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The maker of 'Fortnite' will begin a courtroom fight with high stakes


The maker of the popular video game Fortnite will begin a fight today with higher stakes than you will find in one of its typical online battles.


Epic Games will be in federal court in San Francisco for the beginning of an antitrust case against Google. Now, Epic claims Google has a monopoly over developers because of the way it runs its App Store. The online search giant says a victory for Epic would damage a business model that has delivered lower prices for customers.

MARTIN: Adi Robertson is a senior tech and policy editor for The Verge and has been following this case and is with us now to tell us more. Good morning.


MARTIN: So could you just tell us more about how Epic Games and Google got to the point where they've ended up in court?

ROBERTSON: So Epic, as mentioned, runs Fortnite, and Fortnite is a free-to-play game. It makes a lot of its money by selling virtual currency through its app. And because of that, it pays what it is derided as a Google tax, which is a commission that Google takes on in-app purchases not just for video games but for a lot of apps and a smaller fee for subscriptions. And so it updated its game in 2020 to add a new way of paying that offered cheaper prices to customers and didn't use Google's payment system. Google banned it from the store, and then Epic sued, saying that this was a demonstration of how Google maintains an illegal monopoly. It did the same for Apple, and there was another lawsuit that went to trial in 2021.

MARTIN: Yeah. Tell me about that. I was - I'm not an expert here, but that sounded familiar. So you're reminding us that Epic sued Apple for much the same thing. How did that work out?

ROBERTSON: That ended up in what's largely considered a victory for Apple, that the judge determined that Apple had the right to run its model. It didn't have to open up its App Store, although it did have to make some changes in how it let app developers tell users about potential other ways to pay. But that case is currently going up. They're attempting to get it to the Supreme Court, so we don't know what the final outcome is going to be.

MARTIN: So how is this case different?

ROBERTSON: This case, in some ways, is just another attempt at the - another sort of bite at the same apple, although it's not Apple this time. But among other things, it's going up in front of a jury, so the arguments - instead of a judge, so the arguments could be a little bit different. They could focus a little more on just trying to sway a jury about the basic monopoly arguments here. But I think that it's still, in some ways, an uphill battle for Epic.

MARTIN: How come? Why do you say that?

ROBERTSON: We've seen a lot of antitrust cases over the last few years, and in a lot of cases, it's been just very difficult to make the argument that prices are getting raised or that people are getting locked out, especially when the services involved are cheap or pretty free, that a lot of these services, the tech companies involved can say, look, it's really easy to just go and switch to another website or another app store or buy another phone.

MARTIN: And this is big because, as briefly as you can, this is a big deal, not just for video game fans, because...

ROBERTSON: If you own a phone - and an Android phone, especially - Epic's claim is that you're paying higher prices than you need to for things that you buy inside apps. That there are entire business models that have been harder because if you're selling a virtual good, like not just a video game purchase, but an e-book or an audiobook, then those things get slapped with this fee that's higher than Epic argues it should be. And so they're saying they want to open this up. Meanwhile, Google is saying that Android is a viable competitor to Apple because of this method they have.

MARTIN: That is Adi Robertson of The Verge. Adi, thank you.

ROBERTSON: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MATT WILDE'S "PIVOT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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