Sony Interactive Entertainment has been hit with a proposed class action that alleges the games available on the PlayStation 4 console are deliberately designed to be both highly addictive and to compel children to spend large amounts on in-app purchases, often without parental consent.
The plaintiff, the parent of a Fortnite player, claims that Sony Interactive Entertainment does nothing to effectively prohibit minors from using parents’ or guardians’ payment cards without permission “despite their obvious knowledge that minors may engage in such activities due to their lack of maturity.” According to the lawsuit, the plaintiff’s son used his mother’s debit card to spend more than $1,000 on in-game purchases without her authorization.
Sony Interactive Entertainment offers the PlayStation Network (PSN) and the PlayStation Store, the suit begins. After creating a PSN account, users can access the PlayStation Store to buy and download video games and features within those games, as well as content and additional services, for the PlayStation 4 console, the suit explains. In order to make a PSN account, the lawsuit says, a user must be the legal age of majority or have the consent of a parent or legal guardian.
A primary issue, according to the suit, is that Sony Interactive Entertainment fails to employ effective measures to prevent minors from creating PSN accounts without parental consent. The lawsuit adds that children frequently use their parents’ credit or debit cards to pay for in-game purchases such as those available in Fortnite, a game the suit says is “designed to entice minors into making in-game purchases.”
The plaintiff claims in the lawsuit that her son made an account on the PSN “all by himself” and without authorization. The child allegedly downloaded the free-to-play Fortnite and proceeded to spend more than $1,000 on V-Bucks, the in-game currency players can use to make purchases. Though the plaintiff sought a refund from Sony Interactive Entertainment, the company denied her request, the complaint says.
According to the case, the plaintiff’s minor child’s unauthorized purchases of Fortnite V-Bucks are subject to California law’s “right to disaffirmance” in that the defendant’s transactions with minors are essentially contractual. From the complaint:
“[Sony Interactive Entertainment’s] transactions with minors also necessarily involve entering into contracts with minors regarding property that is fundamentally not in the minors’ possession or control, since SIE collects funds from debit cards, credit cards, PayPal accounts, or other sources, some of which are not in the minor’s possession or control. In fact, some of the funds are in the possession and control of, invariably, the minor’s parents and the card issuers.”
On a broader scale, Fortnite is “by no means the only bait App that preys on minors in such a manner,” the lawsuit claims. In truth, the suit alleges, Sony Interactive Entertainment offers many games that “use the same bait-and-switch business scheme as Fortnite,” whereby minor players are enticed with a free game download only to be required to buy in-game currency “in order to enjoy the game as it was designed to be ‘played.’”
“The targeting of children by SIE and inducing them to purchase, without the knowledge or permission of their parents, millions of dollars of Game Currency, is unlawful exploitation in the extreme,” the lawsuit alleges. “Fortunately for the members of the Class, such purchases of Game Currency constitute voidable contracts because they were entered into with minors.”
The suit looks to cover all those in the U.S. who paid for a purchase of Game Currency made by their minor child without their knowledge or permission.