Epic Games fined in U.S. and sued in Canada for Fortnite troubles

Published 2022-12-20 12:43

Concerns range from in-app purchases to 'addicted' children


Epic Games, the company behind the video game Fortnite, is facing a new kind of battle royale — the legal kind.

In the U.S., the company was accused of collecting information about kids without permission and tricking them into paying for in-game features.

For that, it has to pay $520 million US in fines and rebates to affected players.

In a separate lawsuit in Canada, Epic Games is being accused of harming kids because Fortnite — according to some parents —  is addictive.

The company has already made some changes to the game to protect young players, but at least one expert says there are additional steps that kids can take to make sure their only injuries are virtual ones.

A young boy, around age 12, streams Fortnite on YouTube.

Fortnite is popular among kids, like 12-year-old Beck, who plays with his entire family and streams it on YouTube. (Image credit: K-CityGaming/YouTube)

Situation in the U.S.

On Dec. 19 in the U.S., Epic Games agreed to pay $520 million US in fines and rebates to affected players.

The fines were imposed by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

It’s an independent agency of the U.S. government whose job it is to protect consumers.

This record-breaking fine is the largest ever for breaking an FTC rule.

That broken rule was a law known as the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), which seeks to protect kids online.

According to the FTC, Epic Games violated COPPA law by collecting personal information from Fortnite players under 13 without parental consent and deploying design tricks to get kids to download in-game content that costs real-world money.

“No developer creates a game with the intention of ending up here,” Epic said in a statement.

“We accepted this agreement because we want Epic to be at the forefront of consumer protection and provide the best experience for our players,” the statement went on to say.

More troubles in Canada

Meanwhile, a judge in Quebec has authorized a class-action lawsuit against Epic Games for different reasons.

A class-action lawsuit is “basically a group of people that share a similar problem and that are looking for a solution to their problem,” said Jean-Philippe Caron, one of the CaLex Legal lawyers working on the Quebec case.

The case, which was brought to the courts in 2019 by three Quebec parents, has received permission to proceed.

This judge’s authorization to proceed is just the beginning in a long legal battle, which could take up to a decade to be finalized.

Four different versions of Fortnite skins are shown.

Although Fortnite is free to play, players are encouraged to purchase skins or character cosmetics, some of which are seen here. (Fortnite/Epic Games)

The plaintiffs, who are the people arguing against Epic Games and Fortnite, claim two things.

One: They wish to have all the money kids spent on in-game currency or v-bucks returned.

Two: They want to receive compensation for “bodily injury” kids experienced while playing the game.

The plaintiffs claim that these bodily injuries include their Fortnite-playing children showing signs of “troubling behaviour” including: not sleeping, not eating, not showering and no longer socializing with their peers.

Although the case is based in Quebec, the law firm behind the lawsuit, CaLex, claims more than 280 people have reached out to them about joining the lawsuit from across Canada.

In a statement to CBC, Natalie Muñoz, the communications director for Epic Games, said the company is prepared to argue its case.

“We plan to fight this in court,” Muñoz wrote.

Epic Games has made changes to Fortnite

The game has already undergone changes since it came out, based on feedback and to better protect young gamers.

“We’ve learned from our players and have continually enhanced our features, policies and payment mechanics since Fortnite launched,” Epic Games said in a statement on their website.

In a media release, Fortnite outlined the changes it has implemented, such as increased parental controls and “cabined” accounts that encourage players to be honest about their age when playing.

A screen on Fortnite says “due to your age, some features are unavailable until your parent or guardian gives you permission to use them.”

This privacy policy comes up now when a kid younger than 13 tries to play without parental consent. (Fortnite/Epic Games)

A cabined account means that a player under the age of 13 in the U.S. or Canada will have to enter their parent or guardian's email address before they are allowed to unlock the full features of the game.

But unlike before, they aren’t blocked entirely from playing while they wait for permission.

How can kid gamers protect themselves?

According to Matthew Johnson, director of education for a Canadian non-profit called MediaSmarts, video games are designed to “make you keep playing or buy more,” but there are things kids can do to protect themselves.

He said it’s important to be aware of how you game and how gaming can affect you.

“A good place to start is by making a gaming diary where you record when you gamed, what you did, what you purchased and how you felt,” he told CBC Kids News.

“This can really help you get an idea of when and why you’re gaming, and how it can maybe interfere with other parts of your life.”

If in-game spending is an issue, he recommends turning off the ability to make in-game purchases or buy gift cards as a way of consciously and physically limiting how much you spend.

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With files from Laura Marchand, Pete Evans/CBC

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