Recap: The monstrously popular Pokémon Go augmented reality (AR) game led to numerous lawsuits over trespassing and nuisance behaviour, but now Niantic, creators of the app, are seeking approval for a settlement.

When it launched in July 2016, Pokémon Go brought augmented reality (AR) gaming to the masses, as players were tasked with tracking down and catching virtual creatures dotted around the real world. As many as 500 million people had downloaded the app before the end of the year.

But a lot of people weren’t happy with the placement of Pokémon, asserting that players were being encouraged to trespass on or near private property.

Within weeks of the game's US release, lawsuits were launched as property owners sought to have in-game ‘Pokéstops’ and ‘Pokémon gyms’ removed from their neighborhoods. One private condo complex in Florida alleged that ‘hundreds of non-residents began infiltrating the Villas on a nightly basis’, and there were even claims of hundreds of people amassing at the National Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. The complaints became so numerous that a class action suit was filed in 2017.

The legal action ultimately hinged on whether or not makers of the game, Niantic, were liable for claims of trespass, due to encouraging players to seek out Pokémon regardless of whether or not they were in private or public spaces.

Niantic maintained that their inclusion of text in the app’s terms of service warning players to be mindful of where they roamed was enough to limit their liability for such claims – a belief not shared by the plaintiffs in the lawsuits.

So the question stood: were Niantic liable for trespass because they ‘encouraged’ players to do so, or did the responsibility lie solely with the individuals doing the trespassing?

It seems that Niantic doesn’t want this question to be answered and a precedent set, as they are now seeking approval for a settlement.

Among other things, in the settlement Niantic say they will:

  • Respond to and resolve complaints about the placement of Pokémon gyms and Pokestops within 15 days.
  • Remove such locations from within 40 meters of ‘single-family residential property.’
  • Place in-game warnings on screen when more than 10 players congregate in an area for a ‘raid.’

Whether or not the court decides to approve the settlement remains to be seen, but if it does, it seems the issue of a developer’s liability for AR gamers’ antics goes unanswered.