Epic Games offers $1 million reward for proof of a 'smear campaign' against its chat app

(Image credit: Houseparty)

In mid-2019, Fortnite studio Epic Games acquired Houseparty for an undisclosed sum. No, not House PartyHouseparty, a video chat application for mobile devices and PCs that was launched in early 2016. It doesn't sound like the most innovative piece of software ever conceived—up to eight users can take part in a single chat session, with notifications sent when friends come online—but it's experienced a big surge in popularity recently, as people look for new ways to stay in touch while in self-isolation. It's currently one of the most-downloaded apps on both the App Store and Google Play.

Earlier this month, however, rumors began to surface that Houseparty was somehow being used to "hack" into users' Netflix, PayPal, and Spotify accounts. According to The Independent, the claims first appeared on Twitter, but have since spread to other platforms. Several of the tweets claiming that Houseparty was hacking into other accounts also said that the only way to avoid the problem is to delete it completely.

Houseparty, naturally, insisted that its accounts and service are safe: "The service is secure, has never been compromised, and doesn’t collect passwords for other sites," it tweeted yesterday.

Today, it took the matter a step further by suggesting that the hacking rumors are part of a deliberate effort to discredit and damage the company. It also offered a $1 million bounty to anyone who can provide proof that this is in fact happening.

Epic Games, which said in a statement yesterday that it has "found no evidence to suggest a link between Houseparty and the compromises of other unrelated accounts," confirmed that the bounty is legitimate.

"Our investigation found that many of the original tweets spreading this claim have been deleted and we've noticed Twitter accounts suspended," it said. "It's a disheartening situation for a service like ours that’s bringing people much needed face-to-face social connections and empathy at a critical time."

Working against Epic is the fact that it's already subject to some distrust among a small section of gamers, due to the 40 percent stake that Chinese conglomerate Tencent holds in the company. Epic and CEO Tim Sweeney have repeatedly debunked the claim—and Epic is hardly the only game company Tencent has invested in—but like all good conspiracy theories, it never really goes away.

Epic also urged people to use strong, unique passwords for their online accounts, ideally with a password generator or manager.

Andy Chalk

Andy has been gaming on PCs from the very beginning, starting as a youngster with text adventures and primitive action games on a cassette-based TRS80. From there he graduated to the glory days of Sierra Online adventures and Microprose sims, ran a local BBS, learned how to build PCs, and developed a longstanding love of RPGs, immersive sims, and shooters. He began writing videogame news in 2007 for The Escapist and somehow managed to avoid getting fired until 2014, when he joined the storied ranks of PC Gamer. He covers all aspects of the industry, from new game announcements and patch notes to legal disputes, Twitch beefs, esports, and Henry Cavill. Lots of Henry Cavill.