On Tuesday, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced that players of the popular online video game Fortnite will be eligible for a $245 million refund from its developer Epic Games. This was part of the parent company’s $520 million legal settlement with the FTC.
Epic Games reached an agreement with the federal government last December to pay damages for using deceptive tactics to mislead its customers, which comprised mainly of teenagers and children under the age of 13, into making unwanted purchases within the multiplayer video game.
Epic Games To Settle Fortnite Players Exploited By The Company For $245 Million
Fortnite is an online shooter-and-survival game launched in 2017 that has since become a cultural phenomenon among Gen-Z’ers. It won the Webby Award for the best multiplayer game in 2018 and 2019 and was also nominated at the Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Awards 2021 in the favorite video game category.
In 2022, Epic Games was ordered by the court to $275 million in fines to the U.S. government for breaching the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act by gathering personally identifiable information about kids under the age of 13 without first receiving consent from their parents.
The gaming company also agreed to pay another $245 million as a refund to customers who were allegedly harmed by the company’s “unlawful billing practices”.
Fortnite Tricked Children And Teenagers Into Purchasing Unwanted In-Game Items
The FTC sued Epic Games the North-Carolina-based gaming giant in 2021 for allegedly collecting personal information of minors without the consent of their parents. The company was also accused of deploying deceptive user-interface designs and “dark patterns” into its games as a way to manipulate uninformed players into making in-game purchases.
Dark patterns can be referred to as deceptive online techniques websites and apps use to manipulate users’ digital behaviors and force them into doing things they didn’t initially intend to do.
According to the complaint lodged by FTC, players were charged by the company for a purchase even if their game went to sleep and they pressed a button to wake up the application. In another instance, Fortnite charged players for purchases while the game was on its loading screen or when they pressed a button to simply preview an in-game item.
Samuel Levine, director for the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, said in a statement at the the time that Epic Games had cost customers millions of dollars in illegal charges and put minors at risk through its “lax privacy practices” and use of “dark patterns”.
Epic Blocked Accounts That Raised Disputes With Credit Card Issuers For The Charges
The company designed the Fortnite interface in such a way that it was easy for players under the age of 13 to rack up charges on their parent’s credit cards without any consent. When parents disputed the unauthorized charges with card issuers, Epic Games allegedly proceeded to lock up the Fortnite accounts in question.
In December, Epic Games released a statement saying it was making the settlement payment to resolve any concerns over past designs of the “Item Shop” on Fortnite and the firm’s refund systems.
They basically scammed a bunch of players and they had to end up paying 245 million to the FTC as a settlement. pic.twitter.com/FercM3L2a2— matt (@DloMatt) September 21, 2023
The company added that “statuses” written decades ago “don’t specify how gaming ecosystems should operate” but since the manner in which laws are applied and not the laws themselves have changed, long-standing industry practices were no longer enough to get by.
Epic accepted the FTC’s agreement, stating that it did not develop the game with any bad intentions and wants to be at the “forefront of consumer protection” and going forward provide players with the best experience.
FTC Is Notifying Eligible Fortnite Players About The Refund
The FTC has started to notify 37 million Epic Games account holders who may be eligible to receive part of the $245 million legal settlement fund.
Affected users will receive an email with a claim number on the address used to register their accounts, or they can visit the agency’s settlement website and file a claim directly using their Epic Account ID.
The following users are eligible for the refund:
How To File A Fornite Claim?
Eligible Fortnite players are supposed to visit the FTC’s claim website and fill out a form. To know more about how to file the claim, visit the regulator’s official website.
Users must have a claim number that will be included in the email sent by the FTC when filing their complaint, or an Epic Account ID. The FTC will continue to send emails to affected users until next month.
It is required that the claimant must be 18 years of age or older. In the case of a minor, their claim can be submitted on their behalf by parents or guardians.
The per-person refund amount is not yet known as the FTC says it will depend on several factors such as how many people will be filing a claim. Users have until January 17, 2024, to submit the claim to be included in the settlement class.
According to the terms of the settlement agreement, Epic Games is now prohibited from using dark patterns of charging customers without their consent. The company is also forbidden from locking players out of their accounts in regard to users’ chargeback requests with credit card companies while disputing unwanted fees.