Last summer when Pokemon Go took off, so did the lawsuits from property owners who claimed Niantic was effectively encouraging players to illegally trespass on their land. We covered two such suits, one in Michigan and one in New Jersey, and there were more — and they’ve since been consolidated into a single suit seeking class-action status.
The U.S. District Court in San Francisco is now set to decide the case, The Wall Street Journal reports this week, in a move that will likely influence future augmented reality MMOs like PoGo.
“Residents of the Villas of Positano on the South Florida coast said hundreds of people began infiltrating the 62-unit complex, parking illegally and even relieving themselves in the landscaping during late-night visits to ‘catch’ virtual characters. Another plaintiff, a New Jersey lawyer, said at least five people knocked on his door asking for access to his backyard. In Michigan, a couple said a quiet nearby park became overrun once it was tagged as a location in the game, creating a nightmare for neighbors as players stormed the area, blocked driveways and peered in windows. […] The intrusions, the plaintiffs say, amount to negligence and trespassing by the game’s developer, Niantic Inc. They claim not only that Niantic is responsible for players who physically trespassed, but also that the placement of the virtual characters is itself a form of trespassing.”
Niantic has thus far argued that trespass laws do not cover virtual intrusions, that it is the trespassers who have broken laws, and that a decision against the company could also absurdly impact non-games like real estate apps. Legal experts, however, suggest that trespass laws vary from state to state and that neither side has a slam-dunk case. “The law here is very messy,” a Florida State University law professor told the Journal.
Meanwhile, Niantic CEO John Hanke spoke at this week’s London Games Festival on the subject of virtual reality — and his concerns about how it’s so good that it’s a problem.
“My thing about VR is I’m afraid it can be too good, in the sense of being an experience that people want to spend a huge amount of time in,” he told listeners. “I mean I already have concerns about my kids playing too much Minecraft, and that’s a wonderful game. We’re human beings, and there’s a lot of research out there that shows we’re actually a lot happier when we get exercise, when we go outside – and outside in nature in particular. I think it’s a problem for us as a society if we forgo that and spend all of time in a Ready Player One-style VR universe.”
Fortunately, he’s got this great game called Pokemon Go that takes place entirely outside!
Remember when TV was the great entertainment evil ruining our lives? Before that, it was radio. After that? Consoles. Sheesh, I used to be grounded for reading books hidden under the dinner table. Escapers gonna escape, dudes. It doesn’t really matter where they go. Unless it’s, you know, into somebody else’s yard.