Fortnite is a massive online video game designed for Battles Royale, building modes, and the occasional Ariana Grande concert, but in the five years since its launch, it’s functionally become America’s unregulated metaverse day care. The game has over 400 million users worldwide, a large portion of them minors, and on December 19, the Federal Trade Commission ruled that Fortnite has been scamming said minors by design and exposing them to “dangerous and psychologically traumatizing” bullying and content by default. In the largest ever penalty for violating an FTC rule, Fortnite creator Epic Games will pay $275 million for violating the Children’s Online Privacy and Protection Act (COPPA). In addition, it’ll have to pay $245 million in refunds to users who were tricked into unwanted credit card spending through “dark patterns.” This amounts in over half a billion dollars in fines and settlements for the video-game giant. So what, exactly, happened?
Furthermore, the FTC ruled that Fortnite implemented “digital dark patterns” throughout its game design to subject users to unwanted or unknowing in-game purchases. Parents gave testimony of making onetime purchases in the game for their children, only to find their kids made hundreds of dollars in unauthorized purchases made after the fact, as the game held on to their credit-card information without disclosure. Furthermore, Epic knowingly used a game design on both mobile and Playstation that led to accidental purchases — whether from switching around the preview and purchase buttons, or putting said buttons close together on mobile. According to the FTC, suggestions were made internally at the company to prevent these accidental purchases or make them reversible, but “among Epic’s reasons for rejecting that suggestion was a concern it would reduce the number of ‘impulse purchases.’”
If you still have a “hate the creator, love the game” approach to Fortnite and are worried that these historically massive fines will harm the game, don’t worry: Epic was recently valued at $32 billion. That’s a lot of V-bucks.