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Blizzard facing potential class-action suit over Hearthstone card packs

The Hearthstone developer has already responded in court

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Hearthstone - a tauren and a gnome at Scholomance Academy look through a mysterious book Image: Blizzard Entertainment
Nicole Carpenter is a senior reporter specializing in investigative features about labor issues in the game industry, as well as the business and culture of games.

Earlier this year, Hearthstone developer Blizzard Entertainment won its fight to keep its Overwatch loot box lawsuit out of court, forcing the matter intro arbitration. Months later, another parent — on behalf of a minor — is looking to sue the company, this time regarding Hearthstone card packs.

According to court documents, Nathan Harris, from Arizona, and his lawyers filed a proposed class-action lawsuit in California court in early May on behalf of his child, suggesting that Hearthstone’s card pack system deceives players, particularly minors, into making a non-refundable purchase. In the complaint, Harris’ lawyer says the minor spent more than $300 playing Hearthstone from 2019 to 2021, using her father’s linked credit and debit cards without permission. The lawyer argues that the minor didn’t know the odds of getting good cards, and didn’t know she couldn’t get a refund. Apparently, she “almost never received any valuable cards,” according to the lawsuit.

Card packs in Hearthstone function a lot like loot boxes, which have repeatedly been litigated in court and by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission. Hearthstone players are able to play the game for free, but have the option of buying card packs to obtain new cards — hopefully powerful or rare cards.

Harris’ lawyer suggests minors have the right to “disaffirm contracts,” i.e., get out of them or get a refund, under California Family Code. The complaint also takes issue with Blizzard Entertainment not disclosing odds for these packs, as well as its failure to implement “parental control features,” and the right for minors and their parents to get a refund. Harris and his lawyer are asking to court to award the case class-action status, meaning it could include any minors who’ve ever purchased a Hearthstone card pack with real money. That’d be “hundreds, if not thousands,” of people, according to the complaint.

Blizzard responded to the complaint on Tuesday with a filing of its own, seeking to move the case from the California State Superior Court in Orange County to the United States District Court in California’s central district, which it says has jurisdiction. To argue that case, Blizzard’s lawyers revealed that Hearthstone has made more than $1 billion in revenue since it launched in 2014. It said this, of course, to demonstrate that Hearthstone has a huge player base, and that there’s no way to known whether minors have made purchases with or without parental consent. Though Blizzard disputes the complaint, it suggests the damages in a proposed class action would exceed $5 million — a fact it needed to prove to get the case moved to the new court.

Blizzard’s previous loot box lawsuit — the Overwatch one — ultimately ended in its favor, successfully moving the case to arbitration, arguing that the minor in question had repeatedly agreed to arbitration per Overwatch’s user agreements. The Hearthstone lawsuit argues that those agreements aren’t valid when they’re agreed to by minors. Epic Games settled a similar lawsuit in 2021, after it was sued over its “loot llamas” that contained randomized items. Any Fortnite player that purchased a loot llama before the system was removed got 1,000 V-Bucks. Rocket League players, too, were awarded 1,000 credits to anyone who purchased loot boxes in that game, too. (Epic Games has owned Rocket League developer Psyonix since 2019.) Epic Games entirely removed blind-draw loot boxes from Fortnite in 2019. The settlement also included $26.4 million for refunds for minors — available in $50 cash or 13,500 V-Bucks.

Neither Activision Blizzard nor Harris’ lawyer have responded to Polygon’s request for comment.