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Pokémon Go developer hit with suit over “flop” fest

A class-action lawsuit is seeking damages to cover the travel expenses of those who attended the disappointing first Pokémon Go Fest in Chicago

By Jon Chapple on 28 Jul 2017

Pokémon Go Fest 2017, Niantic, Grant Park, Chicago

image © Niantic

Niantic, the developer of popular mobile game Pokémon Go, has been slapped with a class-action lawsuit after its inaugural Pokémon Go Fest was beset by technical problems that left many attendees unable to play the game.

The one-day festival, which took place last Saturday in Chicago’s Grant Park (known as the venue for Lollapalooza), was organised by Niantic as fan gathering to celebrate the first anniversary of Pokémon Go’s launch, and drew sponsorship from telcos Spring and Boost Mobile.

Tickets were priced at US$20 (although, predictably, many were being sold for much more on the usual resale sites), with around 20,000 people believed to have attended.

While the festival started relatively smoothly, it soon became clear that local mobile networks were not up to the task of accommodating 20,000 people trying to connect to the game simultaneously, and the mood in the park quickly turned ugly.

Eurogamer’s Matthew Reynolds, who was at the festival, writes:

By the time proceedings officially kicked off and were being streamed on Twitch to fans around the world, I couldn’t even get a phone signal – and nor could anyone else. I struggled to send simple SMS messages (remember those?) to keep the team back home abreast of what was happening. For an event entirely dependent on everyone having an internet connection, it was nothing short of a catastrophe.

Within the 90 minutes from early doors to the opening ceremony, the mood had turned sour. Though Niantic were quick to assure crowds they were looking into the connection issues, it wasn’t enough. CEO John Hanke was booed as he walked on stage, while brash heckles and chants of “fix our game” rang out as bubbly presenters did their best to keep the show going. It was uncomfortable viewing, and later scenes were uglier still. A water bottle was thrown at one of the on-stage presenters – the unwelcome outcome of a disappointed few’s emotions boiling over.

Niantic largely blamed mobile carriers, with Hanke saying most of the problems were due to “over-saturation of the mobile data networks of some network providers”, and refunded all attendees, as well as gifting in-game credit and a free legendary Pokémon.

“Had my client known he would spend the majority of the event waiting in lines and unable to play the game, he would have stayed in California”

This, says lawyer Thomas Zimmerman, isn’t enough, and doesn’t reimburse for those who travelled large distances – many from outside the US – to attend what he calls a “flop” of an event.

In a class-action lawsuit filed in the circuit court of Cook County, Illinois, yesterday, Zimmerman, of Chicago-based Zimmerman Law Offices, is seeking monetary damages to cover the travel expenses of lead plaintiff Jonathan Norton and a group of other festival attendees.

Zimmerman says connectivity problems were amplified by hours-long queues to get into the park.

“Attendees waited in line for hours to enter the fest, missing out on scheduled programming and exclusive in-game content available only to those with paid, activated wristbands at the fest,” reads the complaint. “The fest was plagued with internet connectivity issues related to overburdened cellular towers, in addition to Niantic’s own malfunctioning game server and software, rendering attendees unable to play the game.”

Zimmerman comments: “Festgoers were unable to complete timed in-game challenges to collect special rewards, or collect previously unavailable or rare Pokémon. Had my client [Norton] known that he would spend the majority of the event waiting in lines and unable to play the Pokémon Go game, he would have stayed in California instead of paying money to fly to Chicago to attend the fest.”


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