Blizzard Entertainment Hit with Class Action Over Allegedly Illegal Loot Boxes in Hearthstone Game
by Erin Shaak
Y.H. v. Blizzard Entertainment, Inc.
Filed: May 17, 2022 ◆§ 8:22-cv-00998
A class action has been filed against Blizzard Entertainment over its allegedly deceptive use of virtual loot boxes within its Hearthstone game.
A proposed class action has been filed against Blizzard Entertainment, Inc. over the videogame maker’s allegedly deceptive use of virtual loot boxes within its Hearthstone game.
The 15-page lawsuit in California states that a “critical aspect” of Hearthstone, a one-on-one, turn-based virtual card game, is a player’s option to purchase loot boxes, called “packs,” that are advertised as possibly containing valuable cards that provide an in-game benefit. The case claims, however, that players spend real-world currency on these loot boxes without being told that they will “very rarely actually end up getting anything valuable.”
Moreover, the suit says that even though many Hearthstone players are minors, Blizzard often does not allow players to obtain refunds for their loot box purchases. Per the suit, state laws in California and elsewhere afford minors the right to disaffirm contracts such as those into which they enter whenever they make a purchase in Hearthstone.
All told, the lawsuit contends that the use of loot boxes such as Hearthstone’s packs is “overwhelmingly misleading and exploitive.”
As the complaint tells it, loot boxes have over the past decade been “the epicenter of a host issues [sic],” and the subject of numerous lawsuits, as a result of their “addictive and predatory nature.” Per the case, a loot box is a videogame microtransaction during which a player purchases a reward containing one or more virtual items of differing values that are assigned at random. Though some of the items in a loot box may allow a player to significantly advance in the game, players most often receive items that are “mostly worthless,” the lawsuit contends.
In a game of Hearthstone, two players use virtual cards to battle against each other by depleting the other player’s health points. Cards come in varying degrees of value ranging from free, common, rare and epic, to legendary, which are the rarest and most powerful cards in the game, the suit relays.
Although players can purchase five-card packs using the in-game currency, “gold,” which is earned by winning games or completing quests, they can also buy packs with real-world currency in increments of two, seven, 15, 40 or 60 packs, with the latter option commanding a price of $69.99, the suit says. Per the case, buying more packs at a time fetches a lower price per pack, which “encourages players to spend more money thinking that they are getting a better deal.”
Importantly, the case stresses, players are not told what cards they will receive in each pack and, at most, are informed only in the latest “season” of Hearthstone that at least one card in each pack will be “[r]are or better.”
The lawsuit alleges that the design of the game—particularly the difficulty with which players can obtain cards through regular gameplay, the incentive to purchase larger amounts of packs, and the fact that the most powerful cards are the most difficult to obtain—causes players to purchase large amounts of packs “in order to keep up.”
“This leads to an arms race amongst players, many of whom are children and young adults, where players must continue gambling on Packs to be competitive,” the complaint contends.
The lawsuit claims that although players purchase card packs hoping to receive the most powerful cards, they are usually left with cards they already have or don’t want. Had players known the odds of receiving the epic and legendary cards they were hoping for, they would not have purchased the packs, the suit alleges.
The case goes on to allege that Blizzard has failed to provide refunds for minor players’ purchases, even though California law gives minors the right to disaffirm contracts such as the ones entered into by players and Blizzard whenever an in-game purchase is made.
The lawsuit was filed by a pseudonymous minor plaintiff who allegedly spent more than $300 on Hearthstone between 2019 and 2021, most of which was spent without her father’s permission, the suit says. The lawsuit claims that if Blizzard had provided proper parental controls and age verification features, the plaintiff would have been unable to complete any of her purchases.
The case looks to cover all minors in the U.S. who, during the applicable statute of limitations period, purchased a Hearthstone card pack using real-world currency.
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