The latest lawsuit against Fortnite focuses on in-game purchases—not dance moves—and the plaintiff alleges that Epic Games (Epic) induces players to buy “loot boxes” that rarely turn out to have any value or benefit.
On behalf of his minor son, R.A., Steve Altes alleges that Fortnite employs manipulative techniques to push minors into paying real-world money for video game resources, weapons and tools, commonly known as loot, to help them survive and advance in the game.
Epic offers one mode of game play, Save the World, at a lower price than that of competitor games to entice players to begin playing, according to the California federal court complaint, and then limits their ability to progress in the game unless they spend money on loot boxes.
The defendant “has made a fortune on in-game purchases, preying in large part on minors who are especially susceptible to such predatory tactics,” Altes told the court. “However, many of these in-game purchases are marketed through material misrepresentations and omissions [that] lure minors and other players into making repeated purchases, without receiving the promised loot.”
In the Save the World mode, loot boxes are styled as llamas, which contain randomized loot for use in the game. The llamas have “thought bubbles” that often display a rare, sought-after item when players hover over the llama, leading purchasers to believe that they will obtain the item, when “[i]n reality, the odds of the consumer receiving the item in the thought bubble are next to nothing.”
While players are led to believe that repeated purchases of loot will improve their performance, the llamas do not in fact contain the expected loot, the plaintiff alleges. The Fortnite llamas have “undisclosed, abysmal odds,” according to the suit, and “players, especially minors, are driven to open an indeterminable amount of loot boxes in search of their desired items.”
Loot boxes have been the subject of international attention in recent months, with several countries (including Australia, Belgium and the Netherlands) declaring loot boxes to be illegal gambling. Epic is aware that its llamas are deceptive, given the numerous complaints voiced by Fortnite players, the complaint notes.
Adding to the problem, Fortnite uses a fake currency known as V-bucks, which do not translate equally to real dollars, making it unclear how much money kids actually spend and harder for them to understand they are spending real money, the plaintiff told the court.
The suit also cited expert medical opinions that children cannot regulate purchasing decisions, which can cause “addictive tendencies where a child cannot set limits or stop certain behaviors.” One behavioral specialist even compared Fortnite to heroin, stating that “[o]nce you are hooked, it’s hard to get unhooked.”
For the alleged violations of California’s Consumer Legal Remedies Act, False Advertising Law and Unfair Competition Law and a claim for unjust enrichment, the complaint requests injunctive and monetary relief, including compensatory and punitive damages.
To read the complaint in R.A. v. Epic Games, Inc., click here.
Why it matters: Epic made an estimated $2.4 billion dollars on Fortnite in 2018, according to the new complaint, which explains the recent wave of litigation against the video game. While earlier suits claimed that Fortnite stole famous dance moves for use in the game, the new putative class action accuses Epic of predatory monetization schemes designed to hook players and keep them in the dark about their odds of opening valuable loot boxes.