U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers announced a ruling yesterday which stated that Fortnite had convinced minors to spend money in game without parental consent. This ruling keeps Epic on the hook for its misleading business practices.
Fortnite tangled up in ongoing legal battles
Judge Rogers is also currently overseeing the legal battle between Apple and Epic, although these rulings are unrelated to each other. The core case against Fortnite in this one alleges that Fortnite makes it too easy for underage users to make purchases, refuses to authorize refunds, fails to inform underage players that “V-Bucks” are a proxy for real world money, and does not have adequate parental control tools.
Further arguments state that Epic’s business practices pertaining to Fortnite are unethical and fraudulent, especially due to Fortnite being labeled as a “free” game.
Are the accusations against Fortnite accurate?
Many parents know the feeling of receiving an unexpected bill from a supposedly free game. Those bills can frequently be to the tune of hundreds of dollars, and it is in the best interest of Fortnite to make these purchases as simple as possible for players, regardless of their ages, to make.
And there certainly is something fishy going on when the most profitable game two years running is a free game. Fortnite almost certainly uses complex app design to make spending money easy and rewarding, something which is not itself illegal until you start dealing with children.
Is it legal to trick a child?
Stealing money from someone’s pocket and “convincing” them to give it to you are two different things that result in someone making an unexpected transfer of money to someone else. What is different is the legality, and so the main question is whether or not it is legal to convince a minor to give you money.
In many countries, especially with regards to games and toys marketed towards children, the method and amount you can advertise is strictly regulated, specifically to avoid this kind of situation. Parents don’t believe they should have to worry about their child spending money without authorization, especially while playing a free game, and that is a fair point.
Fortnite, however, argues back that it shouldn’t have to issue refunds for products just because the buyer changed their mind about it. Ultimately, the case will likely be decided by where the burden of proof lies.
If parents are asked to prove that these purchases were illegitimate, then that might be too high a bar to pass. Likewise, if Fortnite has to prove that their business practices weren’t predatory, they might decide to look for a way to settle out of court instead.