Pokémon Go seems innocent enough. You wander around, staring at your smartphone, looking for characters like Squirtle and Wigglytuff to appear on your screen, then you capture and train them for battle.
It's a version of augmented reality, where digital items get superimposed on the real world through software and a screen. You get some exercise in, even though you still have your nose buried in a phone, and you can play for free if you don't feel like paying for items and features the game will charge you for.
But free isn't the same as no cost.
You may end up paying for:
- Data use
- Legal run-ins
- Personal injuries
- Homeowner liability
- Business liability
- Lost productivity
...when you focus heavily on finding imaginary creatures and forget the real world. And you may still pay, even if you are merely an innocent bystander to an obsessed game-player.
For example, Jamal Asskoumi, a small business owner in London, found that he had played so much he ran through the data on his monthly mobile account and into extra charges. "It ended up costing an extra £30 [or almost $40] on my monthly bill," he said.
Too much attention to Pokémon Go has also landed people in run-ins with the law. There were the two Canadian youth who accidentally crossed the border while playing, according to U.S. Customs and Border Patrol. (The officers reunited the kids with their mother at a border station.)
Or there was the person in Baltimore intently playing in mid-July — while driving. Not paying attention to where he was going, he sideswiped a parked police vehicle in front of some surprised officers.
As the Baltimore Police Department later said on Twitter, "#PokemonGo is not all fun and games."
As an insurance agent would say, "Your rates are about to jump." There would also be the likely accompanying ticket.
Then there are the personal injuries. One person reported online having fallen into a ditch and landing in the emergency room with a fractured foot within 30 minutes of the game having been released.
The potential for people getting hurt has already become a worry for the insurance industry.
"I've had a personal experience with Pokémon Go [players] coming to my house, trying to get in because they had an opportunity [to catch a character] in my house, apparently," said Dax Craig, CEO of insurance data analytics firm Valen.
"They did knock on the door. That was a little disconcerting. Thank goodness they didn't climb on my roof and fall off. Thankfully my wife and I were home."
The problem for Craig, and anyone else who might suddenly find their property of unexpected interest to a Pokémon Go player, is that there's the immediate danger of liability and a claim on a homeowner's policy.
"It doesn't matter why the claim happened," Craig said. "It didn't matter that you didn't know those people. If you have any claim activity not related to weather, your policy premium is likely to rise, even if you aren't home and you didn't authorize that person to be on your property."
The same is true for businesses. "[Players are] walking into doors," said David Derigiotis, director of professional liability at wholesale insurance broker and underwriter Burns & Wilcox.
"They're not being mindful of conditions of the floors. I've heard plenty of stories of people rolling their ankles, falling down in retail establishments. We do know of several workplace risks that have come up because of Pokémon Go. A case of an employee leaning out of a window to get better reception. That's an insurance claim [if there was an injury]."
Luckily, someone with a lick of common sense dragged the employee back in.
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As with homeowners, any claim, whether because of an injury on the premises will mean insurance rates rise. When costs go up, so do prices to make up for it.
"Distracted players have found themselves locked into warehouses and cemeteries after hours or trampling near sensitive R&D areas," said Philippe Weiss, managing director of Seyfarth Shaw at Work, a compliance services and training subsidiary of law firm Seyfarth Shaw.
Weiss has also heard from some clients who found devotion to the game was costing them working time.
"A couple of groups were playing it as a bonding exercise," Weiss said of one company that called him. "They saw that morning tardies were up 10% across those groups. Two separate companies in creative industries said there was at least a 10% [productivity] impact.
"People were walking to work distracted or they'd be driving, see people playing, and they'd pull over to see what was going on. They've seen extended lunches."
The productivity issue is like the insurance issue: it ultimately ties to profits -- and to service and product prices.
So what can you do to avoid paying for Pokémon Go, even if you don't play the game?
Start by looking up from your phone — and watching out for the hordes who don't, so the virtual world doesn't have an impact on your physical wallet.