The Federal Trade Commission rules that Epic Games must refund $245 million to its player base after tricking them into paying for unwanted charges. The ruling states that the video game developer allowed children to rack up unauthorized fees in their popular game Fortnite without any parental involvement.
Initially, a complaint was announced in December. This was part of a settlement with Epic Games for violating children’s privacy laws. The ruling in December states that Epic pays $275 million for violating privacy laws and changing default privacy settings. In addition, the $245 million refund for tricking children and other players into unwanted charges was also first announced.
FTC Chair Lina M. Khan commented on the complaint in December. “As our complaints note,” she stated, “Epic used privacy-invasive default settings and deceptive interfaces that tricked Fortnite users, including teenagers and children. Protecting the public, and especially children, from online privacy invasions and dark patterns is a top priority for the Commission, and these enforcement actions make clear to businesses that the FTC is cracking down on these unlawful practices.”
“The Justice Department takes very seriously its mission to protect consumers’ data privacy rights,” added Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta. “This proposed order sends a message to all online providers that collecting children’s personal information without parental consent will not be tolerated.”
This recent March 2023 FTC ruling finalizes the refund amount Epic must pay.
More About Fortnite and Epic Games
Epic Games has been in the video game business for over 30 years. The Cary, North Carolina-based company has made the popular first-person shooter Unreal Tournament for the PC. They also developed the Xbox 360-exclusive Gears of War trilogy.
Fortnite, their most popular game with over 400 million users, is a free-to-play third-person shooter. The game focuses on eliminating enemies on a shrinking battlefield while using the terrain to build fortifications. Players can purchase in-game costumes, dance moves, and more at a cost.
Known as micro-transactions, these are in-game purchases you can make that don’t affect how the game plays. Still, some players can’t ignore the allure of a costume based on a popular movie or comic book. So, as ruled by the FTC, sometimes Epic Games exploits a portion of its player base.
“Epic put children and teens at risk through its lax privacy practices, and cost consumers millions in illegal charges through its use of dark patterns,” said Samuel Levine, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, in December. “Under the proposed orders announced today, the company will be required to change its default settings, return millions to consumers, and pay a record-breaking penalty for its privacy abuses.”
The Charges Against Epic Games and What the Video Game Company Must Do Now
In a report, the FTC states, “Fortnite’s counterintuitive, inconsistent, and confusing button configuration led players to incur unwanted charges based on the press of a single button. The company also made it easy for children to make purchases while playing Fortnite without requiring any parental consent.”
Additionally, the FTC complaint says Epic Games locked the accounts of their customers that were disputing unauthorized charges with their credit card companies.
The $245 million Epic Games must pay will be used to refund their consumers. Additionally, the order prevents Epic from charging their player base through these “dark patterns.” Furthermore, they can no longer charge customers without obtaining their “affirmative consent.”
Epic is also blocked from accessing accounts that are disputing unauthorized charges.
The Federal Trade Commission voted 4-0 to approve the complaint and order Epic to provide the refunds.
How Do Consumers Obtain Refunds
Consumers who believe Epic’s practices may have injured them can visit FTC.gov/Fortnite for more information on the refund process.
Who is eligible for a refund?
The FTC will make refunds available to the following groups:
- Parents whose children made an unauthorized credit card purchase in the Epic Games Store between January 2017 and November 2018
- Fortnite players who were charged in-game currency (V-Bucks) for unwanted in-game items (such as cosmetics, llamas, or battle passes) between January 2017 and September 2022
- Fortnite players whose accounts were locked between January 2017 and September 2022 after disputing unauthorized charges with their credit card companies.
What will I need to do to get a refund?
If you believe you are eligible for a payment, you don’t need to do anything right now. The FTC will have more information about the refund program soon. When they do, they will post updates here and send email notices to customers who paid for in-game purchases.