Forbes Video Games Columnist Paul Tassi says that Pokémon GO will probably not get back a lost feature after a Snapchat lawsuit.
A certain news story is currently making its way around a hopeful Pokémon GO community, who believe that it contains good tidings for those wanting the game to get some of its lost functionality back. The story is the resolution of a lawsuit against Snapchat, where a judge in Georgia found that the company was not to blame for a car accident in which a woman was attempting to reach 100 mph in order to post a photo with the Snapchat “speed filter” that tracks how fast you’re moving when you take a photo.
THE ARGUMENT WAS THAT THE COMPANY SHOULD BE RESPONSIBLE FOR ENCOURAGING
The argument was that the company should be responsible for “encouraging” that kind of behavior with the functionality of the app, but the judge disagreed. Snapchat’s lawyer, Mark Trigg, told the AP that this was an important case not just for Snapchat, but for any company who might be accused of distracting a driver.
“A loss for Snapchat would have been dangerous, opening a floodgate of lawsuits for everyone from cell phone manufacturers to billboard advertisers to makeup brands — virtually anyone that can potentially cause a distraction from driving. Snapchat’s win instead diverts blame from these companies and requires responsible use of these technologies by the driver,” Trigg said.
What does this have to do with Pokémon GO?
Ever since the game’s inception, Niantic has taken an endless amount of steps to first, warn people against playing while driving, and now, ultimately disabling all features of the game when the player moves at any speed that might constitute driving.
PLAYERS ARE SHOWN A MESSAGE EVERY TIME THEY LOG IN THAT AFFIRMS…
Players are A) shown a message every time they log in that affirms they are not to play while driving B) shown another message that affirms if they are moving fast it’s because they’re a passenger, and now more recently C) that message does nothing because above a certain speed the game refuses to work at all, with Pokémon that don’t spawn, PokeStops that don’t spin and an empty Nearby screen. This has not been in response to any specific legal action, despite the fact that there have been Pokémon GO-related injuries and accidents with both pedestrians and cars since the game’s launch. Rather, it just seems like increasingly cautious butt-covering on their end.
Players are hoping that this lawsuit might set a precedent that could translate into Niantic reactivating all the game’s lost functionality while moving at driving speed. After all, if Snapchat isn’t found at fault when a driver was trying to go 100 mph to utilize a filter, then how would Niantic be found at fault if someone crashes while playing GO, which requires nor requests play at driving speeds, much less high speed?
Sadly, it’s not really going to work out like that, most likely. There are a few things to consider here.
While yes, this is a good step in the right direction as drivers should be responsible for their own in-car tech use, this is a case not just limited to the US, but limited to one state, Georgia. Pokémon GO is a global game where even if something like this has been proven in one state in one country, it would be an enormous risk to simply deactivate all these precautions with no assurance that would happen elsewhere. Not to mention the case in Georgia could still potentially be appealed at this point.
POKEMON GO IS NOT SNAPCHAT
Additionally, Pokémon GO is not Snapchat. One is a messaging app, one a GPS-based game that tasks players with moving around in real life to catch monsters. And truth be told, back when players could play Pokémon GO effectively when driving, it was often far more efficient to do so. The point is that if such a case did come up, it does not necessarily mean that even a similarly-minded judge would find the same result given that these two apps are drastically different. While it may feel like common sense that no, Niantic shouldn’t be blamed for a car crash caused by a GO-distracted driver, stupider lawsuits have happened. Why do you think we have warning labels on hot coffee?
As much as I hate the current system Niantic has in place, I understand why it’s there, and that they’ll probably leave it there. Niantic is on Cloud 9 thanks to the massive success of Pokémon GO, and as such, they’re a huge target for a lawsuit like that with $950 million in revenue from GO last year alone. Yes, they might be upsetting players and reducing useful functionality of the game by killing this feature, but to them, it’s worth the tradeoff if it protects them.
With that said, it’s hard not to feel like the current system is overkill. Do players really need to press a button to say “Yes I understand not to play while driving” every time they open the game? Can’t that just go in the terms and conditions? And what’s the point of the “I’m a passenger” pop-up if the game just deactivates itself anyway if that’s pressed?
Ideally, Niantic will figure out from their lawyers that yes, warning messages are enough to keep them free and clear, and maybe someday they’ll be able to make the game work again at driving speeds, as passenger play has been especially great for families or those on public transit. But for now, I don’t think the law is clear enough where they think it’s safe to do that, and one somewhat similar court ruling in one state is not going to change that.
It may happen someday, but as much as I don’t want to dash the hopes of the faithful, I don’t think this latest news item will have an impact on Pokémon GO in its present, speed-restricted form.