After making two record-breaking payments to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), to settle disputes regarding in-game purchases and privacy policies, Fortnite, Unreal Engine, and Gears of War developer Epic Games has outlined changes to its own practices, while warning other game developers to “rethink” how they operate, saying that “long-standing industry practices are no longer enough.”
As previously reported, Epic will pay $520 million USD (£426 million GBP) to settle two separate orders, one relating to in-game purchases in Fortnite, and the other to the battle royale game’s privacy policies. The developer has published a statement, responding to the FTC ruling, wherein it outlines changes to its practices while discussing how other game-makers may change their own payment and policy systems.
“No developer creates a game with the intention of ending up here,” Epic says. “The laws have not changed, but their application has evolved and long-standing industry practices are no longer enough. We accepted this agreement because we want Epic to be at the forefront of consumer protection and provide the best experience for our players.
“Over the past few years, we’ve been making changes to ensure our ecosystem meets the expectations of our players and regulators, which we hope will be a helpful guide for others in our industry.”
Epic explains how it has updated its payment systems to include extra measures to prevent accidental and unintended purchases. The developer says it has agreed with the FTC to further change its practices.
“Saving payment information by default is a common way to streamline the checkout process, so players do not have to re-enter their payment method every time they make a purchase. We’ve agreed with the FTC to change this practice, and we now offer an explicit yes or no choice to save payment information.”
The company also discusses how some payment mechanics, traditional to gaming, may require extra clarity and safeguarding measures, explaining how Epic has made further changes to its own practices, while encouraging other developers to consider similar steps.
“All game developers should rethink steps they’ve taken to simplify payment flows in favour of practices that provide the largest amount of clarity to players when they make purchase decisions,” Epic says. “Games should go above and beyond to make sure players even more clearly understand when they are making a purchase with real money or with virtual currencies to prevent accidental purchases.
“We’ve updated our payment flows with a hold-to-purchase mechanic that re-confirms a player’s intent to buy, as an additional safeguard to prevent unintended purchases alongside instant purchase cancellations and self-service refunds.”
As part of the ruling, the Federal Trade Commission says that Epic Games froze the player accounts of customers who had made refund requests following unintended or accidental purchases. The developer says it has now updated its chargeback policy to account for “non-fraud” scenarios, and restored “thousands” of accounts that were banned under the previous policies.
Included in the $520 million agreement, Epic is ordered to pay $275 million for allegedly breaching the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). The Commission says that Epic collected data from Fortnite players aged under 13, and that the game’s default voice chat settings exposed young players to potentially harmful material and interactions. In response, Epic urges game developers to “expand youth privacy protections to include players under 18,” while outlining the current parental control options in Fortnite.
“Developers who create a teen-rated or mature-rated game can no longer assume that it won’t be deemed to be directed to children,” Epic says. “While game developers may be familiar with COPPA, they may not be aware of its global application. This means game developers should expand youth privacy protections to include players under 18.”
Fortnite’s chat settings will default to the most restrictive options for players under 18. A daily spending limit has been introduced into the game for players aged under 13, while overall parental controls are available from the Fortnite lobby and Epic account portal. You can read a full list of Epic’s privacy and payment features here.
“The old status quo for in-game commerce and privacy has changed, and many developer practices should be reconsidered,” the developer says. “We share the underlying principles of fairness, transparency and privacy that the FTC enforces, and the practices referenced in the FTC’s complaints are not how Fortnite operates.
“We will continue to be upfront about what players can expect when making purchases, ensure cancellations and refunds are simple, and build safeguards that help keep our ecosystem safe and fun for audiences of all ages.”