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Niantic is tweaking Pokémon Go to settle a lawsuit with angry homeowners

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Pokemon Go Photo by James Bareham / The Verge

Pokémon Go developer Niantic has agreed to settle a lawsuit with people who had PokéStops placed near their houses, and it’s making some minor game changes as part of the deal. The settlement appeared in court filings yesterday, and it’s still awaiting a judge’s approval. It won’t resolve some big legal questions about how augmented reality mixes with physical property laws — but it should make life easier for people who find unwanted Pokémon Go players around their homes.

Niantic agreed to implement several new features and policies under the settlement, which will be binding for the next three years. Homeowners can already have pokémon gyms or PokéStops removed from private property, but Niantic now promises to resolve complaints within 15 days, remove any stop that’s located within 40 meters of that property, and maintain a database that will prevent a new gym or PokéStop from popping up nearby. Beyond private homes, park authorities will also be able to request that gyms and PokéStops only appear during open hours.

The company will also add a series of warnings for players. If more than 10 people show up for a raid in Pokémon Go, a message will flash on their screens, reminding them to “be courteous to others and respectful of their real-world surroundings.” A similar message will show up alongside other warnings when players launch the game. Financial damages are on the table as well, including $1,000 each for the people named in the lawsuit, although Niantic hasn’t agreed to a specific total sum.

The class-action suit, filed in 2016, consolidated several individual complaints from unhappy homeowners. The plaintiffs claimed that Niantic’s game had encouraged players to trespass on their property — sometimes blocking their driveway with cars, “peering into their windows,” and littering or damaging property. Court filings revealed last year that the case had been settled, but they didn’t specify what the settlement included.

Pokémon Go’s incredible early popularity revealed many pitfalls in location-based games, including players who trespassed or took risks to find hard-to-reach pokémon, or PokéStops being placed in inappropriate locations like cemeteries and memorials. The game apparently retains a strong player base, and it started letting users nominate new PokéStops last year. But with the initial hype period over, it seems likely that far fewer people are getting their houses mobbed by roving pokémon trainers. Still, this settlement helps codify some best practices for running similar games without bothering non-players — even if it doesn’t establish a legal precedent for regulating digital space.