The micropayment miracle, Pokémon Go (PoGo), currently holds the prize belt for “most popular game of all time,” and in short few months, it’s raked in over $210,000,000. Market experts expect revenues to hit $1.1 billion by year’s end, and savvy brick-and-mortar businesses are PoGo promoting — to huge success.
But, dear reader, don’t be lulled into submission! The Pokémon Go story is NOT all smiles and profits. [DUN, DUN, DUN!]
Oh yes, there’s the dark side of Pokémon Go. The side that’s spawned a PoGo disaster map; the side that’s raised get-off-my-lawn stakes to lawsuit level; the side that has people wondering, “Can I sue Pokémon or Nintendo for injuries sustained in the line of PoGo battling!?”
Is Pokémon Go ushering innocents down a dangerous personal injury path? And if so, can the game’s maker be held liable? Moreover, what legal aspects must be considered when promoting a business through PoGo?
Let’s examine this mobile gaming phenomenon, with legal scalpels.
Pokémon Go Lawsuits
Nintendo aims to “put smiles on people’s faces.” Yet, not every civilian is grinning over Pokémon Go. In fact, two households have definitely NOT caught the PoGo craze; instead…they’re filing Pokémon Go lawsuits — alleging nuisance and unfair enrichment.
Get Of My (St. Claire Shores, Michigan) Lawn
The Place: Wahby Park, St. Claire Shores, MI. A point of pride in a middle class enclave, Wahby is a public recreation area that doubles as a Pokéstop and Poke gym.
The Problem: People who live near Wahby aren’t happy. They claim Poké players are driving on private lawns, parking on public streets, tearing up gardens, and…looking at them! One resident lamented, “I don’t feel safe sitting on my porch!” Another referred to the situation as “a nightmare.” Someone else said she was “afraid to go to sleep,” and a man cursed his lack of prescience, lamenting: “If I knew [Pokémon Go] was coming, I’d have sold my place two months before it got here!”
An online anti-PoGoer warned the game was “ruining the quality of life for many Americans,” and a seemingly committed jingoist, who clearly isn’t a free market proponent, cautioned, “It’s a form of destrictive [sic] society, designed by the Chinese. And it’s a shame [Pokémon Go Players] have the power to vote, because it seems that they are easily brain washed. Which could lead this country to it’s [sic] destruction.”
Local Solutions?: Several residents near Wahby Park did seek redress with the city council — and the council did take steps to remedy the situation, like increasing signage, blocking off private roads, and increasing nightly police patrols. Apparently, however, the measures didn’t satisfy one couple who is moving forward with a Pokémon Go lawsuit.
The Lawsuit: One of the disrupted homeowners is suing Niantic, Inc., The Pokémon Company, and Nintendo Co. Ltd. for “nuisance and unjust enrichment.” Why unjust enrichment? Well, the plaintiffs feel that their lawn, being so close to a public park, has helped PoGo become a financial phenomenon. Plus, the lawsuit “seeks to stop designating GPS coordinates on or near private properties without permission.”
Local Opposition: Some Whaby Park Pokémon players are side-eyeing the plaintiffs. One young father interviewed for a local television station explained his viewpoint: “For the majority, for the mass populous that comes here to play Pokémon, they’re here to have fun and enjoy the nature and meet cool people. We’re not trying to trespass anybody.”
Likely Outcome: Will the homeowners win? Believe it or not, they have a sliver of a shot. There’s a legal standard known as the “attractive nuisance doctrine,” which says homeowners can be held liable for a child’s death or injury if:
- The landowner keeps something potentially dangerous on their property (i.e., broken car on lawn, trampoline, pool without fence (in some jurisdictions)).
- The landowner knows children are around who might trespass.
- The landowner knows that something on their property may endanger trespassing children.
- The children are too young to recognize the risk.
- The landowner can fix the problem at a reasonable cost.
- The landowner does nothing.
Now, this lawsuit isn’t directly related to children harmed by Pokémon Go, but attorneys could argue that Niantic and Nintendo should have foreseen PoGo’s negative consequences. It’s a stretch, but not an impossibility.
That said, PoGo’s terms of service includes an arbitration clause that, in part, reads: “[D]isputes between you and Niantic will be resolved by binding individual arbitration, and you are waiving your right to trial by jury or to participate as a plaintiff or class member in any purported class action or representative proceeding.”
Does that mean nobody can ever sue Niantic or Nintendo? Nope. Because also embedded in the ToS is a stipulation allowing customers to opt out of the arbitration clause, via email, within 30 days of downloading.
So, bottom line: who will likely win this Pokémon Go lawsuit? If we’re hypothetically trading Vegas odds, then sure, Niantic and Nintendo probably win this one. But you never know. At this point, we cab only be sure that the Courts and clerks are tackling the issue.
Pokémon Go Marketing: Ideas & Legal Considerations
Marketing gurus agree: If you’re a brick-and-mortar business that isn’t using PoGo to lure customers (pun intended), then you’re missing out on…well…money. As one Reddit user urged, “[Using Pokémon Go to promote] is the greatest investment you can make right now.”
So, how are business owners putting PoGo to work?
- Bars, pubs and restaurants are becoming Poké gyms, then offering discounted drinks for members of the team that holds the gym.
- Animal shelters are encouraging people to pick up dogs to walk while they’re out for Poké play, which has led to an increase in pet adoptions (Nice!).
- Creating power stations for “phone refueling.”
- Following the game and using social media to advertise when a rare Pokémon is in an establishment.
Are the promotions working? Heck yeah! As another Reddit user succinctly said, “[Pokémon promotions brought him] SO. MUCH. FOOT. TRAFFIC.”
“Put down a lure and watch the customers flow in,” advised another.
Tips To Avoid Pokémon Marketing Pitfalls
- Account Security: Pokémon Go registration means handing over access to your entire Google account. Though Niantic does a wonderful job at keeping secure, the threat of a breach still lurks. Consider creating a new e-mail for your Pokémon Go marketing efforts in case disaster does strike.
- Malware Concerns: Malware is starting to spread throughout the Pokéverse. Avoid risk by downloading from a reputable source.
- Play Nice: Don’t try to sabotage a competitor’s PokéMojo. What do we mean? The app includes a Pokéstop and Poké gym removal form. So, let’s say Frank is in direct competition with Mary. They both own and operate ice cream parlors on Main Street. Being a gamer, Mary adopted Pokémon Go early and started using it to promote her business. It didn’t take long for her shop to become both a Pokéstop and a Poke gym. Frank, saw the amount of foot traffic Mary’s Poké-efforts garnered — and he didn’t like it. One day, when feeling particularly spiteful, Frank decided to sabotage Mary’s success by submitting a Pokéstop / Poké Gym removal request for Mary’s business. Frank’s actions could be considered unfair and deceptive marketing, and he could be fined — heavily — by the FTC. (And so can you, if you “pull a Frank.”)
Expect to read a lot about Pokémon Go lawsuits over the next several months. But the question remains: will the PoGo craze outlasts the lawsuits it spawns? Only time has the answer.