Fortnite Fined $520 Million Over 'Unfair' Microtransactions
Epic Games Hit with Record-Breaking Fine Over Fortnite's Deceptive Practices
Epic Games, the creators of the popular battle royale game Fortnite, have been hit with a hefty fine of $520 million by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) over alleged "unfair" microtransaction practices.
According to the FTC, Fortnite used "privacy-invasive default settings" and "deceptive interfaces" to trick players into making unintended purchases. These so-called "dark patterns" included a confusing button configuration that led players to make accidental purchases. The FTC also claims that account holders could be charged without authorization and that children have spent hundreds of dollars on the game without their parents' knowledge.
The fine is made up of a $275 million penalty for violating the Children's Online Privacy Protection (COPPA) rule, which imposes limitations on websites and online services directed at children under 13, and $245 million in refunds to customers. The FTC says that Epic "ignored more than one million user complaints" about wrongful charges while "purposefully" obscuring cancel and refund features.
In addition to microtransactions, Fortnite's voice chat settings were also scrutinized by the FTC. The agency claims that Epic employees "urged" the company to change the default settings to require users to opt in for voice chat, but that the company "resisted" turning the feature off even as children were being harassed, including sexually, while playing the game.
As a result of the settlement, Fortnite will be required to disable voice and text communications for children and teens under 13 or for parents to provide consent through the privacy setting. Epic must also delete personal information gathered from Fortnite users in violation of COPPA and establish a "comprehensive privacy program."
Epic Games has issued a response to the FTC's allegations, saying in part:
No developer creates a game with the intention of ending up here. The video game industry is a place of fast-moving innovation, where player expectations are high and new ideas are paramount. Statutes written decades ago don’t specify how gaming ecosystems should operate. The laws have not changed, but their application has evolved and long-standing industry practices are no longer enough. We accepted this agreement because we want Epic to be at the forefront of consumer protection and provide the best experience for our players.
Epic went on to address the allegations point by point, saying that "all game developers should rethink steps they've taken to simplify payment flows" and noting that it implemented a high privacy default setting in September. The company also listed what it says is an updated chargeback policy, self-service refunds, instant cancellations of cosmetic purchases, and "no paid random item loot boxes since 2019 and no gambling ever."
The fine is the latest in a series of actions by the FTC targeting the video game industry. The agency has previously sued to block Microsoft's attempted acquisition of Activision Blizzard. Epic Games has also been involved in lawsuits with Apple and Google over issues like Apple's 30% take from both apps and in-app purchases.
Despite the controversy, Fortnite continues to be a hugely popular game with a devoted player base. The game recently kicked off Chapter 4, which is described as a "new beginning" thanks to a major graphical overhaul and other updates.
Players can expect to see a host of new features and improvements as they battle it out on the island, including new weapons and gameplay mechanics. Whether you're a seasoned pro or a newcomer to the game, there's never been a better time to jump into the action and see what all the hype is about.
So grab your pickaxe and get ready to join the fight! Just be sure to keep an eye on your microtransactions and make sure you're not falling victim to any "dark patterns" along the way.