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Epic Games C.E.O. Says Google Has ‘De Facto Control’ on Android App

It was a long-awaited day in court for Epic Games’ chief executive, Tim Sweeney, who testified in a San Francisco federal courthouse on Monday in the company’s legal battle against Google.

The fight between the companies started in summer 2020 when Epic, the company behind the popular video game Fortnite, wanted Google to stop charging app developers a 30 percent fee for purchases made on its Play Store on Android devices.

When Google refused, Epic installed its own payment system in the Fortnite app on Android, charging consumers a lower price.

Google responded by removing Fortnite from its Play Store on Aug. 13, 2020. On the same day, Mr. Sweeney sued Google, accusing the tech giant of asserting monopolistic control over mobile game developers on its Play Store.

“I want to make it clear to everybody exactly what was happening on these platforms,” Mr. Sweeney said from a witness stand on Monday. “I want everybody to see and understand Google exercises de facto control over the availability of apps on Android.”

In 2021, a federal judge rejected most of Epic’s arguments in a similar case against Apple. This time, a nine-person jury will decide whether Google violated antitrust laws by exploiting smaller rivals in a trial that is expected to conclude next month.

The outcome could have wide implications. If Epic wins, Google could be forced to allow other companies to offer competing payment systems on the Play Store.

Since the trial started two weeks ago, Mr. Sweeney has been sitting in the front row of the courtroom almost every day. He was determined to go to trial alone: Google announced a settlement last month with the other plaintiff in this case, Match Group, a dating app company. In September, Google reached a settlement with dozens of state attorneys general who sued the company on similar grounds.

In his testimony, Mr. Sweeney insisted that his goal was to distribute the games to more users, rather than seek monetary damages, and that Google’s fee prevented Epic from expanding its business. In a cross-examination, Google’s lawyer, Jonathan Kravis, said Epic also paid gaming console companies, including Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft, a 30 percent commission fee and had made $12 billion from the consoles together.

Mr. Sweeney nodded to the number, despite saying earlier on Monday that Epic is currently losing money.

Mr. Kravis also pushed Mr. Sweeney on his claim about passing the savings from the fees to customers. For example, Epic is charging the same price for in-game purchases on all platforms, including its own store, where it doesn’t pay a fee.

“You are putting the money in your pocket, right?” Mr. Kravis asked.

Mr. Sweeney did not deny the allegation, but he said Epic was saving about 3 percent from not using a payment processor. In testimony later, he also said that a contract with Sony prevented Epic from selling Fortnite for less than its price on PlayStation, and that Apple and Microsoft were paid nothing when Epic distributed Fortnite through the companies’ personal computers.

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