Epic Games, the game developer of the massively popular Fortnite survival shooter, now finds itself at the center of a heated debate around the ethics of punishing cheaters after filing a lawsuit against a 14-year-old boy. In response, the boy’s mother filed a legal note tearing down Epic’s lawsuit and calling for it to be thrown out.
The ensuing debate has been fierce, with some praising Epic and others decrying the legal measures as excessive and heartless, suggesting this case could become a touchstone for how game developers of highly competitive online titles handle cheaters and licensing agreement violations in the future.
Fortnite, which contains a a multiplayer mode heavily borrowing elements of the breakout game Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds, has become a huge hit on both console and PC. The game involves a contest between a large number of human players, with as many as 100 people facing off in a single round.
That makes it one of the most competitive games on the market, which attracts the attention of malicious PC players who use game modifications to develop cheating software and then subscription services to digitally distribute that software for money. This software typically makes it easier to aim guns, allowing players to automate the act of defeating opponents.
Epic, which has banned cheaters only to see them develop more robust workarounds, has responded by suing both distributors of the software and, now it seems, at least one user of it.
Suing an individual user instead of simply banning them is an unorthodox and controversial move because it echoes the misguided actions of the music recording industry in its attempt to crackdown on piracy. That parallel was only further cemented by the note submitted by the 14-year-old’s mother in the Eastern District of North Carolina.
The mother — who appears to be either a lawyer, a friend or family member of one, or a very dedicated researcher — lays out an impressive case for why the suit against her son should be thrown out. Her argument boils down to the fact that her son did not develop the cheats, nor did he distribute them. Instead, he simply downloaded them from a popular cheating website and streamed himself using the cheats.