Game developer

Federal Court Dismisses Lawsuit Against German Game Developer Under CDA Section 230 Immunity – Gaming

A federal court in Washington has dismissed all claims against Germany-based game developer InnoGames brought by a player of InnoGames’ popular strategy game, Forge empires.

On September 18, 2019, plaintiff Penny Quinteros sued German game developer InnoGames and its executives (“defendants”). The plaintiff initially brought eleven counts against the defendants, including claims of negligence, fraud, unfair and deceptive trade practices, gender discrimination and defamation.1

Forge empires is a strategy game where players create a civilization and collect in-game resources to advance their empire from the Stone Age into the modern era. Players access the game through an online browser or through mobile apps. Forge empires is a free-to-play game with various premium features available for purchase (commonly referred to as a “freemium” game) using the in-game currency known as “diamonds”. Like other “freemium” games, in-app purchases in Forge empires range from $2.99 ​​to $99.99, granting players diamonds or special in-game resources to better improve a player’s base. The game additionally seems kid-friendly, with an age rating of 9+ due to “infrequent/mild cartoon or fantasy violence,” according to the game. Apple App Store page.

On July 30, 2020, Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint with nine causes of action, each arising from Plaintiff’s interactions within Forge empires.2 In general, plaintiff’s claims can be separated into three legal categories: tort claims, contract claims, and claims arising from violations of law. The plaintiff alleged that the defendants created a “deliberate addictive nature of the game” and encouraged the engagement of male gamers through “pornographic advertisements”. The complainant further alleged that she was sexually harassed and targeted both by other players and by InnoGames’ “secret” staff moderators. However, in reporting this harassment, the plaintiff “also engaged in harassing and offensive language” directed at InnoGames’ support staff and moderators.3 Defendants highlighted excerpts from Plaintiff’s “profane and offensive” attacks on InnoGames staff, introducing several pages of arguments between Plaintiff and customer service.

In its Order granting Defendants’ motion to dismiss on March 28, 2022, the Court held that Plaintiff’s tort claims were precluded by InnoGames’ Section 230 immunity under the Act. Communications Decency Federal (“CDA”). Section 230 of the CDA provides “quite sturdy“Interactive Computer Service Providers Immunity from Liability Arising from Third Party User Content and/or Restricting Players’ Access to Obscene Content. Computer Access by Multiple Users to a Computer Server[.]In particular, the immunity does not extend to “information content providers” or entities that are responsible for the creation of content provided by other interactive computer service providers.

The Court found that InnoGames enjoyed immunity under Section 230 from the plaintiff’s online tort claims on two fronts. First, the Court found that defendants were immune from plaintiff’s claims arising from any user-generated content. Second, Defendants were immune from claims relating to Plaintiff’s loss of access to the game due to Defendants’ attempt to prevent Plaintiff from posting “lewd, lewd, lascivious, filthy, excessively violent, harassing or otherwise objectionable”.

Further, the Court found that the plaintiff’s claims were based on “implausible speculation” in that the plaintiff had not sufficiently alleged that the defendants had caused other players to harass the plaintiff and that the defendants had the obligation to prevent such online harassment of third parties. Even in finding in favor of the plaintiff, the Court could not reasonably conclude that the defendants were liable for the plaintiff’s claim. Further, the Court noted that the plaintiff was aware of these grounds for dismissal by having amended her complaint once before and that no further amendments could remedy the defects of the plaintiff’s claims. The Court thus dismissed all of the plaintiff’s claims with prejudice.

Section 230 immunity is a broad and powerful tool available to service providers. This case reinforces that such immunity can and does extend to game developers with respect to user-generated content and the restriction of a player’s access, even when a player has engaged in misconduct.

Penny Quinteros vs. InnoGames, et al., No. C19-1402 RSM (WD Wash. Mar. 28, 2022)

Footnotes

1. Complaint at 5-6, Penny Quinteros vs. InnoGames, et al., No. C19-1402 RSM (WD Wash. 9 September 2019).

2. Complaint amended at 2-3, Penny Quinteros vs. InnoGames, et al., No. C19-1402 RSM (WD Wash. 30 June 2020).

3. Order Granting Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss, Penny Quinteros vs. InnoGames, et al., No. C19-1402 RSM (WD Wash. Mar. 28, 2022).

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