Pokémon Go is not your average mobile game. Since its release just a week ago, it has taken the nation by storm, becoming the number one downloaded and top grossing app for both Apple and Android platforms.
Pokémon Go is an augmented reality game that allows players to search for and catch Pokémon in real life using their smartphone camera and GPS. Developed jointly by Nintendo, The Pokémon Co. and Niantic Labs, the mobile app is expected to soon surpass Twitter’s 65 million American users.
However, despite becoming a huge hit and adding more than $7.5 billion in value to Nintendo, the game has also generated considerable controversy, raising numerous questions about the safety of its players and the privacy of those around them.
Police in Missouri recently reported that several criminals used the app to lure unsuspecting players in secluded areas and rob them at gunpoint. Others have reported getting injured while being distracted by the game.
Adding to the controversy, some of the game’s geographic markers a.k.a PokeStops, where players can find new items or train their Pokémon, are often placed in locations that are not quite appropriate for gaming. As a result, churches, museums and even people’s private backyards often become flooded with seemingly unaware Pokémon Go players whose eyes remain glued to the screens on their smartphones.
Many national landmarks, including the Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. have already come forward, asking people not to play Pokémon Go during visits:
“Playing the game is not appropriate in the museum, which is a memorial to the victims of Nazism,” said Andrew Hollinger, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Communications Director in an interview with The Washington Post. “We are trying to find out if we can get the museum excluded from the game.”
So far, there has been no clear response from the game’s developers as to whether such landmarks will be excluded from the Pokémon creatures’ habitats. What is clear, however, is that Nintendo and its partners need to consider all these contingencies moving forward. As Pokémon Go acquires more and more users with each passing hour, the risk for possible litigation resulting from injuries and privacy violations caused by the game increases as well.
And this is exactly why Nintendo needs to develop and put in place a dedicated crisis response strategy addressing all of the potential PR crises that may result from its new mobile app. As the expression goes: “it’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt…”