Back in 2018, Google and Epic Games kicked off a years-old spat over Fortnite on the Play Store. Instead of distributing the game through Google Play, Epic decided that sideloading would be the way to get Fortnite on Android, thereby sidestepping Google’s 30 percent cut of sales. Epic would go on to file an antitrust complaint against Google, and newly unsealed court documents spotted by The Verge reveal an interesting solution that Google was kicking around at the time: the company was considering buying Epic.
In the document, Epic repeatedly says Google viewed Epic’s Play Store end-around as a “contagion” that could disrupt Google’s walled garden, and Google “even contemplated buying some or all of Epic to squelch this threat.” Epic CEO Tim Sweeney tweeted that this plan “was unbeknownst to us at the time,” indicating that Google never went through with an acquisition offer. In 2018, investors were giving Epic Games a $15 billion valuation, so Google would have needed a pretty hefty offer. Today, Epic’s last round of funding put its worth at $29 billion. Imagine how different things could be today if Google owned an established game developer!
Epic’s antitrust complaints against Google revolve around the security, functionality, and contractual barriers it alleges Google erects around third-party app stores on Android. In order to sideload an app on Android (like a third-party app store), users have to tap through several scary messages warning them that sideloading is dangerous. Less tech-savvy users might be turned away by the high friction install process. And once installed, third-party app stores still can’t update apps in the background the way Google Play can.