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The DeanBeat: Epic pulls out its real case against Google in antitrust lawsuit (update)



The DeanBeat: Epic pulls out its real case against Google in antitrust lawsuit (update)

A new GamesBeat event is around the corner! Learn more about what comes next. 

On Thursday, Epic Games revealed its fully unredacted antitrust lawsuit against Google, and the nature of the allegations and the evidence to back them up is finally coming into focus.

Last summer, Epic Games tried to bypass the Google Play store on Android and the Apple App Store on iOS by enabling users to get better deals for in-game purchases in Fortnite on Epic’s own store. Google and Apple both kicked Fortnite out of their stores, and Epic filed a monumental antitrust lawsuit against them. We summed up a lot of the legal battle with Apple here.

The case against Apple proceeded more quickly. The trial has ended, and we’re awaiting a verdict from the federal judge. But the case against Google moved more slowly, and this week the federal court judge James Donato in San Francisco ruled that the allegations could be completely unsealed.

Update, 8:40 a.m. with comments from Google.


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And so it finally became clear what Epic’s beef with Google is, how this case will be very different from Apple’s, and the actions that Google allegedly took to try to buy off or buy out Epic. Just like the Apple case, this lawsuit is going to teach us a lot of things we didn’t know about gaming and the negotiations between big platform companies and powerful game developers and publishers.

In a statement, Peter Schottenfels, a spokesman for Google said, “Google Play competes with other app stores on Android devices and on rival operating systems for developer attention and business. We’ve long had programs in place that support best-in-class developers with enhanced resources and investments to help them reach more customers across Google Play. These programs are a sign of healthy competition between operating systems and app stores and benefit developers tremendously.”

Epic allegations

Above: Epic alleges Google has illegally blocked its store promotions.

Image Credit: Epic Games/court records

Epic’s allegations go pretty deep into matters such as contracts that Google allegedly tried to use to keep smartphone makers such as Samsung, LG, and OnePlus to avoid preinstalling the Epic Games Store in favor of keeping Google Plus. The suit alleges Google created “Project Hug” to give various kinds of kickbacks to game companies such as Activision Blizzard, which became a big supporter of Google Cloud and YouTube, to keep them from defecting to the Epic Games Store. And it reportedly even tried to buy Epic Games and considered buying shares from Epic Games shareholder Tencent to shut down competition from Epic.

Google’s Schottenfels commented, “As we have stated previously, Epic’s lawsuit is baseless and mischaracterizes our business conversations. Android provides more choices in mobile devices for developers and consumers.”

Both Google and Apple charge 30% fees for in-app purchases for games, which is the main source of revenue for mobile game makers. Epic charges a 12% fee, but Apple and Google have blocked Epic from getting its store on their platforms. Epic noted that the 30% fee is 10 times that charged by other payment processors such as PayPal (2.9% fee) and Stripe (2.9%).

Epic Games Tim Sweeney offered running commentary as the evidence, some of which surprised him and his company, spilled out of the court.

It appears, sadly, that Google was indeed contemplating a coordinated, multinational hostile takeover attempt of Epic in response to Fortnite launching outside of Google Play.https://t.co/yJ2dTzis7D

— Tim Sweeney (@TimSweeneyEpic) August 19, 2021

The difference between Google and Apple

With this evidence in hand, we can now consider the differences between the Apple case and the Google case, which are winding their way through the courts separately. With Apple, Epic contended the 30% commissions the big companies take from every game transaction is unfair and that Epic should be able to directly sell its in-app goods to players for lower prices. It argued that app distribution and payment could be as open on Apple’s iOS platform as it is on personal computers. As noted, Apple and Google responded by kicking Epic’s Fortnite — which has more than 400 million registered players — out of their stores.

And here’s where I should explain the “relevant market.” In an antitrust case, companies that have monopoly power and use it to control a relevant market can be found guilty of abusing that monopoly power. Apple argued the overall game market is very competitive, and Epic can easily hawk Fortnite items on other app stores as well as the consoles and the PC. Epic said that Apple had a virtual lock on a billion wealthy players who spend a lot of money, and those players can’t easily switch to another smartphone ecosystem.

Epic made this argument against Apple even though Android has a larger number of users around the world. Epic’s lawyers argued that Apple’s users were the ones that mattered. On iOS, Epic had 88 million downloads and $631 million in revenue. But on Android, Fortnite had only 21 million downloads and $47 million in revenue. It’s clear where the real money lay.

Then why did Epic sue Google, as its argument in the Apple case seems to undermine its case against Google? After all, Google allows sideloading of apps on Android, whereas Apple doesn’t. And Google contends that Android is open in contrast to the closed iOS platform. Epic still argued that Google put 15 difficult steps in the way of users who wanted to bypass the Google Play store and buy items directly from Epic.

Project Hug

The Call of Duty League Championshp is coming on August 19 to August 22.

Above: The Call of Duty League is a YouTube exclusive.

Image Credit: Activision

But the difference here is in Google’s behavior, as above allegations cite. Epic alleged that Google gave a good side deal to Activision Blizzard on YouTube sponsorships and Google Cloud services. That’s part of the allegations about Project Hug (formally referred to as Apps and Games Velocity Programs). Epic also said that Google offered to placate Epic by “offering it preferential terms on side deals, such as YouTube sponsorships and cloud services, if Epic agreed to distribute Fortnite in the Google Play Store and acceded to Google’s 30% tax.”

Epic’s lawyers wrote, “These deals allow Google to keep its monopolistic behavior publicly unchallenged. But Epic is not interested in any side deals that might benefit Epic alone while leaving Google’s anti-competitive restraints intact; instead, Epic is focused on opening up the Android ecosystem for the benefit of all developers and consumers.”

Epic, notably, isn’t asking for monetary relief in the case. It’s asking for relief from the monopolistic practices for the whole industry.

But Epic now has the uphill battle of arguing that Google has “massive market share.” It said the European Commission determined that in Europe “more than 90% of Android app downloads through app stores have been done through the Google Play Store.” That’s pretty compelling, but remember that Epic argued Apple was the monopolist in the previous case.

Epic also noted the Google Play Store has three million apps, compared to 700,000 apps offered by Aptoide, the next-largest store. (China has more competition in its app markets because Google doesn’t operate there.) And it repeated its argument about high switching costs, where it’s hard for consumers to get out of either operating system ecosystem because consumer data is locked in.

Manufacturer contracts

OnePlus 8 is the first smartphone that runs Fortnite at 90 frames per second.

Above: OnePlus 8 with Fortnite.

Image Credit: OnePlus

Epic alleged that Android is “open source” in name only because Google has entered into so-called Anti-Fragmentation Agreements, ostensibly to keep Android from forking in too many directions. But Epic said those agreements prevent phone makers from “modifying Android to offer competing app stores without restrictions.”

Moreover, Epic accused Google and Apple of colluding together, even though they’re competitors. Epic cited a 2010 private meeting between former Google CEO Larry Page and former Apple CEO Steve Jobs in which Page reportedly said “there will always be places we compete, and places where we cooperate.”

For over 15 years, Google has an agreement to pay a significant amount of revenue from searches run on iOS devices — $8 billion to $12 billion per year in recent years, according to evidence collected by the U.S. Department of Justice — in exchange for Apple making Google Search the default search engine on the Safari browser and more.

Here’s where Epic makes a very good point.

“Because Google reaps considerable profits from iOS users through its search arrangements with Apple, Google is not incentivized to compete more with Apple at the smartphone OS level and expend more resources attracting users from iOS to Android than it currently does,” Epic said. “If it did not profit significantly from searches on iOS devices, Google might be more incentivized to, among other things, differentiate its

Android platform from Apple with respect to the commissions it charges on app transactions.”

Epic accused Google and Apple of being “cozy duopolists, offering virtually the same terms to developers and changing those terms in tandem, if at all. Google’s efforts to get phone makers to preinstall Google Play on their phones matters because of “friction,” or small obstacles that can stop users from taking an action. Very few users are going to go to the trouble of deleting that store and installing the Epic Games Store.

Since 2019, Google foreclosed on Epic trying to get its Fortnite and store preinstalled on the OnePlus smartphone as well as others, Epic said. Google shares profits from the store back with the phone makers as well as developers in side deals that keep them loyal, Epic alleged.

“OnePlus informed Epic that Google was ‘particularly concerned that the Epic Games app would have ability to potentially install and update multiple games with a silent install bypassing the Google Play Store,’” Epic said.

Google reportedly engaged in Project Banyan, and another program dubbed Project Agave, to similarly lock down Samsung.

“These documents show the many efforts we’ve made to support developers in a highly competitive field,” Google’s Schottenfels said. “They also clearly show that consumers can choose from multiple app stores, and that we support their choice, including the side loading of apps — choices that enable Epic’s business on Android. We’ll continue to defend ourselves against this meritless lawsuit in court.”

Incriminating documents?

Lebron James skin in Fortnite.

Above: Skins such as LeBron James are an important revenue stream in Fortnite.

Image Credit: Epic Games

Epic alleges documents show that Google’s finance director for platforms and ecosystems prepared for the chief financial officer of Alphabet  (Google’s parent company) around the time of Fortnite’s launch on Android showed that Google feared what it termed a “contagion risk” resulting from more and more app developers forgoing Google Play.

Google feared that the “contagion” would spread in this way: first, inspired by Epic’s example, developers such as Blizzard, Valve, Sony, Nintendo — creators of some of the most popular and profitable games — would then go on their own, bypassing the Google Play store by directly distributing their own apps. Then, other major companies like Electronic Arts, King, Supercell, and Ubisoft would take similar actions.

Google allegedly calculated that the revenue at risk from this threatened loss of market share in Android app distribution would have amounted to $3.6 billion, including $550 million lost in 2021. Over time, Google might lose $6 billion in revenue. Presumably, these documents will be presented at the pending trial.

Epic also said that in July 2018, Google executives met to hear a proposal from the Google Play team to offer a partnership with Epic worth up to $208 million in various discounts over three years. Epic said this was an attempt to buy it off because Epic’s threat to the 30% royalty was likely to put the contagion in motion across the broader ecosystem of developers. Google followed through with this offer to Epic, the allegations said.

And as an alternative, a senior Google executive said it should consider approaching Tencent to buy its shares (a large stake within Epic) or to encourage Tencent to buy control of Epic itself.

Google also allegedly engaged in “anticompetitive conduct” with its Premier Device Program for smartphone makers, where the agreements contained restrictions that would preserve Google Play exclusivity.

In exchange for these exclusivity commitments, Google offered smartphone makers various forms of financial incentives, including 4% of Google’s Search revenues earned on the covered devices (on top of the 8% of Search revenues Google already commits to smartphone makers who sign other agreements as well. The restriction? The smartphone can’t have preloads that compete with Google’s store, Epic alleged.

What it means

Epic Games is launching the Free Fortnite Cup. Guess who the villain is?

Above: Epic Games launched the Free Fortnite Cup with Apple as the villain.

Image Credit: Epic Games

These are pretty specific and damning examples of anticompetitive behavior. But we have yet to see the actual evidence in court. Some may appear in the form of emails, but should the court consider that as evidence if Google didn’t actually take actions, such as attempting to buy Epic or trying to get Tencent to buy Epic? The devil is going to be in the details of the evidence, but Epic has clearly tossed the ball into Google’s court, and the burden is going to be on Google to come up with a credible response.

From what we’ve seen so far, this trial will produce a trove of very useful information on how the game business is actually run.


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Leaked Alder Lake prices strike at Ryzen’s CPU dominance



Leaked Alder Lake prices strike at Ryzen’s CPU dominance

Here’s what leaked retailer pricing tells us about the performance of Intel’s upcoming Alder Lake S CPUs.

6core vs 8core cpus

Intel / AMD / janniwet / Shutterstock

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Intel’s 12th-gen Alder Lake processors aren’t upon us yet, but another price leak indicates they might indeed compete with AMD’s best CPUs, unlike current top-end Core offerings.

The latest oopsie comes from retail IT vendor Provantage, which puts the top-end Core i9-12900K at $605. The IT vendor also lists the Core i7-12700K at $420, as well as a Core i5-12600K for $283.

After news reports of the part numbers and prices surfaced, Provantage removed the listings. The latest leak follows reports two weeks ago—supposedly from European retailers—that placed the Core i9-12900K at $705, the Core i7-12700K at $495, and the Core i5-12600 at $343.

Before you jump to any conclusions, we want to point out that as reliable as a leaked retail price might seem, they can very unreliable too. Often times stores prep for impending launches by using placeholder prices and specs. Those listings are then updated when the stores receive the final information.

The leaked info itself from Provantage would indicate it’s not quite baked yet. For example, we know the top-end Alder Lake S chip will feature 8 performance cores and 8 efficient cores (Intel’s Alder Lake chips feature a radical new mixture of big and little cores), yet the listing at Provantage lists the top-end chip as an 8-core design. 

alder lake provantage Provantage via Hothardware.com

Hothardware.com snapped this image of Intel’s 12th gen Alder Lake CPUs at retailer Provantage. that has since been removed.

Still, both combined retail leaks reinforce what we’ve already come to conclude so far: Intel’s 12th-gen Alder Lake S will at least suit up with the intent to take on AMD’s 16-core Ryzen 9 5950X.

That’s a marked change from the $550 8-core 11th gen Rocket Lake CPU, which lost badly to AMD’s $550 12-core Ryzen 9 5900X chip. With the 11th-gen desktop chips, Intel didn’t even try to field a CPU against AMD’s $750 Ryzen 9 5950X.

With its increased core efficiency, newer manufacturing process, and physically more cores than previous Intel consumer desktop CPUs, it’s entirely possible Intel’s 12th Core i9 will actually end up being somewhere between $604 and $705 when it comes out.

intel alder lake performance core benchmark Intel

Intel is touting a marked increase in core efficiency with its 12th gen Alder Lake CPUs.

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One of founding fathers of hardcore tech reporting, Gordon has been covering PCs and components since 1998.

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The best Windows backup software



The best Windows backup software


The best programs for keeping your data and Windows safely backed up.

Rob Schultz/IDG

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We need backup software for our PCs because our storage drives won’t last forever. Backup software ensures we’re covered when the day comes that our primary drive up and dies.

It would be nice if Microsoft itself provided Windows users with something like Apple’s Time Machine: an effective, set-it-and-forget-it, total system recovery and backup solution that requires little interaction or thought on the user’s part. 

Instead, Microsoft delivers a mishmash of restore points, recovery discs, file backup, and even the un-retired System Backup (Windows 7), which was probably originally put out to pasture for its propensity to choke on dissimilar hardware. Online backup services are another option, but desktop clients tend to offer far more flexibility. 

Plenty of vendors have stepped in with worthy alternatives, and while none are quite as slick or transparent as Time Machine, some come darn close—and many are free. Read on for our top picks. 

Updated on 9/15/21 to include our review of the newest version of Aomei Backupper 6. It remains our favorite free backup software for Windows because it provides a near-total backup solution, with a generous number of features. As a paid program, however, there are better options. Read more about it below. And scroll to the bottom of this article to see links to all our backup software reviews.

Best overall backup software

There’s a reason True Image is renowned in the world of backup software. It’s capable, flexible, and rock-solid reliable. Indeed, it’s easily the most comprehensive data safety package on the planet.

Besides offering unparalleled backup functionality that’s both robust and easy to navigate, True Image integrates security apps as well, which protect against malware, malicious websites, and other threats using real-time monitoring. Read our full review.

Best free backup software

Among the free programs we tested, Backupper Standard wins primarily because it has the most features, including imaging, file backup, disk cloning, and plain file syncing, plus multiple scheduling options (see our full review). This was the case with Backupper 4, and the latest version has only added more options, making it a surprisingly well-rounded free offering. We hit a few performance snags with less-conventional system setups, but for the average user, it should perform as expected.

What to look for in backup software

As with most things—don’t over-buy. Features you don’t need add complexity and may slow down your system. Additionally, if you intend to back up to a newly purchased external hard drive, check out the software that ships with it. Seagate, WD, and others provide backup utilities that are adequate for the average user.

File backup: If you want to back up only your data (operating systems and programs can be reinstalled, though it’s mildly time- and effort-consuming), a program that backs up just the files you select is a major time-saver. Some programs automatically select the appropriate files if you use the Windows library folders (Documents, Photos, Videos, etc.).

Image backup/Imaging: Images are byte-for-byte snapshots of your entire hard drive (normally without the empty sectors) or partition, and can be used to restore both the operating system and data. Imaging is the most convenient to restore in case of a system crash, and also ensures you don’t miss anything important.

Boot media:  Should your system crash completely, you need an alternate way to boot and run the recovery software. Any backup program should be able to create a bootable optical disc or USB thumb drive. Some will also create a restore partition on your hard drive, which can be used instead if the hard drive is still operational.

Scheduling: If you’re going to back up effectively, you need to do it on a regular basis. Any backup program worth its salt allows you to schedule backups.

Versioning: If you’re overwriting previous files, that’s not backup, it’s one-way syncing or mirroring. Any backup program you use should allow you to retain several previous backups, or with file backup, previous versions of the file. The better software will retain and cull older backups according to criteria you establish.

Optical support: Every backup program supports hard drives, but as obsolescent as they may seem, DVDs and Blu-Ray discs are great archive media. If you’re worried about optical media’s reliability, M-Disc claims its discs are reliable for a thousand years, claims that are backed up by Department of Defense testing.

Online support: An offsite copy of your data is a hedge against physical disasters such as flood, fire, and power surges. Online storage services are a great way to maintain an offsite copy of your data. Backup to Dropbox and the like is a nice feature to have.

FTP and SMB/AFP: Backing up to other computers or NAS boxes on your network or in remote locations (say, your parent’s house) is another way of physically safeguarding your data with an offsite, or at least physically discrete copy. FTP can be used for offsite, while SMB (Windows and most OS’s) and AFP (Apple) are good for other PCs or NAS on your local network.

Real time: Real-time backup means that files are backed up whenever they change, usually upon creation or save. It’s also called mirroring and is handy for keeping an immediately available copy of rapidly changing data sets. For less volatile data sets, the payoff doesn’t compensate for the drain on system resources. Instead, scheduling should be used.

Continuous backup: In this case, ‘continuous’ simply means backing up on a tight schedule, generally every 5 to 15 minutes, instead of every day or weekly. Use continuous backup for rapidly changing data sets where transfer rates are too slow, or computing power is too precious for real-time backup.

Performance: Most backups proceed in the background or during dead time, so performance isn’t a huge issue in the consumer space. However, if you’re backing up multiple machines or to multiple destinations, or dealing with very large data sets, speed is a consideration.

How we test

We run each program through the various types of backups it’s capable of. This is largely to test reliability and hardware compatibility, but we time two: an approximately 115GB system image (two partitions), and a roughly 50GB image created from a set of smaller files and folders. We then mount the images and test their integrity via the program’s restore functions. We also test the USB boot drives created by the programs.

All of our reviews

If you’d like to learn more about our top picks as well as other options, you can find links below to all of our backup software reviews. We’ll keep evaluating new programs and re-evaluating existing software on a regular basis, so be sure to check back for our current impressions.

Note: When you purchase something after clicking links in our articles, we may earn a small commission. Read our affiliate link policy for more details.

Jon is a Juilliard-trained musician, former x86/6800 programmer, and long-time (late 70s) computer enthusiast living in the San Francisco bay area. [email protected]

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Razer just made gamer thimbles



Razer just made gamer thimbles

Or maybe they’re yoga pants for your thumbs?

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Razer has never been afraid to take a shot on products that seem unusual at first glance. Witness its RGB-infused N95 mask, the now-defunct Razer Game Store with its own zVault currency, or the first-gen Firefly mousepad, which has evolved into something special but originally prompted us to review it against a ripped-up piece of cardboard. The company’s latest offering might just take the cake though. This week, Razer introduced gamer thimbles.

Yes, thimbles. You know, like the Monopoly piece (or the sewing accessory for more worldly folks out there). Seriously.

Well, not quite. If you simply can’t abide sweaty palms and greasy fingerprints interfering with your marathon mobile Fortnite sessions, the new Razer gaming finger sleeve may be up your alley. “Slip on and never slip up with Razer Gaming Finger Sleeve that will seal your mobile victory,” Razer’s site breathlessly boasts.  “Woven with high-sensitivity silver fiber for enhanced aim and control, our breathable sleeves keep your fingers deadly cool in the heat of battle, so you’ll always have a grip on the game.”

Razer says the 0.8mm-thick sleeves are sweat absorbent, and that they’re made from nylon and spandex. So maybe they’re more like gamer yoga pants? But you know, for your fingers?

Either way it’s ludicrous. And unlike most of Razer’s gear, the gamer thimbles understandably (yet sadly) lack RGB lighting. But if you want to wear your dedication to the Cult of Razer on your slee…thumb, or maybe just look snazzier when you’re passing Go and collecting $200, you can pick up a pair of Razer gaming finger sleeves on the company’s website for $10. The truly dedicated can double down to look especially gamer:

razer gamer thimbles 2 Razer

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