Pay for Play

A few years ago, my kid was heavily into the Fortnite video game. The game is a first-person shooter styled game, meaning you have the point of view of your player. Your player parachutes into a battleground to combat other players for rewards. You can customize your player and even make him or her perform the latest dance craze.

The game swept the nation by storm and tens of millions of kids across the country played it for hours on end. According to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, however, Epic Games, the creators of Fortnite, used deceptive tactics to lure kids into playing.

The FTC claims that Epic violated the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act by gathering the personal information of kids under the age of 13 without first receiving their parents’ consent. In a second and separate case, Epic allegedly harmed players by user-interface design choices that the FTC claimed were deceptive.

The Commission asserts that Epic “used dark patterns and other deceptive practices to trick players into making unwanted purchases” and also “made it easy for children to rack up charges without parental consent.” “Dark patterns” refer to the gently coercive design tactics used by numerous websites, games and apps that critics say are used to manipulate peoples’ digital behaviors.

So, in December of 2023, Epic Games settled these cases with the FTC by agreeing to pay $520 million – $275 million for violating the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act and $245 million in refunds to consumers who were victims of their alleged deceptive practices.

In addition, the agreement also prohibits Epic from using dark patterns or charging consumers without their consent. It further forbids the software company from locking users out of their accounts in response to players’ chargeback requests with credit card companies disputing unwanted charges.

“No developer creates a game with the intention of ending up here,” Epic said in a blog post in December after reaching the settlement. “We accepted this agreement because we want Epic to be at the forefront of consumer protection and provide the best experience for our players.”

Last month, the FTC announced that it has now opened the claims process for the more than 37 million potentially affected users who could qualify for a portion of the $245 million settlement fund. Gamers may receive an email from the FTC in the coming weeks with a claim number, or they can go directly to the settlement site and file a claim using their Epic account ID.

To qualify, users must have been charged in-game currency for items they didn’t want between January of 2017 and September of 2022. In addition, parents are eligible for a portion of the fun if their children made charges to their credit cards on Fortnite between January of 2017 and November of 2018. Finally, users whose accounts were locked sometime between January of 2017 and September of 2022 after they complained to their credit card company about wrongful charges are also entitled to participate in the settlement. Claimants must be 18 years old, or for younger users, their parents can submit a claim on their behalf.

Users have until January 17, 2024, to submit a claim to be included in the settlement class. However, it is not yet exactly clear how much the individual settlement payments will be.

Users are also curious about how long it will take for their claims against Fortnite to be processed. I’m really hoping it’s two weeks.

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Reg P. Wydeven

Elder Law and Estate Planning Attorney at McCarty Law LLP
Hoping to follow in his father’s footsteps from a young age, Reg’s practice primarily consists of advising individuals on estate planning, estate settlement and elder law matters. As Reg represents clients in matters like guardianship proceedings and long-term care admissions, he feels grateful to be able to offer families thorough legal help in their time of need.

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