Section 230 Preempts Game User’s Lawsuit Over Game Moderators’ Behavior–Quinteros v. Forge of Empires

This lawsuit involves the freemium videogame “Forge of Empires.” The plaintiff, Penny Quinteros (a/k/a TwoCents), claims she became addicted to the game. She played the game virtually every day from 2016-19–over 10,000 hours worth–and spent over $9,000 on in-game transactions. She also claims that she was harassed by in-game moderators who are “volunteers” but compensated with extra in-game privileges and currency. She reported the harassment to support staff, but in profane and impolite messages that themselves might be construed as harassing. Eventually, it appears the game restricted her access. She sued pro se for a variety of claims. The court dismisses them all.

Section 230. Section 230(c)(1) provides immunity for claims based on third-party content. In addition, “Defendants are immune from Plaintiff’s claims related to their restriction of her access to Forge of Empires in an effort to prevent her from publishing ‘obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, excessively violent, harassing, or otherwise objectionable” content.’ Another 230(c)(2)(A) defense ruling on the heels of Daystar v. Vimeo.

Negligence. Her negligence claims included: “sexually explicit advertisements” promoting Forge of Empires creating “an unsafe environment for women players;” negligent supervision of “moderator-players,” negligence per se for failing to protect her confidential information, “unsafe advertisements,” and other complaints related to conduct from other users of Defendants’ game. The court says Section 230 preempts most of those claims. In addition, “Plaintiff has not cited any duty of Defendants to protect Plaintiff from alleged harassment by third parties in a video game.”

Defamation. The plaintiff claims the defense said she was “crazy” and “a liar” and disparaged her “mental status.” The court says these are not provable fact statements. Plus, Section 230 applies to any statements made by third parties.

IIED. “alleged inconsistent enforcement of community standards in an online video game does not raise to the level of extreme and outrageous conduct.”

Consumer Protection. “any injury to the Plaintiff caused by cheating or unfair play in this game was reasonably avoidable, the harm did not affect the public interest, and it did not cause injury to her business or property.”

Products Liability. An online videogame isn’t a “product.”

Breach of Contract. The alleged breaches appear to be the game’s failure to enforce possible contract breaches by other users. Among other problems with the claims, Section 230 applies to third-party conduct.

Implications. This lawsuit raises so many key issues of Internet Law, including what steps games need to take to address online harassment (especially gender-based harassment), the legality of “addictive” games, liability for “unsafe” online environments, the implications of the freemium business model, the legal consequences of “inconsistent” content moderation, the implications of in-game “cheating,” the legal responsibility for volunteer moderators, customers’ harassment of CSRs, and legal claims for account termination/restrictions (I can’t tell if this case fits our dataset of such cases or not). The court’s opinion breezes through most of these important and complicated topics, mostly due to the plaintiff’s pro se arguments and Section 230.

Case citation: Quinteros v. Innogames, 2022 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 55640 (W.D. Wash. March 28, 2022)