A young player has filed a potential class action lawsuit against Nintendo. With the help of his father, the unnamed minor (read: under 18-years-old) alleges that the mobile game Mario Kart Tour has "immoral" microtransactions that have preyed on minor players.
As revealed by Axios, the suit (filed in California back in March) concerns Pipes, an in-game mechanic that awarded players random drivers, karts, and other items. These rewards could be bought with in-game currency that could be bought with real world money.
The minor reportedly spent over $170 on the Pipe using his father's credit card that was linked to his Nintendo account. His suit alleges that Nintendo used "dark patterns" to entice players to spend money without them realizing it, which violates laws in both California and Washington, the latter of which is home to Nintendo of America.
Within the suit, it's argued that Nintendo "capitalized on and encouraged addictive behaviors akin to gambling." It's often been a claim against loot boxes regarding young players, and the minor's suit calls on Nintendo to give refunds for all US minors who paid real money to use the in-game mechanic.
Microtransactions are having a gradual reckoning
Loot boxes and gacha mechanics have been controversial for years due to the comparisons between them and gambling. In past months, though, it feels as though the hostility around them has become more pronounced.
Mario Kart Tour's Pipe system is similar to those found in other iOS or Android games such as Genshin Impact. In October 2022, Nintendo took Pipes out of Tour entirely to replace it with an in-game shop that shows players what items are specifically for sale.
The Mario developer isn't the only studio in trouble over microtransactions. Sony was recently held liable for violating Austria's laws on gambling with FIFA 23's in-game Ultimate Team packs bought by Austrian players via the PlayStation Store.
Epic Games, back in March, was fined by the FTC to pay $245 million over Fortnite's sales practices. Like Nintendo with Tour, Epic was accused of using "dark patterns" to trick minors into making purchases without the explicit involvement of their parents.
Much of the anti-lootbox action as of late has concerned Belgium and the Netherlands. While the measures may not be as effective as they once seemed, the Roblox game Adopt Me was apparently impacted by it so much the developers ended the game's service in that particular region.
Nintendo said in 2018 (the year Mario Kart Tour released) that it would consider gacha for its mobile games on a case-by-case basis. While Fire Emblem Heroes has managed to skate by unnoticed, implementing the mechanic into one of its top franchises shows why it couldn't be the standard for its mobile games.