While the rise of the gaming market continues, there are still unforeseen dangers for children who are not yet familiar with in-game purchases. This makes them an easy target for advertisers and younger gamers end up spending their parents’ money on products they never intended to buy. This issue was brought to the FTC’s attention and now Epic Games, the creators of Fortnite, must pay the price.
Epic Games was fined because it violated the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) by gathering the personal information of kids without parental consent. Additionally, a complaint was filed against the company for deceptive design choices that trick children into making 1-click in-game purchases without parental permission. If they wanted to cancel the transaction the button was hidden at the very bottom of the page and required extra steps to fully cancel the transaction. The FTC also discovered that people mainly selected “accidental charge” as their reason for canceling their purchase. Because of this deception that takes advantage of younger gamers, the FTC has fined Epic Games $520 million.
The $520 million total is because Epic Games will be paying for 2 different settlements. $275 million is going to the US government and $245 million will be refunded to consumers who were affected. Even though the company has to pay this large fine, on its blog the company explains that “laws have not changed, but their application has evolved” and the settlement reflects this.
Epic Games also goes on to say how they are strong believers in consumer protection and pride themselves on providing their players with the best experience. The company has updated its policies and has agreed to make certain designs less confusing when it comes to in-game purchases. As a step further, Epic Games told developers that if they create more mature content, it will not be marketed toward younger audiences in compliance with COPPA laws. Instead, the company encouraged developers to find a way to create more child-friendly versions of their games.
Epic Games set an example of how developers can do this by creating Cabined Accounts for games like Fortnite, Rocket League, and Fall Guys. These accounts have been tailored to make gaming more inclusive and safer for younger players. Now parents will receive an email about their child’s account and can set up Parental Controls. If the child wishes to make an in-game purchase their parent will receive an email and the purchase will not go through until the parent approves.
These new child safety gaming restrictions on the Epic Games platform should help prevent more accidental purchases. I could see other gaming platforms start to adopt this policy as gaming becomes more and more popular with younger gamers.