With huge petitions ignored and top players threatening to boycott, it’s a precarious time for Pokemon Go. If Niantic doesn’t start paying attention to the community’s concerns soon, it risks losing them for good.
Pokemon Go has one of the best communities in gaming. For five years now, Trainers around the world have come together to help each other defeat powerful Raid bosses, find rare Pokemon, and share tips for the Go Battle League. Many have made lifelong friends through the app.
But that sense of community is currently at risk of fracturing. Niantic has begun rolling back features that were introduced in 2020 to help Trainers play from home during the global health crisis, despite calls from countless players to rethink the decision. One petition reached over 140,000 signatures.
Of all these features, known as Exploration Bonuses, the most important was the increased PokeStop and Gym interaction distance. This allowed players to spin discs on real-life landmarks and earn essential items like Poke Balls from a safe distance, without having to get too close to other people.
In fairness to Niantic, these changes were never supposed to be permanent, and players were given plenty of notice that they’d be removed. But that doesn’t change the fact that many places around the world still have restrictions in place, and some countries like the United States are facing a rise in cases once again.
Since the bonuses began disappearing in the US and New Zealand, Reddit has been flooded with threads highlighting the negative impact of the changes. Over on Twitter, frustrated Pokemon Go players have been using the hashtag #BoycottNiantic to express their disapproval. Some have quit the game completely.
“I did what I could, left a 1-star review and uninstalled the game. Don’t know what else I can do,” said one player. Another wrote, “I remember in the pre-Remote Raid days having to go inside the lobby of a hotel and up some stairs to reach a Kyogre raid. It’s bonkers that we have to go back to that.”
Even Joe Merrick, the founder of popular Pokemon fansite Serebii, has pledged to stop putting money into Go. “Niantic have taken a dangerous decision with the PokeStop distance removal, a feature that helped people play safely,” he wrote, encouraging others to “do the same until Niantic reconsiders this insanity”.
I love playing Pokémon GO and really enjoy my time with it when I'm able to go outside and play with friends, and it helps me fill my Living Shiny Pokédex in HOME, but this disregard for the userbase is so bad.
I recommend you do the same until Niantic reconsiders this insanity.
— Joe Merrick (@JoeMerrick) August 1, 2021
Beyond the ongoing health crisis, players with disabilities have also shared personal stories about how the increased PokeStop interaction distance helped improve accessibility, while others highlighted how not having to cross busy roads or venture near private property made the game safer for everyone.
Trawling through Reddit and Twitter, it’s hard to find a single player who’s happy about these changes. Some are indifferent, yes, but no one is celebrating it. And why would they? These changes made Pokemon Go better for everyone – and it’s not like players have stopped spending money because of them.
It’s left many people in the community questioning who these changes actually benefit. Niantic explained their decision by stating that they want players to get back to the game’s roots of exploring and going outside, but now just isn’t the right time to make people do that.
Besides, Trainers who wanted to were already going outside: During the recent Go Fest celebration, my city was buzzing with gamers taking part in Raids with other Trainers and filling out their Legendary collection. The most important thing? They were able to do so while keeping a safe distance from other groups.
This certainly isn’t the first time the Pokemon Go community has banded together to voice their concerns. Paywall events and bugs that plague the Go Battle League have been under scrutiny for years. But this feels different, and the radio silence from Niantic in the face of such criticism is louder than ever.
With so much backlash from just the US and New Zealand, it’s hard to imagine how Niantic will be able to continue to ignore the community when these features are reverted across the world. Hopefully, they’ll listen to the legitimate concerns of fans before doing that – or they might not return at all.