In a recent development, the Federal Trade Commission, abbreviated as the FTC, America’s legislative body, which was put into place to ensure fair and safe treatment of consumers all over the nation has pressed charges against popular game-developing company Epic Games must pay half a billion dollars in damages. The hearing was decreed earlier today, amidst already existing speculations about the company’s policies and customer support.
FTC with its case against Epic Games: Grounds of the charges
Epic Games has become a household name in the gaming industry, majorly following the release of their super hit game, which took the world by storm, Fortnite. But their reputation has taken a considerable hit following the ruling by FTC, which has been record-breaking in two ways.
Fortnite has been charged $275 million for violating the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, also known as COPPA, and is the largest sum ever charged by the FTC. Epic Games will also be required to adopt new policies and default privacy settings ensuring that voice and text communications are turned off by default, which is unprecedented.
By another decree, Epic Games is also required to pay an additional $245 million, in order to refund the users affected by their dark patterns and billing policies, thus, bringing the grand total of the amount payable being $520 million. One can find out more about the said charges, which were pressed against Epic Games in detail.
1. Use of Dark Patterns
The first thing which many people think of when they hear this term is, what exactly is a dark pattern? A dark pattern is basically a form of deception, which is often utilized by big corporate companies to trick customers into buying things. It is often designed in such a way that it takes advantage of the user interface and exploits the customers via seemingly harmless interactions.
In the case of Epic Games, it has been brought to light that players could be charged while attempting to wake the game from sleep mode, while the game was on a loading screen, or by pressing an adjacent button while attempting simply to preview an item.
This practice was especially rampant in the case of V-bucks in the game. Children were able to buy v-bucks by card purchases which, surprisingly didn’t ask for confirmation from the cardholder, before subtracting the amount. Often, the children racked up several hundred dollars in purchases, before their parents could figure out what went wrong.
When users retaliated about these, Epic Games often blocked the in-game accounts of the said players, effectively locking them out from their own accounts where purchases worth hundreds and thousands of dollars were added. Epic Games also purposefully obscured cancel and refund features to make them more difficult to find.
2. Infringement of Privacy Policies
Fortnite, the flagship game of Epic Games, has been condemned for breaking the guidelines of COPPA by collecting and storing the personal information of teens and children, under the age of 13.
The FTC also stated that Epic Games did so without the consent of the guardians of those involved, and also condemned Epic Games for making the default mic set “Always on“, thus exposing the players to unwanted stranger interactions on the internet. Fortnite has been ordered to bring forward changes that will address these issues and make the game a safe space, well, a relatively safer one for all those playing the game who are not of age yet.
The said case has without a doubt been an eye-opener for the game-developing giants and will therefore keep them more on their toes next time when chalking out policies. In the meantime, they already have their hands full with the current charges and it remains to be seen how well they recover from this setback.
Do you agree with the FTC and its charges against Epic Games? What precautions should be taken, according to you?