August 24, 2021
Photo: Erik Mclean/Unsplash
This week in Protocol Gaming, your weekly guide to the business of video games: Epic Games' Google antitrust suit spills some startling secrets, developers open up about game bugs and bad publishing contracts, and industry trade site Gamasutra retires its "cringey" name.
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If you thought the Epic v. Apple case had exposed some of the tech and gaming industry's dirtiest laundry, then let me present to you the companion antitrust suit against Google. This one may be even more explosive, especially if it also goes to trial as Apple's did back in May.
Up until last week, the Google suit had remained relatively obscure. That's both because the case against the search giant felt weaker than Epic's battle against the walled garden of iOS and because the documents involved had so far remained heavily redacted.
Last week, some of the key redactions were removed, after the presiding judge denied Google an order to seal an amended complaint Epic filed in July. The results were nothing short of astounding, revealing the extent to which Google has gone over the last half-decade to prevent any and all challengers from competing with the Play Store and Google's vast empire of software services.
Many of these efforts were not previously known to the public. Documents produced during discovery for the case have revealed an extensive initiative within Google called "Project Hug" designed to dissuade app makers from following in Epic's footsteps and releasing software outside the Play Store.
Google is facing down a number of antitrust investigations in the U.S., including most recently one launched by 36 state attorneys general back in July. Others include one filed last December by a coalition of 38 states and one from the Justice Department filed in October. The company has also seen extensive antitrust enforcement in the EU.
Google's defense against Epic so far has been to claim that "Android provides more choices in mobile devices for developers and consumers," as it did in its statement regarding the unredacted complaint. But that claim doesn't hold up against the reality of its business strategies, which have mostly centered on depriving developers and consumers of such choices.
The main motivating factor for Google appears to be money. The company estimated in 2019 that it risked losing as much as $6 billion per year if app makers and app store operators banded together with Epic and began creating alternative distribution channels. So instead of offering a superior product, the company muscled its way to a market position now being viewed by U.S. regulators as potentially anticompetitive. Now that we know some of the mobile industry's dirtiest secrets, Epic's Fortnite lawsuit doesn't seem so silly anymore.
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After nearly a quarter of a century, one of the most well-respected industry trade publications in gaming is losing its controversial name. Gamasutra, which helped pioneer a more developer-centric style of video game reporting, is rebranding to the cleaner GameDeveloper.com starting Thursday.
The name pays homage to the defunct magazine of the same name from which Gamasutra was spun out. "Maybe this all doesn't sound so bad here, but trust me, after years of cringe and awkwardness you realize just how overdue we are for a name change," wrote Gamastura publisher Kris Graft in the announcement post. "And judging by Twitter responses from game devs, you're all ready for the change too."
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