The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation has reported that the legal firm Calex Légal has applied for authorisation to enact a class action lawsuit against Epic Games. The basis for the suit is pretty inflammatory too, as it alleges that Epic intentionally preyed upon human psychology and the naivety of their users when designing their flagship shooter. The suit is still in the very early stages and has yet to reach any kind of a public presentation, let alone a final settlement, so it could be some time before we see any kind of ruling on this accusation.
The core element of the claim in the suit is that Epic Games brought on psychologists to the development of Fortnite in order to “make it as addictive as possible.” It’s a very controversial statement, but given the current climate around the games industry, it’s absolutely worth examining in greater detail. The attitude surrounding loot boxes and gambling mechanics is pretty sour these days. With total screwups like literal gambling in NBA 2K20 being the tip of the iceberg. “They knowingly put on the market a very, very addictive game which was also geared toward youth,” said Calex Légal lawyer Alessandra Esposito Chartrand. Epic and their practices were compared to hardcore drugs by some parents and other groups, echoing the rhetoric of Jack Thompson, the infamous right-wing scaremonger who led a charge against video games in recent generations.
And of course, Epic isn’t the only one to blame here, more unscrupulous companies like 2K have done far worse with their defenses of loot boxes and other exploitative mechanics. It’s likely that the popularity of Fortnite eclipses other games that might be full of more egregious examples of gambling and exploitative design, so that’s why Epic is being fronted here.
It will be a tough legal battle though, as Epic built a legal waiver into the EULA for their games that excludes class action suits over said games. Although there will be some attempts to circumvent said waiver by the Quebec-based firm, who also asserts that the waiver doesn’t universally apply.
Epic has been fighting a very uphill battle in recent months on a variety of fronts. First there’s the aforementioned gambling nonsense that’s already very controversial, but Epic isn’t seemingly content with those controversies alone. The company has been pouring tons of money into building their online presence through the Epic Games Store, their own attempt to compete with Steam. Said online store has been inundated with controversy over their efforts though. Epic has been making attempts to bring their reputation back from the dirt though, like backing the ESA’s promise to reduce the influence of gambling in video games. Player-led efforts also surfaced through advocacy groups and various forms of protest.