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Dutch fine Fortnite maker for ‘pressuring’ kids with ads

Dutch authorities slapped a 1.1-million-euro fine on Fortnite maker Epic Games on Tuesday, judging that vulnerable children were exploited and pressured into making purchases in the game’s Item Shop. The Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) hit Epic Games with two separate fines totaling the equivalent of $1.2 million, after finding that underage gamers “could experience pressure in several ways to make purchases.” Epic Games has filed an objection against the decision and proposed several changes to the game that the ACM said would resolve their concerns. “The findings... contain significant factual errors about how Fortnite and the Item Shop operate,” the firm said.

The ACM imposed the first fine over phrases in the game such as “Get it now” or “Buy now”. Adverts directly exhorting children to make purchases are “an illegal aggressive commercial practice under all circumstances,” said the ACM. The second fine was imposed for “deceptive” and “misleading” countdown timers that pressured children to make purchases quickly because they believed the item would disappear when the clock hit zero—which was not always the case. “Children’s vulnerabilities were exploited and were thus pressured into making purchases,” said ACM board member Cateautje Hijmans van den Bergh.

“With this decision, we are sending a clear signal: children must be able to play online games without being put under undue pressure,” she said. It ordered Epic Games to comply with the order by June 10, 2024. The gaming firm has already implemented several changes, including removing countdown timers from the Item Shop worldwide, the ACM said. For under-18s in the Netherlands, the firm will only offer purchases in the Item Shop that are available for 48 hours or more.

“ACM is of the opinion that Epic will comply with the binding instruction if it implements the above changes,” the statement said, adding that it would check after June 10. However, Epic Games said in its statement that the changes would result in a “poor experience for players.” “While our appeal is pending, players in the Netherlands that are under the age of 18 will not be able to see or purchase items that are in the shop for less than 48 hours, beginning May 24, 2024,” said the firm. — AFP

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