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Activision Blizzard had intentions to establish its Android game store, as reported by The Verge

In late 2019, Activision Blizzard King initiated an ambitious initiative named "Project Boston" with the goal of optimizing revenue from its mobile games by transforming its association with Google. The project aimed to establish an independent Android app store, potentially in collaboration with Epic Games and Supercell or as a standalone initiative, bypassing Google Play Store fees.

Internal emails and documents exposed during the Epic v. Google trial and seen by The Verge unveiled two parallel plans. The first involved creating a mobile game store, touted as the “Steam of Mobile,” offering a singular platform for purchasing mobile games with a reduced transaction fee compared to Google’s standard 30 percent. The envisioned store would debut on Android, followed by potential expansion to the iPhone.

Simultaneously, Activision Blizzard was engaged in negotiations with Google for a deal exceeding $100 million, covering various aspects like mobile, YouTube, advertising, media spend, and cloud services. The December 2019 “Project Boston” document made it evident that Activision Blizzard intended to choose between the two plans. If substantial savings were secured with Google, the company would prioritize the deal and deprioritize the second path of building its mobile store.

Had Activision Blizzard pursued the “build own mobile store” path, the launch was slated for 2019 or 2020, starting as a small-scale project with fewer than 70 employees dedicated to the mobile store by 2021. The strategy involved a minimal viable product (MVP) pilot program featuring King games like Candy Crush, initially launching in the US.

The proposed timeline included a gradual ramp-up with added capabilities in 2020, such as multi-account support and push notifications, expanding to more markets with increased tools and support. By 2021, the objective was to achieve a comprehensive “ABK solution at scale,” encompassing all the company’s mobile games.

However, the plan was abandoned as Activision Blizzard opted for a lucrative deal with Google, worth more than $100 million. The court revealed signatures of ABK’s CFO and Google’s Hiroshi Lockheimer on the deal, solidifying a partnership that now involves “billions of dollars flowing between the two companies.”

Epic alleged that Google effectively paid Activision Blizzard not to launch its competing app store through a Project Hug deal, part of Google’s strategy to prevent a “contagion effect” caused by top game developers defecting from Google Play following Epic Games’ actions.

The court proceedings witnessed debates over Activision Blizzard’s true intent regarding the app store. While Google believed it was a genuine threat, evidence surfaced suggesting it might have been a leverage tactic. The pilot program’s stated goal to “put pressure on Google (ongoing negotiations)” and the CFO’s testimony raised questions about the company’s commitment.

In deposition, Activision Blizzard CFO Armin Zerza downplayed the app store idea as “very early exploratory discussions.” The company never pursued it due to financial considerations, choosing the more attractive deal with Google. Despite this, Zerza mentioned ongoing considerations for launching an app store in subsequent years. Notably, Activision Blizzard is now under Microsoft’s ownership, potentially intensifying any future clash over mobile app stores.

Source: adapted from an article by Jordan Bevan, Author of Archives for Mobile Marketing Reads.

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