Minors Sue Niantic Over Deceptive In-Game Pokémon Go Purchases

A consumer complaint filed last week in the Northern District of California asserted that software developer Niantic Inc. deceptively markets and sells in-game items and currency within Pokémon Go, a popular, socially connected online video game played through an app. 

The filing asserted that Pokémon Go’s business model, marketing methods, hidden terms and conditions, and non-refundability fuel minors’ in-game spending for no real-world gain, and often for no in-game gain.

According to last week’s complaint, Niantic’s Pokémon Go uses a so-called freemium model, whereby it offers the game for free with the hope of generating revenue through in-game spending. While players can use the game without making such purchases, “the social nature of the game exacerbates the need for players, especially impressionable minors, to make in-game purchases,” the complaint said.

That, coupled with the difficulty and unpredictability of earning in-game currency effectively, leaves players with little choice but to surmount the defendant’s purported “paywall” in order to enjoy the game and avoid stagnation. In addition to their necessity, purchases are also characterized by Niantic’s improper induction of minors and its presentation of misleading information, the complaint claimed.

For example, when the named plaintiff was less than 18 years of age, he spent at least $252.66 on in-game purchases but “almost never received any items that had real value,” the filing explained. Furthermore, several of these purchases were allegedly non-refundable and their terms and conditions hidden.

The plaintiff seeks to certify a nationwide class of minors who held and used a Pokémon Go account to make in-game purchases since July 6, 2016. The complaint requested injunctive and monetary relief under California’s contract, tort, consumer protection, and business practice laws. It also stated a claim for declaratory relief.

The consumer class is represented by Bursor & Fisher P.A.