Activision Blizzard, the gaming giant behind popular titles like Call of Duty, World of Warcraft, and Candy Crush, had a secret project to create its own mobile game store for Android devices, according to documents revealed in the ongoing Epic vs Google trial. The project, codenamed “Project Boston”, was pitched as the “Steam of Mobile” and aimed to compete with Google Play by offering lower transaction fees and exclusive games. However, the plan was later dropped in favor of a lucrative deal with Google that involved cloud gaming, YouTube, and advertising.
The details of Project Boston emerged from internal emails and other documents that were seen during the courtroom hearing, where Epic Games is suing Google for allegedly abusing its monopoly power over the Android app distribution market. Epic Games, the maker of Fortnite, also had its own app store for Android, which was banned by Google in 2020 for violating its policies.
According to the documents, Activision Blizzard planned to launch its mobile game store in 2019 or 2020, starting with the US market and featuring games from its subsidiary King, such as Candy Crush. The store would have been available for download from the internet, bypassing Google Play, and would have charged developers 10 to 12% transaction fees, lower than the 30% that Google imposes. The store would have also included all of Activision Blizzard’s mobile games and more by 2021, and possibly expanded to iOS as well.
However, Activision Blizzard decided not to pursue the project because “it wasn’t financially attractive”, according to the testimony of its Chief Financial Officer, Mr. Armin Zerza. Instead, the company signed a deal with Google that was worth “far more than $100 million” and allowed it to “capture stronger economics for ABK across mobile, YouTube, advertising, media spend, and cloud”. The deal also included the exclusive streaming rights for Activision Blizzard’s esports events on YouTube.
Activision Blizzard’s spokespersons have said that Google never asked, pressured, or made them agree not to compete with Google Play. The company also said that the project was not a serious attempt to create an app store, but rather a ploy for leverage. One of the goals of the project was to “put pressure on Google”, according to the documents.
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The Epic vs Google trial is expected to last for several weeks and could have major implications for the future of app distribution on Android. Epic Games is seeking to end Google’s alleged anti-competitive practices and allow more choice and innovation for developers and consumers. Google, on the other hand, is defending its policies and arguing that they are necessary for security, privacy, and quality.