions.
It’s similar to a payment system that Epic unsuccessfully challenged in a parallel lawsuit against Apple’s iPhone App Store.
Epic is appealing the outcome of the Apple lawsuit to the US Supreme Court.
Unlike Apple’s iPhone App Store, Google already gives the Play Store competition – something Epic tried to do when it decided to launch Fortnite for Android phones on its own website instead of the Play Store in 2018.
In his testimony on Monday, Sweeney recalled how Google called him to its headquarters in Mountain View, California, to convince Epic to release Fortnite on the Play Store instead.
Sweeney said Google tried to lure him with a variety of financial incentives, which he declined.
“It appeared to be a lopsided agreement,” Sweeney told the jury. “Google proposed a series of side deals that appeared aimed at convincing Epic not to compete with them.”
Sweeney’s appearance came after Epic’s lawyers previously submitted Google documents showing that Google had offered video game maker Activision Blizzard a $360 million package over a preliminary plan to compete with the Play Store to drop.
Google’s lawyers submitted additional documents outlining that the deal would provide Activision with benefits of more than $315 million.
After rebuffing Google’s overtures, Epic attempted to distribute Fortnite for Android through its own website.
But Sweeney testified that the effort quickly turned into a “depressing process,” with far fewer players downloading Fortnite for Android phones than expected.
He attributed the disappointing response to Google’s machinations that made it a cumbersome process outside of the Play Store and its use of pop-up “scare screens” that warned of possible problems with the software.
“We realized that Google was a difficult opponent and could hinder us,” Sweeney said.
Epic finally released Fortnite on the Play Store in 2020, while the company hatched a secret plan to eventually circumvent the commission system by secretly introducing an alternative payment option as part of what Sweeney called “Project Liberty.”
The alternative payment option was released in revamped Fortnite apps for both the Play Store and iPhone App Store in August 2020, prompting both Apple and Google to block it within hours.
Epic then filed antitrust lawsuits as part of what Sweeney described as a crusade on behalf of all game makers as more games take place on smartphones rather than consoles and PCs.
“It’s a problem that I see as existential for all games, including Epic,” Sweeney said.
During his questioning of Sweeney, Google attorney Kravis explained the 30% commissions that Epic pays Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo for transactions on the PlayStation, Xbox and Switch consoles without complaint, while Epic still makes billions of dollars in profits from these platforms collects.
In response to a question from a judge, Sweeney revealed that video game consoles and PCs generated more than 90% of Epic’s revenue from in-app purchases in 2020, when Fortnite was also available on the iPhone App Store and Play Store.
Sweeney didn’t say why Epic hasn’t fought the 30% commission fee on gaming devices other than smartphones, but he left no doubt about his goal in this effort.
“We want the jury to find that Google violated the law so that the court can force Google to stop these practices,” Sweeney said.