A Vancouver parent has launched a proposed class-action lawsuit against the makers of Fortnite, saying the popular video game is designed to be “as addictive as possible” for children.
In the lawsuit filed in B.C. Supreme Court on Friday, the plaintiff identified only as A.B. says her son downloaded Fortnite in 2018 and “developed an adverse dependence on the game.”
The statement of claim says the game incorporates a number of intentional design choices such as offering rewards for completing challenges and making frequent updates, which encourages players to return repeatedly.
The statement says Fortnite creator Epic Games enriches itself by making content and customization options purchasable via an in-game currency, which are purchased with real cash.
The class-action lawsuit would still need approval from a judge and none of the allegations have been proven in court.
The plaintiff is seeking damages alleging the game breaches the B.C. Business Practices and Consumer Protection Act, as well as for “unjust enrichment” and medical expenses for psychological or physical injuries, among other claims.
“Video games have been around for decades, but Fortnite is unique in that the science and psychology of addiction and cognitive development are at the core of the game’s design,” the court statement says.
It describes the game as “predatory and exploitative,” given its popularity among minors.
Epic Games did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the lawsuit.
In the statement, A.B. says her son began playing Fortnite: Battle Royale on a Sony PlayStation 4 game console when he was nine years old. The boy, she said, soon began buying various Fortnite products while adding the game to different platforms at home, including on mobile phone and computer.
Since that time, A.B. says Epic Games “received payment for numerous charges” made to her credit card without her authorization. The statement says A.B.’s son spent “thousands of dollars” on in-game purchases.
“If Epic Games had warned A.B. that playing Fortnite could lead to psychological harm and financial expense, A.B. would not have allowed (her son) to download Fortnite,” the statement says.
The lawsuit, if approved by the court, would cover three classes of plaintiffs: an “Addiction Class” of people who suffered after developing a dependence on Fortnite, a “Minor Purchaser Class” that includes gamers who made purchases in the game while under the age of majority, and an “Accidental Purchaser Class” of users who mistakenly bought items due to the game’s design.
The lawsuit would cover all persons affected by Fortnite in Canada except Quebec, where Epic lost its attempt last month to appeal a court decision there to authorize a similar class-action suit.
In the Quebec class-action appeal attempt, Epic lawyers argued the claims that children were becoming addicted to Fortnite were “based purely on speculation,” and no scientific consensus exists on cyberaddiction.
Epic Games also said in the Quebec case that it was not given a chance to argue against the claim that minors who bought Fortnite’s in-game currency were taken advantage of.
Quebec Appeal Court Justice Guy Cournoyer said in his decision that Epic did not demonstrate any significant error on the lower court judge’s decision to authorize the class-action lawsuit in that case.
Epic said in documents made public in a separate legal battle with Apple in the United States that Fortnite made more than US$9 billion combined in 2018 and 2019.
The legal claim in Quebec against the video game maker still needs to be argued in court.
—Chuck Chiang, The Canadian Press