The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has announced that Epic Games will have to pay $520 million for “design gimmicks… to trick millions of players into making unintended purchases” in Fortnite. The fine stems from two “record” settlements. One was a $275 million fine for violating the Children’s Online Privacy Protection (COPPA) rule, which places restrictions on websites and online services directed at children under 13. Epic will also have to pay $245 million in refunds to customers who were affected by Fortnite’s “dark pattern.”
According to the FTC, Fortnite uses “privacy-invading default settings” and “misleading skins” to “mislead” players. FTC Chair Lina Khan said: “Protecting the public, especially children, from online invasions of privacy and dark patrons is one of the Commission’s top priorities. These enforcement actions make it clear to companies that the FTC is cracking down on illegal behavior.”
These “dark patterns” include tricking players into making unwanted in-game purchases through “unintuitive, inconsistent, and confusing button layouts”, including charging upon waking up from sleep mode. The FTC also said account holders can be charged without authorization and that children have had to pay “hundreds of dollars” in fees before parents know what’s going on. In that regard, the FTC revealed that Epic “ignored more than a million user complaints” about false charges while “deliberately” hiding cancellation and refund features.
In addition to microtransactions, Fortnite’s voice chat feature is also on the FTC’s radar. The committee stated that Epic employees “urged” the company to change Fortnite’s default settings to require users to opt-in to voice chat, but the company “resisted” turning off the feature, even when children they are “harassed while gaming”.
As a result, Fortnite will need to disable voice and text communication for children and teens under 13, or allow parents to enable the feature through their privacy settings. Epic must also remove personal information collected from Fortnite users for violating COPPA rules and establish a “comprehensive privacy program.”
Epic released a lengthy response that read: “No developer builds a game with this end in mind. The video game industry is a place of rapid innovation, where expectations are high for players and new ideas are paramount. laws written decades ago are not. t specify how the game ecosystem should work. The rules have not changed, but their application has evolved. Traditional development and industry practices are no longer sufficient. We accept this agreement because we want Epic is at the forefront of consumer protection and providing the best experience for our players.”