By Clare Duffy, CNN
New York (CNN) — Millions of Fortnite users can now claim their small part of the $245 million that the game’s parent company agreed to pay as part of a settlement with the US Federal Trade Commission.
Epic Games in December settled allegations with the FTC that it used deceptive tactics that drove users to make unwanted purchases in the multiplayer shooter game that became wildly popular with younger generations a few years ago. The FTC said Tuesday it has now opened the claims process for the more than 37 million potentially affected users who could qualify for compensation.
Epic Games agreed in December to pay a total of $520 million to settle US government allegations that it misled millions of players, including children and teens, into making unintended purchases and that it violated a landmark federal children’s privacy law.
In one settlement, Epic agreed to pay $275 million to the US government to resolve claims that it violated the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act by gathering the personal information of kids under the age of 13 without first receiving their parents’ consent. In a second and separate settlement, Epic also agreed to pay $245 million as refunds to consumers who were allegedly harmed by user-interface design choices that the FTC claimed were deceptive.
The FTC said in a statement Tuesday that the Fortnite maker “used dark patterns and other deceptive practices to trick players into making unwanted purchases” and also “made it easy for children to rack up charges without parental consent.”
(“Dark patterns” refer to the gently coercive design tactics used by countless websites and apps that critics say are used to manipulate peoples’ digital behaviors.)
The FTC is now notifying users who may be eligible to receive part of that $245 million settlement fund. Affected users may receive an email from the FTC over the next month with a claim number, or they can go directly to the settlement site and file a claim using their Epic account ID.
Here’s who can apply: Users who were charged in-game currency for items they didn’t want between January 2017 and September 2022, parents whose children made charges to their credit cards on Fortnite between January 2017 and November 2018 or users whose accounts were locked sometime between January 2017 and September 2022 after they complained to their credit card company about wrongful charges. Claimants must be 18 years old; for younger users, their parents can submit a claim on their behalf.
Users have until January 17, 2024, to submit a claim to be included in the settlement class. It is not yet clear how much the individual settlement payments will be.
Epic’s agreement with the FTC also prohibits the company from using dark patterns or charging consumers without their consent, and forbids Epic from locking players out of their accounts in response to users’ chargeback requests with credit card companies disputing unwanted charges.
Epic said in a blog post in December when it reached the agreement that, “no developer creates a game with the intention of ending up here.” It added, “We accepted this agreement because we want Epic to be at the forefront of consumer protection and provide the best experience for our players.”
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