From the moment that Pokémon GO was released early in Australia in 2016 – I have played the game. For years, I have dealt with the absolute insanity regarding the way that Niantic has handled the game. Until July of 2020, I was living in Australia which meant that I bore the brunt of the inefficiently run game. I would easily say that there were more events in Australia -and the region as a whole- with issues than events without. This was so common that extra make up days became expected for our region. However, that does not compare to the way that they are handling the pandemic with the rollbacks starting October 1st, 2020.
What is ironic about this article is that a few days ago I was toying with the idea of penning an article discussing how the changes to Pokémon GO during the pandemic have been beneficial to the game. It is true that they absolutely have been. So, losing them so soon is an absolute loss for the community who still play the game.
Nevertheless, I will still talk about the positive changes that Niantic have implemented into Pokémon GO. At the end of the day, it is clear that these were implemented out of fear of losing their player base, yet they still ended up significantly benefiting a range of players and I believe that they should become permanent changes to the game.
The changes that Niantic made to Pokémon GO started in March and gradually became better over time. In March when the pandemic hit the world at large full force and no longer could be ignored – Niantic was forced to cancel events such as Abra Community Day and Raid Hours. During this month they also halved the egg distance for any egg in an incubator, increased the rate gifts were obtained through spinning PokéStops and started to include cheap item bundles in the shop. These changes made sense as people were self-isolating for the most part and the reduced egg distance made hatching still possible. Self-isolating meant that fewer PokéStops were being spun and players had access to less items and so gaining items cheaply from the store and the higher probability of gifts being sent was helpful in that regard. Players soon were able to open thirty gifts a day and hold twenty gifts.
Over time, more changes came to further benefit players. The GO Battle League removed the walking and PokéCoin requirements to be able to continue to battle through the ranks. Every day the game would give you one daily Field Task without having to spin a stop which meant that you could continue to work towards your breakthrough reward without having to leave your home. Your buddy Pokémon would give you gifts if you started to run low too. Most importantly, Niantic implemented Remote Raid passes originally allowing players to access raids that they could see on their radar and was later expanded to allowing players at the raid to invite players on their friends list who could battle remotely. This does come with catches such as being able to invite a limited amount of people and reduced damage output but those are easily outweighed by the overwhelming positives such as being able to invite people to raids that you see where no-one else is and more importantly providing a means for people to get involved who prior to this were not able to do so.
You see, all of these changes were due to the pandemic and yet they have had such a positive impact to the community at large. Many people have been playing the game who had previously dropped it. Even more who were unable to play it previously and now can. The numerous people who are unable to walk large distances due to disability or leave their home on a daily basis -or at all- now had the possibility to actually play the game. The ability to obtain field tasks, get items from gifts and cheap bundles and participate in raids without leaving the home opened the game up for players with disabilities or other situations where they were not able to do so.
It did not end there though as Community Day events were able to be played at home, everyone world wide was able to participate in GO Fest – which was plagued with issues which would be a whole new post on its own. Team Rocket encounters could also be experienced at home due to Rocket balloons that spawn frequently. In August, Niantic changed the way that Pokémon spawn to increase them in areas outside of built up cities with many rural players noting a significant increase around their areas.
All of these changes benefited the game as a whole. So it was very disappointing that on September 29th, Niantic announced that only two days later on October 1st, these changes would begin to be rolled back. These initial changes relate to halved hatch distance being rolled back. Players will now have to walk the full distance to hatch eggs. Your buddy Pokémon will now only give you gifts once per day if you are running out. This seems silly as getting gifts via your buddy is in no way detrimental to their bottom line when it is so sporadic anyway. Most of the time you end up with so few. Gifts are further altered by removing a guaranteed gift every time you spin a PokéStop. Lastly, the bonus that they had for incense in which a Pokémon would spawn on average every 30 or so seconds as opposed to every five minutes will only work whilst the player is walking.
It seems ironic that in the same breath Niantic can say “Health and safety are of the utmost importance.”. How can one be so oblivious to what is happening in the world. Very few places have complete control over the pandemic. A lot of countries are entering a second or even third wave. Half the world is entering winter in which cases are expected to significantly increase. There is no handle on the pandemic and unless Niantic knows something we are not privy to; I do not believe October is suddenly going to be so much better that we can rollback measures to keep players safe. I also do not see how these changes impact Niantic financially in such a way that they need to roll them back during a pandemic. Personally, I had a huge stack of incense that I never used as it was basically worthless. I have been using it since the change as it actually does something. Revert it back to its previous state and there will be no need to buy it anymore. Even without the player base being enraged, there was no way that they were suddenly going to buy incubators en masse now that hatch distance is double again. It just does not make sense. When the pandemic subsides I could understand Niantic making adjustments to these changes. Now though? There is no need for it and it just furthers their outside appearance as a company that has continued to aggressively monetize their game. Without Pokémon GO, Niantic has nothing and when players eventually turn their backs on the game; the company sure has a lot to lose.
I am clearly an advocate for all of the changes that Niantic have made during this year. As I pointed out, it is clearly a way to keep their player base active and spending money during the pandemic and less of a good will token from the company. This is clear as social-distancing related changes cost money to use. Remote Raid passes all cost coins whilst you can obtain a free regular raid pass every day. Each Community Day can be played at home – yes! It is much more convenient to use an incense and also buy the event ticket that comes with it. Monetizing a pandemic is disgraceful, yet it allowed able-bodied players to play safely and non-able bodied people a chance to play. When the pandemic subsides able-bodied people will be able to play Pokémon GO just as they did prior to the pandemic. What about non-able bodied community? These changes provided them with the ability to play the game and interact with the community. When Niantic decides to rollback the rest of the changes – what happens to them? Are they excluded again? For what benefit to Niantic? I do not understand the choices being made here and it poorly reflects on them as a company. Any company who puts profits before supporting the community during a pandemic is not a company worth supporting. Niantic can and should do better by its players as without them it has nothing.