Nintendo isn’t immune from the backlash against loot boxes, and now a recently filed lawsuit claims the video game company used “dark patterns” to trick younger players into spending money on Mario Kart Tour’s “immoral” microtransactions.
When first released in 2019, Mario Kart Tour — Nintendo’s free-to-play mobile spin-off of its popular kart racer series — contained “Spotlight Pipes.” These basically acted as loot boxes, with undisclosed odds, that players could use real-world money to open in the hopes of receiving in-game upgrades and items. While Nintendo removed these pipes last year, it’s still facing a possible class action lawsuit over the loot box-like items from a father who says his kid ended up spending $US170+ ($236)+ on Mario Kart Tour pipes using a credit card connected to the game.
As reported by Axios on Monday, the lawsuit — originally filed in March but only appearing on the federal docket last week — calls for refunds for all minors in the United States who paid to open loot pipes. The lawsuit further suggests that Nintendo purposely made it harder to make progress in the mobile game for players who didn’t spend money on items obtained through the pipes, suggesting the company used “dark patterns” to trick players into spending more money on in-app purchases. In the suit, the plaintiffs refer to Mario Kart’s microtransactions as “immoral” and claims that tactics used to “deceive” players violate Washington State’s Consumer Protection Act and also California business law.
The lawsuit further says the “loot box mechanism” Nintendo used “capitalised on and encouraged addictive behaviours” in gamers, similar to gambling or betting. It also claims that younger players are more vulnerable to these sorts of systems, which involve loot boxes and random rewards.
Kotaku has contacted Nintendo about the lawsuit.
Companies like Epic and EA also face legal issues over loot boxes
Nintendo isn’t the first (and likely won’t be the last) video game publisher to face legal ramifications over loot boxes. Even as the industry moves away from relying on these types of systems, further lawsuits are on the horizon.
Just last year the FTC fined Epic over $US500 ($694) million after finding it had invaded children’s privacy and tricked some players into buying stuff in Fortnite. And last week, Sony had to pay back some players who purchased loot boxes in FIFA. In the United States, congress and politicians have talked about regulating loot boxes and in-app purchases for years. And speaking of FIFA, EA has spent many years fighting against countries and lawmakers who have come after the game’s lucrative Ultimate Team mode and its profitable loot packs.
All of this is to say that while many companies are retreating from loot boxes or trying to make them less predatory, the reality is that it won’t matter as more people lawyer up and sue them over what many see as essentially unregulated, in-game gambling.