Opinion: Niantic’s Response to the Pokémon Go Community is Too Little, Too Late
The Pokémon Go community is on fire.
In response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Pokémon Go developer Niantic wisely introduced several features that assisted players with continuing to play the game in a safe and socially distanced manner. Chief among these was doubling the interaction radius with which players could interact with Pokéstops and gyms. It was a wise decision that didn’t just make sense for the pandemic world we live in, but it inadvertently provided a raft of quality-of-life improvements to the game for so many people.
Such was the argument put forward by practically every big name in the Pokémon Go community a couple of days ago in an open letter to Niantic, noting the benefits for accessibility, respect to the general public, and player safety. The full letter, published by hundreds simultaneously with #HearUsNiantic posted alongside it, is worth reading.
Dear @NianticLabs @PokemonGoApp @johnhanke @Pokemon,— BrandonTan91 #HearUsNiantic (@brandontan91) August 5, 2021
The Pokémon GO Community has been waiting patiently for an answer in the last few days, but sadly, many trainers have walked away. We seek your attention & respond as the Community really needs it now.#HearUsNiantic #PokemonGO pic.twitter.com/mpcJtJI9Jo
The Pokémon GO Community. Practically every single youtuber and prominent player has come together to share this message, so #HearUsNiantic. @NianticLabs @PokemonGoApp @johnhanke, please take heed.— Joe Merrick (@JoeMerrick) August 5, 2021
The initial changes benefited everyone with no drawback pic.twitter.com/zJP5VPKONN
The letter was the culmination of months of vocal feedback from players falling on deaf ears. A quick visit to any recent social media post from the game’s official accounts quickly shows no shortage of complaints about Niantic’s decision to revert the interaction distance. After making their voices heard, many had hoped that Niantic would quietly go back on their decision and opt not to change the distance back to pre-pandemic levels.
No such luck, as earlier this week, parts of the world soon found they could no longer spin Pokéstops they could reach the day before. I should note this hasn’t happened here in Australia yet. Still, despite half our country being in lockdown, it is likely only a matter of time before our interaction radius is halved again too.
It’s worth noting that this wasn’t the first gripe the community has had with the game. Lag and bugs in competitive PvP, lengthy and sluggish animations, poor feature implementation, increasingly aggressive monetisation, and many more are just some of the issues players have requested Niantic to address. However, the complete lack of acknowledgement of the community’s concerns and even just the overall absence of communication has proved to be the last straw for many.
Whilst it is good (not to mention a little surprising) that Niantic responded to the open letter within 24 hours, the mere fact that it took this much noise for them to respond at all, and with a fairly weak and non-committal response at that, has left many to feel that Niantic has done too little, too late.
Prominent Pokemon Go YouTube creators such as REVERSAL and PkmnMasterHolly have called it quits for the time being. Others, such as Aussie creator ZoëTwoDots and one of the highest XP players BrandonTan91, have committed not to spend another dollar on the game until seeing the outcomes that Niantic’s task force have promised by the end of this month.
I figured I’d open up GO one last time and guess what a Shiny Gastly popped up with Reversal IVs, how fitting is that!— 【🔴 LIVE!】REVERSAL (@REVERSALx7) August 6, 2021
It’s been real #PokemonGO, thank you for everything.
I’ll probably be at a GO Fest event when my friends go and who knows I might play a bit with them.
Catching Shiny/Hundo Heracross is something that lots of trainers including myself want. However, @NianticLabs has to learn that we will NOT give in to TEMPTATION to spend $ on @PokemonGoApp until the 1 Sept.— BrandonTan91 #HearUsNiantic (@brandontan91) August 7, 2021
ZERO Heracross raids done.#HearUsNiantic
With these figureheads representing the most dedicated players, alarm bells should be ringing at Niantic. Even though not everyone plays and follows the game with as much fervour, these people help introduce the game to new players, teach them the ropes, and help them find a community to spend time with and enjoy the game. Though it shouldn’t be expected for a game’s developer to bend to every consumer gripe, in this case, they run the risk of losing the very foundation of the community, and in turn, the game itself.
In the face of so much noise from players, I fail to comprehend why Niantic is still seemingly unwilling to keep the expanded interaction distance (which they say is going from 80m back to 40m, but those numbers are very generous). I assume the decision comes down to money one way or another, but I would be curious to take a peek at whatever metrics they have that makes them believe that the damage done to the game’s reputation over the last couple of months is worth it.
Coming out saying that they need to form a task force to decide on the appropriate course of action seems tone-deaf when the only correct way forward here seems like a no-brainer. I understand that this bonus was always intended to be temporary. Still, it has become such an integral quality-of-life improvement that has provided numerous benefits to countless people. The removal of it will actively harm those players and make enjoying the game more challenging.
Time will tell the extent of the impact the mishandling of this situation will have on Pokémon Go in the future. There’s always a possibility that a large enough portion of the player base won’t care or maybe even notice at all. Niantic may decide to reverse the decision at the end of this month. Perhaps they will even offer an apology via some in-game goodies to entice back those who the whole affair has soured, and this is all forgotten about in a few months.
Regardless though, it’s undoubtedly not a great look that so many prominent figures in the game’s community have been forced to unite in expressing their displeasure at the situation just to be heard. That’s not even mentioning the general tension and unrest it has created in the rest of the player base. Pokémon Go, more than almost any other game, has built its legacy on the community it has fostered. The game itself is a relatively simple one. It is the interactions between players, and the sharing of experiences together, that turned it into the phenomenon it is. And whilst Niantic may argue that changing the interaction distance is designed to bring players back closer together both physically and socially, their poor communication and inability to acknowledge and respond to public feedback may have permanently done the opposite.