The Federal Trade Commission this week fined Epic Games $245 million and ordered the Fortnite developer to compensate consumers who made unwitting purchases from the digital storefront. The settlement, first announced in December, has now been finalized.
“Fortnite’s counterintuitive, inconsistent and confusing button configuration caused players to charge unwanted fees based on pressing a single button,” the FTC wrote in the announcement. The complaint also criticized Epic for allowing underage players to make frictionless, unauthorized purchases without their parents’ consent.
The $245 million settlement — a huge number, but one not exceeding the regulator’s $5 billion fine against Facebook in 2019 — will be used to refund customers. The FTC order also requires Epic to stop using “digital design tricks” like dark pattern design, obtain affirmative approval for digital purchases, and prevent the company from locking the accounts of customers who dispute charges for digital goods and services .
The latest settlement, now finalized, follows another massive $275 million in fines that the agency proposed in December about the company’s handling of accounts for Fortnite players under the age of 13. The FTC alleged that Epic violated the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) by collecting children’s full names and contact information without parental consent. That settlement also cited Epic’s decision to launch Fortnite without parental controls and special protections for the young users who make up a large portion of its player base.
“The Justice Department takes its mission to protect consumer privacy rights very seriously,” Deputy Attorney General Vanita Gupta previously said of the dual settlements. “This proposed order sends a message to all online providers that the collection of personal information from children without parental consent will not be tolerated.”
In early December, just before the FTC’s announcement, Epic announced it would be introducing a new account type to protect younger players. That function, called “cabinet bills,” was added to Fortnite, Rocket League and Fall Guys – three popular online multiplayer titles from the game maker.
“All players worldwide will be asked to provide their date of birth when logging in,” Epic wrote in a blog post at the time. “If someone indicates that they are under 13 years old or have their country’s digital consent age, whichever is higher, their account will become a Cabined account and they will be asked to provide a parent or guardian’s email address at to start the parental consent process.” Until they receive parental consent, chat, digital purchases, and some other features are disabled for closed accounts.
Protections that rely on users self-reporting their own age are an imperfect solution at best. But both gaming and social media companies have yet to create systems that care about child safety (and resulting regulatory risks), while still allowing young users access to the online virtual spaces where they inevitably spend time. will spend.
Epic games like Fortnite are already well established among young users, but the company is apparently doubling down on the youngest subset of those players. Last year, Epic announced a partnership with LEGO to build “an immersive, creatively inspiring and engaging digital experience for kids of all ages to enjoy together” – a reverse collaboration that could give rival Roblox a run for its money.