Epic Games has been fined $520 million for unfair microtransaction practices in free-to-play shooter Fortnite.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has announced that Epic Games has been fined a total of $520 million for unfair microtransaction practices that are said to have enticed millions of players of the free-to-play shooter Fortnite to make unwanted purchases.
The fine results from two separate settlements. $275 million in fines for violations of Children’s Online Privacy Protection (COPPA) rules and $245 million in refunds for using dark patterns.
According to the FTC, Fortnite is said to have used privacy-intrusive default settings and deceptive interfaces to fool players.
“Protecting the public, and particularly children, from online privacy intrusions and dark patterns is a top priority for the Commission, and these enforcement actions provide a clear reminder to companies that the FTC is taking action to address these illegal practices,” said FTC Chair Lina Khan.
Counterintuitive, inconsistent, and confusing button configurations are said to have tricked players into making unintended in-game purchases. In addition, account holders were charged fees without authorization. Epic Games is said to have ignored over a million user complaints and intentionally obscured cancellation and refund functions.
Another major criticism from the FTC is Fortnite’s voice chat settings. At the insistence of Epic employees, activated voice chat has become the standard setting. In the wake of emerging child harassment, the company refused to disable the feature.
As a result, Fortnite must disable voice and text communications for children and young people under the age of 13, unless parental consent is provided through the privacy settings. Personal data collected in violation of Epic’s COPPA rules must be deleted and a comprehensive data protection program put in place.
In a detailed statement Epic Games addresses the individual allegations. The company also names some measures that have already been taken and advocates that all game developers should reconsider their measures to simplify payment flows:
“No developer makes a game with the intention of ending up here. The video game industry is a place of fast-paced innovation, where player expectations are high and new ideas are paramount. The laws written decades ago do not dictate how the gaming industry ecosystems should function. The laws have not changed, but their application has evolved and longstanding industry practices are no longer sufficient. We entered into this agreement because we want Epic to be at the forefront of consumer protection and to provide the best experience for our players.”