Nuisance Lawsuit against Niantic reaches settlement – Its impact on the geolocation mobile gaming industry

In the early days of Pokémon GO, the game’s success grew much faster than anyone could have anticipated. While this certainly had a positive effect on the Pokémon lore or mobile gaming in general, it also attracted the masses’ and the medias’, resulting in some people despising how, all of a sudden, groups of people started gathering near their house, business, etc. This feeling of invasion resulted in a class action lawsuit in the US in August of 2016 against Niantic.

Finally, September 6, 2019, this lawsuit has concluded into a settlement introducing a new set of rules for Pokémon GO, that may have an effect worldwide, but also on the other games from Niantic: Ingress and Harry Potter: Wizards Unite. Let’s dive in.

The Settlement
Ingress + Harry Potter: Wizards Unite
Geolocation – Mobile gaming industry
Parting Words

The Settlement

While settlements can be phrased using long and exhausting sentences, we’ve taking the liberty to highlight what we believe to be the most important elements of each points of the settlement, so feel free to focus on the bold sections only.

While the settlement clearly specifies ‘with respect to Pokémon GO in the United States’, it would be very surprising if Niantic were to only implement these changes in the United States as it would only open the door for class action lawsuits from other regions of the world.

With respect to the United States:

(a) For complaints properly received through Niantic’s website related to nuisance, trespass, or a request to remove a POI, Niantic will use CRE to resolve the complaints and communicate a resolution within no more than 15 (fifteen) days of wait time for the requestor, for 95% of cases each year.

(b) In cases where the complaining party in Section 2.1(a) is the owner of a single-family residential property and the party reviewing the complaint determines that the complained of POI is on or within 40 meters of that property, Niantic will instruct that reviewer to remove the POI from the property. In cases where the resolution specified in 2.1(a) or 2.1(b) requires removal of a POI, Niantic will use CRE to perform that removal within five business days of the communication from Niantic agreeing to such action.

(c) Niantic will use CRE to maintain a database of complaints related to nuisance or trespass and requests to remove a POI, for a minimum of 1 (one) year from the date of the complaint. Niantic will also continue to use CRE to avoid the placement of new POI on single-family residential property.

(d) Niantic will maintain a form on its website whereby an owner of singlefamily residential property can request that any POI on or within 40 meters of their property be removed. In cases where Niantic has previously removed a POI from the property of a single-family residential home, and in cases where Niantic does so in the future during the settlement period, Niantic agrees to use CRE to avoid re-placing that POI on that same singlefamily residential property.

(e) For Raids which Niantic’s systems indicate will involve more than 10 participants, Niantic will use CRE to cause a warning message to appear on participants’ screens before the raid begins reminding players to be courteous to others and respectful of their real-world surroundings. Precise final language will be determined by Niantic, in its sole discretion.

(f) Niantic will add specific instructions to the current review form that Niantic’s user-reviewers use to evaluate new POI submissions that direct user-reviewers to increase scrutiny regarding any proposed POI that may be located on or within 40 meters of a private single-family residential property, and POI that appear to be located in neighborhood parks. At a minimum, such instructions will include directions for the user-reviewer to examine the proposed POI using a variety of sources, including but not limited to mapping services maintained by private companies such as Google Maps. After such review, Niantic will use CRE to avoid placing the POI on any property that appears to the reviewer to be a single-family residential property.

(g) Niantic agrees that it shall manually review a statistically significant percentage of new POI submissions via a Niantic employee or contractor for the principal purpose of trying to avoid POI that are more likely to lead to issues with nuisance or trespass.

(h) Niantic agrees to maintain a mechanism for parks whereby it provides parks the opportunity to request that a specific park’s Hours of Operation be applied to POI that are located within that park. Niantic also agrees to comply with requests related to existing POI located in parks from governmental parks authorities to apply Hours of Operation to POI located in parks within their jurisdiction. In addition to any notice of the settlement that Plaintiffs determine is required per Section 2.4 below, at least once in each of the three years of the settlement period, Niantic will make a public post on its website that includes a notification that Niantic will limit the hours of operation of POI within public parks upon request from the proper park administrator.

(i) Niantic will agree to confirm compliance with its obligations under Section 2.1(a) above by way of an audit, at Niantic’s expense, conducted by an independent firm that Niantic will select, at the time of Plaintiffs’ choosing during the 3 (three) year period, with at least 30 days’ notice to Niantic before the commencement of the audit. Should the audit conclude that Niantic was materially non-compliant with the settlement terms in Section 2.1(a) during the audited period, a second audit will be conducted, at Niantic’s expense, during the settlement period, with at least 30 days’ notice to Niantic before commencement of the second audit.

(j) Niantic will add a new warning to the rotating warnings that appear at the launch of the game (which currently include “do not trespass while playing Pokémon GO” and “do not play Pokémon GO while driving”) that states: “Be courteous to members of real-world communities as you play Pokémon GO” or something similar, with final specific language subject to Niantic’s sole discretion.

How will this affect Ingress, Harry Potter: Wizards Unite?

While the settlement in no way makes any reference to other geolocation games from Niantic, it would also not be surprising to see these change be implemented in Ingress and Harry Potter: Wizards Unite, both having the same format as Pokémon GO where people roam the real world and where in-game elements are focused around POIs.

Why? Simply because this sets a massive precedent and opens the door to other similar class action lawsuits, which can be expensive even for big companies such as Niantic.

We have reached to Niantic and Warner Bros (publisher for Harry Potter: Wizards Unite), but have yet to get a response.

How will this affect geolocation in the mobile gaming industry?

Again, such a settlement could set a massive precedent, not only for Niantic, but other companies developing geolocation mobile games such as Ludia (Jurassic World Alive), Microsoft/Mojang (Minecraft Earth), FourThirtyThree Inc. (Ghostbusters World), Next Games (The Walking Dead: Our World), etc.)

This type of game has been on the rise ever since Pokémon GO was launched, and it won’t stop now. While several of the games mentioned above have opted for a different format, i.e. not focusing on POIs, but rather focusing on cellular activity or proportional distribution of in-game elements, this settlement could affect these games even more as many of the in-game POIs end up in people’s front yard, businesses, etc.

Parting Words

This settlement shows how difficult developing a geolocation mobile game can be as it not only affects the players, but also the rest of the surrounding world and environment. We very much look forward to the impact that this may have on the mobile gaming industry focusing on geolocation games, and how it might affect its growth in the future.

What are your thoughts? Let us know below and stay tuned as we keep you updated of any development on the matter.

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