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The Pokémon Go Fest lawsuit will cost Niantic $1.58M more

Class-action settlement will reimburse attendees’ travel expenses

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Charlie Hall is Polygon’s tabletop editor. In 10-plus years as a journalist & photographer, he has covered simulation, strategy, and spacefaring games, as well as public policy.

On May 25, 2018, Pokémon Go players who attended the disastrous festival in Chicago’s Grant Park in the summer of 2017 will get a very unusual alert on their smartphones. Each of the more than 18,000 attendees will be offered the opportunity to go to a website, submit their receipts and receive reimbursement for their travel expenses. It’s all thanks to a settlement reached in a class-action lawsuit against the game’s developer, Niantic.

If users have the Pokémon Go app installed and allow for push notifications, they’ll receive a court-mandated offer directing them to a website for further information. Users must have registered for Pokémon Go Fest through the app. Most will also receive an email. If they follow the process, they should have their share of the $1.58 million settlement by November.

Polygon spoke with attorney Thomas Zimmerman, who argued on behalf of his clients, Jonathan Norton and Kenneth J. Fleischer, in the case. Zimmerman said that by no means was this a slam dunk.

“With 18,771 people you would expect that there would be a lot more suits,” Zimmerman told Polygon. “But nobody else filed [...] because of the case law that uniformly dismisses these complaints.”

When you buy a ticket to an event, Zimmerman said, you’re simply buying a license to witness that event. If the Cubs don’t play well, for example, you’re not entitled to get your money back.

“It’s called a ‘disappointed expectation,’” Zimmerman said. “If you’re disappointed in the outcome of the event, that’s not what you bought. You didn’t buy a ticket to see an event that you were going to enjoy. You bought a ticket to an event, and you got an event.”

That concept of a disappointed expectation was in the news recently with a similar lawsuit involving a fight between boxers Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather in May 2015. Pacquiao hid the fact that he had suffered a serious injury before the match, and at least one group filed a lawsuit to get back the money they spent to watch from home. But, Zimmerman said, even that case was eventually thrown out.

“Even under that situation,” Zimmerman said, “where he hid the facts and he made false statements to induce people to come, that still got dismissed. Because what you buy is a license to witness an event, and they went there and they witnessed the event.”

In order to force Niantic to settle with attendees, Zimmerman invoked a lawsuit that dates back to the NFL players’ union strike of 1987, when the Miami Dolphins played some of their games with replacement players.

NFL Players Union Strike
Members of the Los Angeles Raiders stand in a picket line during the NFL Players Union Strike in September 1987.
Photo by Mike Powell/Getty Images

“The players went on strike and they put in replacement players,” Zimmerman said. “The court held that people got something different than what they bought. You bought a ticket to see the Miami Dolphins and they gave you something different. They gave you replacement players, so you didn’t get what you bought.

“That’s the distinguishing factor. And so we tried to analogize our case similar to that...”

This settlement may have far reaching implications for other location-based games. When fans show up for an event, there is now an expectation that the digital infrastructure that underpins that event will need to hold up in order fulfill the ticket agreement. Otherwise, companies could put themselves at risk of future payouts.

Polygon has reached out to Niantic for comment on the settlement.

Niantic has already refunded ticket costs and even offered $100 of in-game currency. But this lawsuit makes those who attended eligible for much more. Reimbursements are available for seven different categories, including airfare and hotel expenses. More information will be provided to those affected in May.

“People should be ecstatic,” Zimmerman said. “They will be able to claim in and get 100 cents on the dollar. What we got here was everything that we could have received if we had gone to trial and won.”

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