U.S.: FTC Orders Epic Games to Pay Back Users $245 Million

Published: 17 March 2023

Epic Games OfficeEpic Games’ North Carolina headquarters. (Photo: Sergiy Galyonkin, Flickr, License)

By Henry Pope

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) finalized Tuesday its order for Epic Games to pay back US$245 million to its consumers who were tricked by the video game developer into making unwanted purchases.

Epic Games, the developer behind the widely popular Fortnite and Gears of War franchises, was deemed to have duped its users into making in-game purchases with real money without their knowledge. The company also facilitated a process by which minors could rack up unauthorized charges without their parents’ consent.

The case marks yet another blackeye for the video game industry, in which developers have often preyed upon their users’ desire for in-game exclusives and features that would otherwise require hundreds of hours of time spent playing to earn with in-game currency.

Fortnite is an online multiplayer game that, while free to download, turns a profit by charging users for in-game aesthetics such as costumes and dance moves.

The game boasts more than 400 million players worldwide; with its distinct visuals and 100-player battle royale action mode being credited for its ability to draw in users across all demographics.

But, according to the FTC, an Epic Games’ “counterintuitive, inconsistent, and confusing button configuration led players to incur unwanted charges based on the press of a single button.”

In its order, the trade commission ruled that Epic Games’ confusing purchase system charged consumers for in-game items “without first obtaining their express informed consent.”

Children are particularly susceptible to such pitfalls, approving whatever message appears on screen without considering it so they can get back into the game as quickly as possible.

Parental consent was also a feature Epic Games did not implement into Fornite’s in-game store, allowing children to rack up multiple purchases with real world money at the press of a single button, all without their parents’ knowledge.

And in cases where users realized they had been charged and then disputed it with their credit card provider, the video game developer proceeded to ban them from their accounts and any previously paid-for content, the FTC said.

“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,” Samuel Levine, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection said back in December 2022. “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 video game developer has since stated that it has “restored thousands of accounts that were banned due to reported chargebacks under our previous policy” and that it has also created a new system by which “players under 13, or their country’s age of digital consent” can play where purchases are disabled without their parents’ expressed consent.