Epic Games, the creator of the popular video game Fortnite, is facing a class action lawsuit in Canada. Plaintiffs are requesting for compensation due to game dependence and behavioural issues caused by Fortnite, as well as refunds of in-app purchases made by children under 18. This comes after Epic Games faced a penalty of US$520 million for privacy violations and for encouraging unintended purchases in the US in December 2021—stipulated in a Federal Trade Commission (FTC) news release.
“Epic put children and teens at risk through its lax privacy practices, and cost consumers millions in illegal charges through its use of dark patterns,” stated the director of FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, Samuel Levine. The use of design tricks in Fortnite known as “dark patterns” and other unethical billing practices led to hundreds of millions of dollars spent on unintended purchases. In response, the company has made changes to improve child safety, as reported by CBC. These changes include increased parental controls, as well as the implementation of “cabined” accounts, which restrict features of the game until a parent’s email address is provided.
In Canada, the class action lawsuit began with accusations of Fortnite causing behavioural issues among children. Three parents in Quebec claimed their children showed symptoms of dependence after playing the game, displaying anger when restricted from playing. They also observed behavioural changes in their children, such as social withdrawal. This motion, filed by Calex Légal, heavily mirrors the 2015 civil suit brought against the Quebec tobacco industry, which claimed an intentional creation of an addictive product without explicit warning to consumers.
While the Superior Court does not agree that the harm from playing Fortnite was intentional, it states that Fortnite’s designers should have been aware of their game’s addictive properties. The class action also involves an examination of in-game purchases made by players under 18. The court declared that minors can be eligible for refunds of purchases.
In response to claims against Fortnite, lawyers representing Epic Games argued that there is lacking evidence on Fortnite causing video game dependence. Additionally, currently, Quebec does not recognize video game dependence as a mental condition. The lawyers also claimed that the American Psychiatric Association does not classify gaming addiction as a mental disorder. In response, the Supreme Court Judge, Justice Sylvain Lussier, contended that such issues can be argued based on integrity, and that the World Health Organization has declared gaming addiction as a disease. Likewise, Justice Lussier stated that the lack of recognition of gaming addiction in Quebec “does not make the claims in question ‘frivolous’ or ‘unfounded’.” The existing evidence, while not officialized into a diagnosis, still poses a cause for concern.
The authorization of the class action lawsuit in Quebec started an important legal battle, and with the popularity of Fortnite, the resolution of this lawsuit carries implications for the video game industry. Justice Lussier also noted, “The harmful effect of tobacco was not recognized or admitted overnight,” and this may ring true for video games as well.