After a US regulator found Epic Games tricked players into buying cosmetic items in the game Fortnite, millions of players can now get their money back.
Millions of Fortnite players in the United States are now eligible to claim a refund for digital collectibles they didn't mean to buy.
The makers of the wildly popular video game agreed to pay $245 million (€230 million) to gamers and their parents, after an investigation found the game tricked players into making unwanted in-game purchases.
As of last week, players and their parents can ask for their money back.
The US Federal Trade Commission’s probe found that Epic Games charged players for unwanted items purchased through Fortnite’s in-game store and then locked the accounts of players who disputed wrongful charges with their credit card companies.
“The company also made it easy for children to rack up charges without parental consent,” the FTC said in a statement.
Epic Games agreed to a total settlement of $520 million (€489 million) - which includes an FTC fine of $275 million (€258 million) for breaching users’ privacy. According to the FTC, the company collected user data - including on players under the age of 13 - without informing their parents.
It’s the largest penalty the FTC has ever doled out for breaking a rule.
Who is eligible for a refund?
Fortnite players in the United States who were charged in-game currency (or V-bucks) for items they didn’t want between January 2017 and September 2022 can apply for a partial reimbursement.
Parents of children who made charges to their credit card without their knowledge between January 2017 and November 2018 are also covered by the settlement, as are users who had their accounts locked between January 2017 and September 2022 for filing a wrongful charge claim with their credit card company.
The FTC has started contacting the 37 million people who are eligible for a refund by email. Users over the age of 18 (or their parents) can file their claim until 17 January 2024 via the regulator's website.
The rise of in-game purchases
Fortnite became a global phenomenon when it was released six years ago – the battle royale style first-person shooter game allowed as many as 100 gamers to duke it out on a virtual island.
It’s now one of the most popular video games on the planet, with around 400 million registered users in the first quarter of 2021.
In its first year, the game generated $5 billion (€4.7 billion) from in-game purchases, including virtual outfits or skins, gliders, emotes (little dances performed by a player’s avatar) and seasonal gaming passes.
Fortnite helped usher in a new era of free-to-play downloadable games, and soon there were dozens of other developers trying to replicate its success, with games like Call of Duty: Warzone, Overwatch, Apex Legends, Valorant and Halo Infinite.
In-game purchases, also called microtransactions, are a huge part of how these games make money. They’re not a new feature at all (remember Farmville?), but they’ve become more ubiquitous over time as gaming companies recognised their earning potential.
Some of the more egregious examples of microtransactions hindering gameplay have sparked outrage among players, forcing developers to walk back their monetisation strategy.
Electronic Arts famously removed in-game purchases from Star Wars Battlefront 2 after players complained it had implemented a “play to win” system by locking certain playable characters behind a paywall.
Researchers have also found that “loot boxes” can simulate gambling behaviour in children and teens.
But despite the backlash from players and their parents, it looks like in-game purchases are here to stay. The global online microtransaction market is expected to grow from $67.94 billion (€63.8 billion) in 2022 to $76.66 billion (€72 billion) in 2023.