Fortnite Maker Epic Can’t Dodge Suit Over Kids Running Up Bills

Epic Games Inc. failed to beat back claims that it misled minors into spending exorbitantly on non-refundable in-app purchases in its popular Fortnite game without parental consent.

The proposed class-action lawsuit adequately alleges that Epic harms consumers by engaging in unfair and fraudulent practices that misinform minors, “thereby inducing them to make frequent in-app purchases,” U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers ruled on Thursday.

The complaint filed last year by a Fortnite player and his guardian in Oakland, California, alleges Epic markets its apps as “free” to lure minors into buying in-game currency in its addictive game and doesn’t include cautionary language to flag non-refundable purchases.

The ruling comes as Epic is embroiled in a heated legal battle with Apple Inc. over app store fees paid by developers. Rogers, who is also overseeing that case, last month refused to block Apple’s removal of Fortnite from its app store after Epic set up its own marketplace to circumvent Apple’s fees.

Thursday’s ruling wasn’t a total loss for Epic. The company persuaded Rogers to toss out a claim that it unjustly profited from purchases of digital products and game currency and a claim under a California consumer protection law that the game maker employed unethical business practices.

The complaint alleges Fortnite doesn’t allow refunds if minor players change their minds and doesn’t provide parent control mechanisms. Fortnite uses virtual game currency known as V-Bucks “making it easier for minors to spend in the context of game play without realizing that they are spending actual cash,” according to the complaint.

Epic argued that children can’t reverse purchase charges when they are acting as an “authorized agent” on their parents’ credit cards.

The company also argued that the minor who’s suing challenged the “wrong defendant” because he made gift card purchases from Apple Inc.’s iTunes store or from Sony Interactive Entertainment Corp.’s PlayStation store.

Epic didn’t immediately respond after regular business hours to an email seeking comment.

The case is C.W. v. Epic Games, Inc., 4:19-cv-03629, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California (Oakland).

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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