Microtransactions in games are no longer uncommon. Above all, of course, there are such things with various free-to-play titles such as Lost Ark and Apex Legends, but even in paid games such as FIFA, players can get various in-game items by using real money. Not only are there always discussions in such situations about possible Pay To Win, but also whether a younger audience should be allowed to make these purchases at all. One of the most prominent examples is certainly the Battle Royale Fortnite from Epic Games, which is particularly popular with younger players.
Epic Games reaches agreement with FTC
The US trade regulator therefore accused Epic Games of several points in terms of youth protection and questionable design practices. The company is now ready to pay more than $500 million to end the conflict, pending court approval.
The total consists of $275 million for violations of child privacy regulations online, and $245 million to be repaid to users who made purchases from Fortnite’s online store using “design tricks”. , which led to unwanted purchases. These design tricks are probably called Dark Patterns in the technical jargon.
So explained Samuel Levine, who is responsible for consumer protection at the US Federal Trade Commissionthat Fortnite is free to play, but players have the ability to unlock virtual costumes and items using in-game currency purchasable for real money. Epic Games have endangered children and young people through “lax data protection practices” and illegally caused consumers millions in costs through the use of dark patterns.
One of these dark patterns in Fortnite’s store is said to be “counter-intuitive, inconsistent, and confusing button configuration”. As a result, it has probably happened that players made unwanted purchases by pressing a single button, among other things, whereby “hundreds of millions of dollars” were unintentionally spent. Also, up until 2018, Fortnite’s V-Bucks were made too easy for children to purchase, as they could be purchased with a “simply press of a button” without parental or cardholder consent. Here, the FTC is probably referring primarily to “secret” purchases via parents’ accounts. If these were later challenged, Epic Games would suspend customers’ accounts, which would then result in them losing access to all content ever purchased.
In addition, Epic Games is accused of collecting personal information from players under the age of 13 without notifying their parents or even obtaining their consent. At the same time, it was made difficult for parents to delete their children’s data, and according to the FTC, Epic Games still violated the ban on allowing real-time voice and text chat for children and young people by default. The latter allegedly bullied, threatened, harassed, exposed children and young people to dangerous and psychologically traumatizing topics while playing Fortnite.
Epic Games themselves stated in a statement on the agreement with the FTCthat the video game industry is a place of fast-paced innovation, and therefore laws written decades ago have not defined how the game industry ecosystems should function. Epic approved the agreement, arguably because they want to be at the forefront of consumer protection, and are calling on other video game developers to “reconsider the steps they’ve taken to simplify cash flows and adopt practices that support the… Provide gamers with the highest level of clarity in their purchasing decisions.”
The company also lists some measures that they have taken in the past in relation to youth protection and the Fortnite shop. For example, it has been possible to undo in-game purchases since 2018, and recently purchases must also be confirmed by holding down the button instead of a short press. Epic Games also recently introduced a new type of user account aimed at players under the age of 13. These restrict, among other things, the use of the various chats in games.