As you are probably aware, it’s been more than 3 months without an ingame tracker. It’s a sad realisation for a number of us, as Pokemon GO tracking was one of those things that got us hooked and wanting more.
It’s quite surprising when you think about it: why would Niantic turn off one of core game features and why is it not yet fixed? They are losing money left and right because of it, so how is it possible we haven’t got it yet.
There is a simple answer to these questions: it caused legal issues, people got hurt or died. The whole idea behind Pokemon GO tracking needed to be reworked from the ground up.
Wait, what legal issues did it cause?
News flash everyone: the game caused a LOT of legal issues in almost every place it launched.
People died in San Francisco while playing the game. Rickybot got mugged while playing the game. A woman got hit and died by a truck driver in Japan because of Pokemon GO. And all of this happened AFTER the tracker was turned off.
Well, it was certainly better while the tracker was turned on? Nope, not by a mile. We got a short list of accidents that happened in July following the game launch:
7/18: COLLISION A distracted driver strikes a police car while playing Pokemon Go in Baltimore.
7/18: ASSAULT 19-year-old man is stabbed in Greenville, North Carolina.
7/17: ROBBERY Two people are robbed in St. Joseph, Missouri.
7/16: ROBBERY Three separate robberies occur in Denver, New York City, and Nashville.
7/16: SHOOTING Two teens are shot at in Palm Coast, Florida.
7/15: ROBBERY Two people are robbed at gunpoint by three men in Fresno, California.
7/15: ASSAULT A teen is stabbed and another teen is robbed in Redding, California.
7/14: ROBBERY Two brothers are robbed in Lake Villa, Illinois.
7/13: ASSAULT A distracted man is stabbed in an Anaheim park.
7/13: INJURY Two distracted men survive a fall off a cliff in Encinitas, California.
7/13: ROBBERY A 19-year-old man is robbed while playing Pokemon Go in New York.
7/13: ASSAULT A man is robbed at a bus stop in Austin.
7/13: PAROLE VIOLATION A convicted sex offender is arrested for violating parole by being around children
7/12: ASSAULT Two people are assaulted in a fight in Long Island.
7/12: INJURY A 15-year-old girl is hit by a car and sustains collarbone and foot injuries in Pennsylvania.
7/12: INJURY Texas teen survives bite from a venomous snake.
7/12: INJURY A driver in New York is injured after driving his car into a tree. Yes, he caught a tree.
7/12: ROBBERY A man is attacked and robbed in Chicago.
7/10: ASSAULT A man is stabbed in Forest Grove, Oregon, but keeps on playing.
7/10: ROBBERY A lure is used to bring players to a Pokéstop in O’Fallon, Missouri, where 4 men rob them.
7/7: ROBBERY A group of players are robbed at gunpoint in Parkville, Maryland.
As it turns out, people get often distracted while playing the game. Distracted walking is nothing new and staring at a screen counting footsteps was not helping it. The reality is that the original Pokemon GO tracking system may very well be the leading cause of these accidents.
There we said it. Prepare your pitchforks and torches, but before you strike, read a bit more about product liability and how laws get applied to gaming accidents.
But, it’s not Niantic fault that players get hurt!
Whose is it? The game does have a warning that says you should stay safe so, surely, they can’t be held responsible for these accidents? In all honesty, nobody knows if or how they can be held accountable.
It turns out that Product Liability also applies to augmented reality video games and mobile games, but as explained by the National Law Review, it’s still murky waters. There was simply never a mobile game as successful and as influential like Pokemon GO.
It’s not easy to draw a line where Niantic can and will be held accountable for lack of safety features inside the game and for bad or harmful product design. Which brings us back to square one – product design.
As a product designed to be used by all ages and to be family friendly, Pokemon GO can’t allow to be held responsible for these accidents. You do not want that kind of publicity.
The original tracker was not designed for safety
It’s hard to argue that the original footstep tracker was simplistic and naive in many ways. Tracking Pokemon based on distance and orientation indicators was great and awful at the same time: it incentivised players to explore and hunt, but it did not prevent them from going across the streets or in a shady area.
The San Francisco tracker is in it’s beta, but it looks like it’s not safe enough either. Niantic went ahead and announced that it has no plans to release it worldwide yet, which in turn caused an outrage on reddit.
It makes no sense. Niantic does not hate Pokemon GO nor they are blind or deaf. It’s simply more complicated than returning three step tracking or releasing the SF Beta worldwide.
Looking through pink glasses and feeling entitled is a common phenomena in the gaming world. Niantic is yet another victim of the same “ERMAHGERD THEY HATE US!!11!!!” mentality, but they are not completely innocent.
Their lack of communication and explanation is appalling, but that’s a topic for another time.