New details emerge in the Epic Games vs. Google trial revealing a secret project by Activision Blizzard. Known as the “Boston Project,” its aim would have been to boost revenues in the company’s mobile sector, now owned by Microsoft, drastically altering its relationship with Google.
According to The Verge, one of the strategies involved creating an independent Android app store, either alone or in partnership with Epic Games and Supercell, to bypass the Google Play Store’s intermediation. Another strategy was to negotiate a deal with Google worth over $100 million to achieve better financial outcomes across various channels (mobile, YouTube, advertising, media investment, and the cloud).
Activision Blizzard’s Chief Financial Officer, Armin Zerza, conceptualized the idea of their own mobile game store as the “Steam for mobile” in private emails exchanged with Epic’s CEO, Tim Sweeney.
The proposed store would have charged a transaction commission of 10-12%, significantly lower than the 30% commission imposed by Google and other gaming platforms. The ultimate goal was to release all titles from Activision, Blizzard, and King’s first on Android and later on iOS.
The initial plan for the mobile store was a small-scale project with fewer than 70 people working on it by 2021, starting with a pilot program featuring games like Candy Crush. In January 2020, Activision Blizzard signed a deal with Google worth much more than $100 million. According to Google’s Head of Partnerships, Don Harrison, now “billions of dollars flow between the two companies.”
Epic has claimed that Google paid Activision Blizzard not to create its own app store through a deal called “Project Hug,” aiming to prevent a “contagion effect” that could lead major game developers to leave Google Play. Another company offered a similar deal was Netflix, although Netflix chose to reject the offer and disable the option to subscribe to its service through the Android app.
In the ongoing trial, lawyers, experts, and witnesses from Epic and Google debated whether Activision Blizzard genuinely planned to launch the app store or if it was a ploy to gain an advantage, as one of the program’s objectives was to “pressure Google (ongoing negotiations).”
Zerza stated in his testimony that the app store idea was “a very early exploratory discussion” and was never executed because Google’s offer was more financially appealing. Since then, Activision Blizzard has continued to “explore” the possibility of launching its own app store.