Project Boston was Activision-Blizzard’s attempt to create a ‘Steam of mobile’ games store

    
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Popcorn appropriately.

The point of the Epic v. Google antitrust lawsuit is ostensibly about whether Google is holding a monopoly that prevents competitors like Epic from getting in on that juicy mobile gaming money pie. However, it has also been an eye-opener of gaming industry news beyond that scope, like Google wanting to buy up Epic or how Epic’s CEO would have waged legal war on Sony if crossplay features weren’t allowed. Now the latest light cast by the lawsuit is thrown across Activision-Blizzard, which was attempting to open its own bespoke mobile storefront.

This so-called Project Boston had aims to be a “Steam of mobile” according to pitch emails sent from ActiBlizz CFO Armin Zerza. The company had considered either running the store on its own or entering into a partnership with Epic and Supercell, and was proposing taking a 10% to 12% cut of app sales, which is far below the 30% demanded of Google, Apple, and other platform walled gardens run by Sony and Nintendo. According to documents, the “end state goal” was to place ABK’s mobile games and potential other third-party apps exclusively on this storefront.

At the same time, other emails then confirmed that ABK was seeking a $100M partnership with Google to “capture stronger economics for ABK across mobile, YouTube, advertising, media spend, and cloud,” while a related Project Boston document noted that if the Google deal went through, then Project Boston – and the subsequent Epic deal – would be dropped. “Should we secure real savings with Google, we would deprioritize path 2,” reads part of the document.

Obviously, the ABK mobile store didn’t happen, as Google and Activision-Blizzard signed a $100M deal in January 2020 that, according to Google partnerships boss Don Harrison, saw “billions of dollars flowing between the two companies.”

This in turn has raised arguments on both sides of the case, with Epic’s lawyers claiming that the deal is an illustration that Google wants to stop any potential competition no matter the cost, while Google lawyers and entered evidence suggest that Project Boston was a ploy all along, with a goal of putting pressure on negotiations with Google. ABK maintains in testimony that this app store was part of “very early exploratory discussions” and got dropped for not being “financially attractive.”

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