Two distinct plans, interchangeable if necessary, to try to bypass the Play Store, or in any case avoid paying Google a 30% commission for each content sold via its Android application market. It was the idea of the American giant Activision-Blizzard-King (ABK) at the end of 2019. Internal documents, shared by the firm in the context of the ongoing trial between Epic Games and Google, make it possible to discover the main details of this dual project aimed at maximizing the revenues of the group, recently acquired by Microsoft.
A “Steam mobile games” wanted by Activision
The first of Activision’s two plans was to launch its own application market on Android, in order to distribute its games and content there, bypassing the Play Store. This store, completely independent from that of Google, could have been created either through a partnership with Epic Games or Supercell (publisher of the mobile game Clash of clans), or entirely by Activision, and therefore without external help. We also learn that it would have been distributed thanks to the sideload enabled by Android. Clearly, Activision would have sent the user to its website, from where they would have been invited to manually download this application market in the form of an executable file, to then be able to install it on their smartphone or tablet Android.
From this store, Activision would have been able to distribute its games (mainly candy Crush, Call of Duty MobileAnd Diablo Immortal), but also to offer other content for download or purchase. This store would also have been used to update games already installed on the user’s device. We finally discover that other publishers have been invited to distribute their mobile games there, in exchange for a commission of 10 to 12%… which is much less than what is claimed by Google.
In emails exchanged between Tim Sweeney (CEO of Epic Games) and Armin Zerza (CFO of Activision), this project is presented as a sort of “Steam mobile games“: a single place to buy and download games for smartphones and tablets, equipped with its own payment system. If successful, Activision finally had the ultimate goal of extending the concept to iOS, and therefore to iPhones and iPads. .. which would surely have been more complicated to implement, the Apple ecosystem being in essence much more locked than the Android universe.
Google would have paid Activision to nip this store in the bud
Activision’s second plan, studied in parallel with the first, was ultimately the one that worked… immediately leading to the abandonment of the independent store project detailed above. This time it consisted of negotiating an agreement worth more than $100 million with Google aimed at “strengthen Activision-Blizzard-King’s profitability in mobile, YouTube, advertising, media spend and cloud computing“, we read.
Ultimately, an agreement of this nature was indeed signed between Activision and Google, and for much more than $100 million, notes The Verge. According to Don Harrison, head of partnerships at Google, the contract (concluded in 2020) “allows billions of dollars to flow between the two companies“.
This success of Activision, however, aroused the interest of Epic Games’ lawyers in the current lawsuit with Google, because this agreement can be seen as a concession made by Google in order to avoid the creation of an independent store on Android. A sort of XXL “payment” in the form of a partnership, which would have allowed the Mountain View firm to avoid the creation of a competing application store.
A thesis all the more studied as Activision obviously only planned relatively modest means to create this store. From there to thinking that it was in reality only a chimera exclusively intended to bring Google down, with no real vocation to exist… there is only one step.