Why it matters: The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) finalized an existing order requiring Fortnite publisher Epic Games to pay $245 million for their use of deceptive design patterns. According to the order, Epic used “dark patterns” to trick Fortnite players into making unintended in-game purchases. The $245 million collected will be used to refund affected users impacted by the disingenuous design practice.
The ruling relates to a pair of complaints brought against Epic Games late last year, both which stem from Epic’s use of dark design patterns to drive in-game purchases. Epic was initially hit with $275 million in penalties last December after being found guilty of violating the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA).
The more recent ruling will reclaim an additional $245 million to refund Epic customers who were unknowingly led to make unintended in-game purchases with no warning and, in some cases, no parental supervision.
FTC finalizes order requiring Fortnite maker Epic Games to pay $245 million for tricking users into making unwanted charges. FTC will use the money to provide refunds to consumers: https://t.co/Mp7JJyRk7y
— FTC (@FTC) March 14, 2023
Dark patterns are deceptive design techniques used in websites and other user interfaces. They are typically used with the sole intent of luring users into a specific scenario and tricking them into taking actions that they may not have intended to take, such as buying a product or subscription. Harry Brignull, a well-known expert in deceptive design concepts, has cataloged more than 400 instances of these types of deceptive design patterns across companies ranging including Facebook, Google, Amazon, and Adobe.
According to the FTC’s findings, Fortnite used “counterintuitive, inconsistent, and confusing button configurations” to lead players into an unintended purchase scenario. Once there, users of all ages had the ability to make various in-game purchases via a single button push, most times with no warning and no prompt to verify the user’s identity or status.
As a result, many players found themselves being charged for items that they had no intention of purchasing. This also led to a number of children being given the ability to make purchases with no parental consent or supervision, allowing them to unknowingly incur uncontrolled in-game charges.
In addition to the dishonest sales tactics, the FTC complaint also highlighted Epic’s moves to lock the accounts of users that legally disputed the unintended charges.
In addition to the dishonest sales tactics, the FTC complaint also highlighted Epic’s moves to lock the accounts of users that legally disputed the unintended charges. According to the complaint, users who inquired about the unintended charges and legally disputed the transactions with their credit card companies found themselves locked out of their Epic Games accounts and unable to play the game.
The commission voted unanimously to approve the complaint, resulting in the ability to finalize the $245 million fine levied against Epic. The penalty will be used to provide refunds to impacted users. The order also prevents Epic from further locking accounts of anyone who disputes unintended charges.
The ruling is one more step in the right direction to protect customers of all ages from unfair, and in this case unscrupulous, business practices. Any Fortnite players and consumers that have been impacted by Epic’s use of dark patterns are urged to visit FTC.gov/Fortnite for information on refund eligibility and instructions.