Epic Games, creator of the massively popular video game Fortnite, was hit with the Federal Trade Commission's biggest penalty ever for a rule break this week.
The developer was ordered to pay $520 million for violating the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act as well as for tricking millions of players into making unintended in-game purchases using a technique called "Dark patterns."
Fortnite is free to play and makes billions of dollars from in-game purchases such as digital skins for players' characters and seasonal "Battle Passes" that provide useful items as a user spends more time playing.
In a release breaking down Epic's violations, the FTC said that the game's "counterintuitive, inconsistent and confusing button configuration led players to incur unwanted charges based on the press of a single button," including while players thought the game was in sleep mode or in a loading screen.
"These tactics led to hundreds of millions of dollars in unauthorized charges for consumers," the FTC said.
Fortnite allowed children to purchase its in-game currency "without requiring any parents or card holder action or consent." Parents complained that their kids "racked up hundreds of dollars in charges before they realized Epic had charged their credit card without their consent."
"The laws have not changed, but their application has evolved and long-standing industry practices are no longer enough," Epic said in a statement in response to the penalty. "We accepted this agreement because we want Epic to be at the forefront of consumer protection and provide the best experience for our players."
Of the $520 million fine, $245 million will be set aside for customer refunds.
Are you eligible for a Fortnite refund?
Three groups can expect to receive money back:
- Parents whose kids made unauthorized purchases in the Epic Games Store between January 2017 and November 2018
- Players who were charged Fortnite's in-game currency for items they didn't intend to buy between January 2017 and September 2022
- Players who disputed unauthorized charges with their credit card companies and, as a result, had their accounts locked
When will the FTC's Fortnite refunds be paid out?
Affected users "don't need to do anything right now," the FTC says.
The FTC will post updates on its landing page for the Fortnite penalty, and customers who paid for in-game purchases will receive email notices when there are developments.
The agency reminds customers to be on the lookout for bad actors who might try to trick them into paying a fee in exchange for a FTC refund.
Correction: The article has been updated to add a statement by Epic Games, and to clarify that the developer was fined for violating the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act in addition to tricking players.
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