Liability for Pokémon Go Fest in Chicago?

Over the last weekend, thousands of Pokémon Go players traveled to Grant Park in Chicago for the first ever Pokémon Go Fest, a daylong event for players of the augmented reality game.  Tickets for the event initially went on sale in June and sold out in a manner of minutes.  The tickets, that initially cost twenty dollars were being sold on the secondary market for hundreds of dollars.

A festival organized by the Niantic, the game’s development team, in Chicago?  What could go wrong?  Unfortunately, a lot.  The event kicked off with numerous festival attendees posting on Twitter about extremely long lines.  It only went downhill from there.  Connectivity issues and bugs plagued the event.  Many players were unable to even load the game due, in part, to an overloaded demand on the cellular networks.  However, it was not all network related, Niantic chief marketing officer Mike Quigley admitted that there were “issues [ ] on the Niantic side.  There’s a crash bug issue that we’ve identified . . . as well as an authentication issue. . .”

The combination of these issues, along with the long lines, meant that many of the festival’s attendees spent more time trying to get the game to work as opposed to playing it.  This led to angry and frustrated festival goers.  A quick Google search reveals countless individuals writing stories, posting on twitter, and writing articles about their experiences.

Within hours, Niantic announced that it would fully refund all ticket purchases and give $100 of in-game credit and a free unique Pokémon to all of those who attended the festival.  Is this enough?  Many of the festival goers spent well in excess of the twenty-dollar refund offered on the secondary ticket market.  Further, the refund does nothing to reimburse any of the attendees for their travel and hotel costs.  Reportedly, many festival goers came from all over the United States and some from outside the country.

Is Niantic and its Pokémon Go partners responsible, in part or in whole, for these expenses and losses?  Arguably, yes.  One Niantic spokesperson admitted that: “Obviously they can’t completely make it up to all the people who have come out to Chicago. . . “ While this comment is questionable, as refunding travel costs and compensating the festival goers for their time may do just that, it shows that Niantic realizes the extent of their mistakes.  Additionally, it is important to note that this was a ticketed event, meaning Niantic was able to control the size of the crowd and was in the best position to make a determination as to how many people could attend the event while avoiding network and bug issues.  While more facts are needed, it appears that Niantic simply failed to do its homework in preparation for this event.

These mistakes could open Niantic up to liability.  Illinois has strong consumer fraud laws to prevent customers from being taken advantage of.  We will keep our eyes on this situation as it is sure to continue to evolve in the weeks and months to come.