Parent Sues Epic Games Over Minor Using Real Money on Virtual Fortnite Items

On Monday, a parent on behalf of herself and her minor child filed a class-action complaint in the Northern District of California against Epic Games for misleading minors regarding in-game purchases and for allowing minors to make said purchases without involving a parent or guardian in the purchasing decision.

The parent claimed that “Epic Games has built a multi-billion-dollar online video game business that substantially depends upon contracts with minors…Through (the video game) Fortnite, Epic Games has entered into millions of contracts with minors under which minors pay real-world money to buy video-game currency, virtual items, and game content.” However, Epic Games allegedly “misleads and manipulates minors into handing over ever-increasing amounts of real money for virtual things” because it “makes it all but impossible for minors to determine the real cost of the virtual items they buy, fails to provide them with information about their purchasing history, pressures them to buy more and more virtual things, and cuts their parents out of their purchasing decisions.”

Specifically, the parent contended that Epic Games “misleads them about their right to undo their contracts and obtain a refund.” In particular, Epic Games allegedly states in its policy that the V-Bucks virtual currency is not refundable; however, the defendant “does not disclose to the player at the time real money is exchanged for V-Bucks that the V-Bucks are not refundable.” Consequently, the plaintiff alleged that Epic Games uses this to mislead and manipulate its players, and the fact that Epic Games controls the conversion rate “make(s) it very difficult for the player to convert V-Bucks to dollars, especially in the fast-paced environment of the game.” For example, 1000 V-Bucks is available for purchase for $7.99, but this purportedly varies.

This alleged price concealment is “exacerbated by the fact that Epic Games makes the process of buying V-Bucks very fast and very easy” via a saved payment method for in-game purchases. Additionally, the number of V-Bucks available allegedly does not correspond to the price it costs to buy items with the virtual currency, causing players to purchase more V-Bucks to buy virtual items. Additionally, the plaintiff added that parents are left out of the purchasing decision because there is no parental control or notification system, thus parents must look at their statements for in-game purchases made by their minor children who used a saved payment method.

The parent asserted that many of the contracts that Epic Games has with minors “are subject to disaffirmance and, as a result, are voidable at the minor’s election,” because, for example, “(u)nder California law, a minor may not enter into a contract relating to any personal property not in the immediate possession or control of the minor.” Meanwhile other contracts were purportedly “void at their inception.” As a result, purchases made pursuant to these contracts should be refundable, according to the plaintiff.

The plaintiff asserted that her son “has been confused about the actual cost of real dollars of certain purchases of items and content in Fortnite,” which he would not have purchased if he knew the actual cost and Epic Games did not provide the plaintiff or “any other responsible adult with notification of or controls over” the minor’s purchases. The plaintiff noted that she has since disaffirmed all of her minor’s contracts with Epic Games’s Fortnite, particularly concerning terms of service, licensing agreements, V-Bucks purchases and item and content purchases.

Epic Games is accused of violating California Business Code, consumer protection laws, as well as negligent misrepresentation. The plaintiff has sought class certification and for the plaintiff and her counsel to represent the class, as well as declaratory, injunctive, monetary, and other relief. The plaintiff is represented by One LLP and Bay Advocacy PLLC.

Additionally, Sony was similarly sued by a parent for failing to prevent minors from making in-app purchases without their parent’s consent. Meanwhile Google was sued by a parent over gambling-related purchases available in the Google Play store, allegedly allowing minors to gamble.