Machine Zone, Inc. and developer Epic Action, LLC face a proposed class action lawsuit in California federal court over their “re-skinned” mobile video game Final Fantasy XV: A New Empire.
In “re-skinning” the game, which “contained the same storyline, images, and music” as earlier versions, Machine Zone and Epic Action intentionally transformed Final Fantasy XV: A New Empire into “an illegal money-making scheme” reliant on “false and misleading pop-up advertisements” and casino-style design elements meant to disguise how much it actually costs to play the game until players were “financially and psychologically invested,” the lawsuit alleges.
Essentially, the defendants turned the beloved title into no more than “an exploitative monetized service,” or a “pay to play” game, the suit scathes.
“Defendants’ advertising and pricing scheme is predatory and unfair, and it harms consumers,” the plaintiff, a North Carolina Final Fantasy player, claims, alleging violations of California’s Unfair Competition Law, False Advertising Law and Consumers Legal Remedies Act.
Final Fantasy XV: A New Empire is a mobile, massively multiplayer online (MMO) role-playing video game available for the Android and Apple iOS platforms, the suit says. The game is themed in the lineage of the popular and long-running Japanese anthology science fantasy franchise of the same name, created by Hironobu Sakaguchi.
Final Fantasy XV: A New Empire was released in June 2017, less than a year after the original Final Fantasy video game series maker Square Enix collaborated with Machine Zone to develop, through Epic Action, a mobile spinoff of the title, the suit says. According to the case, the mobile game “combined the already-popular Final Fantasy name, music, and storyline with MZ’s technology” to allow millions of gamers around the world to play the empire-building game together in real time in a single online universe. The lawsuit says A New Empire has been download more than 51 million times and has grossed more than $518 million worldwide as of January 2019.
Though Final Fantasy XV: A New Empire is free to download, users are encouraged almost immediately upon playing to make in-app purchases, or microtransactions, involving real money in order to gain certain features or services within the game, the lawsuit says. In-app purchases can be made by way of linking a credit or debit card to a player’s payment account connected to their mobile device, per the suit. In the game, players can buy “packs,” which contain virtual currency, resources, “boosts” or “speed ups,” or a “chest,” i.e., a randomized chance to win valuable in-game items, according to the case.
Crucially, players must spend real money to buy “packs” within Final Fantasy XV: A New Empire in order to make upgrades to their empire and army and therefore advance within the game, the complaint stresses.
“Without purchasing these packs—which cost real money—players are unable to advance in the game and are easily defeated by other players who have made such purchases and upgrades,” the suit reads. “The game is what is known in gaming parlance as a ‘pay to play’ or ‘P2P’ game.”
The lawsuit alleges the defendants have successfully exploited the above-described in-game money-making model through the use of “false and misleading advertising, predatory pricing tactics, and gambling psychology designed to create and reinforce addictive behaviors.” One method, the suit says, is with screen-covering pop-up ads, complete with “casino-like bright lights and colors and suspenseful music,” that encourage players to pay $4.99 for “packs.” Players are told they have only 30 minutes to “accept the offer,” the case adds.
Per the suit, it’s this initial $4.99 purchase that Machine Zone and Epic Action rely on to suck players into Final Fantasy XV and spend more money. From the lawsuit:
“Once a player purchases a number of less-expensive $4.99 packs to initially establish his or her empire and become invested or ‘hooked’ on the game, the price of subsequent pack offers increases to $19.99, and then eventually to $99.99 and higher. Once a player purchases a $19.99 pack,he is rarely if ever are [sic] offered a $4.99 pack again. Similarly, once a player purchases a $99.99 pack, he is rarely if ever offered a $4.99 or $19.99 pack.”
The catch, the lawsuit claims, is that the packs, in almost all instances, “do not actually provide the item or service advertised.” This forces players to buy even more “packs,” at a higher cost, in order to acquire what was originally advertised, the complaint says.
A similar advertisement in the game, encouraging a player to upgrade his “citadel” by buying a $99.99 upgrade pack, also fails to deliver what’s expected, the case goes on. More from the suit:
“In reality, purchasing this Upgrade Pack does not result in a citadel upgrade at all. The listed items underneath the large lettering are only part of what is needed to upgrade. To discover what is actually needed to upgrade, users must exit out of the advertisement, enter their ‘university’ building within their empire, and ‘research’ the dozens of resources needed to upgrade. Doing that ‘research’ is near impossible given that the advertisement contains a live countdown clock, usually only a few minutes in length, pressuring the player to make the purchase quickly and without exiting out of the ad. Nothing in the advertisement discloses to players what is actually needed to upgrade. Nor is there any link contained in the advertisement that allows the player to go directly to that information. Instead, players are led to believe that the items listed, if purchased, will allow them to upgrade their citadel, which is patently false.”
The lawsuit says another $99.99 upgrade, the Monster Pack, also does not contain what players expect, and affords only some of the resources needed to “unlock monsters and various chests, which are simply randomized chances of obtaining certain items,” some of which are unnecessary.
The plaintiff claims he has never bought a gear pack in Final Fantasy XV: A New Empire in which he’s received all of the materials for which he believed he was paying. The broader pattern within the game, the complaint alleges, is for players who spend money on upgrade packs to receive only some of the materials they need to advance, as well as various chests that provide merely a randomized chance of obtaining certain items.
Never do the defendants disclose what Final Fantasy XV: A New Empire players actually need to do in order to obtain gear to advance within the game, the lawsuit says.
“Nothing in the advertisement disclosed to players what is actually needed to obtain the gear,” according to the case. “Nor is there any link contained in the advertisement that allows the player to go directly to that information. Instead, players are led to believe that the items listed, if purchased, will allow them to obtain the advertised gear, which is patently false.”
The lawsuit looks to represent a class comprised of those who bought an Upgrade Pack, Monster Pack, Hunter Gear Pack or Legendary Gear Pack within Final Fantasy XV: A New Empire.
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