Pokemon Go players boycotted the game for a full day in protest of Niantic’s recent changes to bonuses in-game, and they are not happy with the response.
There is a standoff between the playerbase of Pokemon Go and its developers. Niantic’s mobile game, available on iOS and Android platforms, was created to get gamers out of the house and connect with the Pokemon world in a different way using augmented reality.
Like many game development teams, PoGo’s has been impacted by the global health crisis – forcing them to make changes to the way their game works. As the situation is worse in some countries, and better in others, carving out a global strategy has proved difficult for the devs.
Their decision to reverse previously popular changes this August, implemented last November, has become a massive talking point. The Exploration Bonus change meant that people could interact with PokeStops and Gyms from a further distance, which meant less walking and ultimately, less close contact with others.
As regular players will know, being able to interact with these two checkpoints in-game means approaching them in real life. The interaction distance was reverted from 80 meters back to the original 40 meters in the United States and New Zealand, to encourage gamers to “connect” with others.
In normal circumstances, members of the community would enjoy coming together for these moments, but a reversal has not gone down well with the community – with some countries still struggling to cope with the virus.
Niantic responds to Pokemon Go boycott
On August 5, the day on which players decided to stop playing until changes were reversed, Niantic posted a direct message to address the concerns on their blog.
In that official statement, they said: “The health and wellbeing of players is our top priority, which is why we have implemented the new Exploration Bonuses in select geographies where it is deemed safe to be outdoors. Research has shown that taking walks outside is safe and confers several health benefits. Furthermore, encouraging outdoor exploration is in keeping with Niantic’s mission.”
This all transpired just days after a former employee of the developing company claimed they were “punished” for listening to the concerns of fans. The statement addressed similar concerns, also.
“We are assembling an internal cross-functional team to develop proposals designed to preserve our mission of inspiring people to explore the world together, while also addressing specific concerns that have been raised regarding interaction distance.”
Players have since called it a “woefully inadequate response.”
Community’s open letter to Niantic
An open letter to the game’s developers surfaced on August 5, with the support of over 8,000 Pokemon trainers. Of those eight thousand were YouTubers, news writers, and Pokemon Go talent.
You can read the full letter below – as members of the community outlined three main pillars of concern. Those were safety, accessibility, and respect.
Community and Creators alike wish to voice our concern and disappointment over recent changes to the Pokéstop interaction radius reduction in Pokémon GO.
While the Pokéstop/POI interaction radius was increased due to an unprecedented global pandemic, the flow on effects of this in-game change have had a far greater positive impact on the community.
The increased Pokéstop interaction radius created the following benefits for Trainers worldwide:
Not needing to cross dangerous roads to reach or interact with a point of interest. Not ‘needing’ to trespass on private property to reach or interact with a point of interest. Provided the ability to play and interact from a sheltered shared location e.g. under trees, awnings or shelters to avoid hazardous weather conditions. Playing from safe locations and not entering areas that would be detrimental to personal safety. This includes preventing a risk to safety via interpersonal crimes, theft, environmental hazards, dangerous locations etc. General personal safety for social distancing during the ongoing global pandemic.
Many disabled Trainers could now interact with locations that previously excluded them from the Pokémon GO community. This includes interacting with Gyms and Pokéstops that would otherwise be inaccessible due to stairs, steep inclines or other physical barriers. All while being very generously within visual range of the point of interest. Trainers with autism and sensory conditions could engage with the community from a more accomodating distance. Allowing them to play with the community but not be overwhelmed by large crowds or triggering locations. Trainers with young children or in a position of care could more safely interact with points of interest while maintaining a safe environment for those in their care.
Greater courtesy and respect to non-Trainers in the community by way of not crowding or blocking entry to businesses, private property, playgrounds, emergency services, places of worship or memorials. With how diverse and unique members of the Pokémon GO community are, this is likely only a small handful of examples of the way in which the increased interaction radius helped us enjoy the game to a greater extent.
As mentioned in the November 19th 2020 blog update for Pokémon GO, Trainers were given the impression this increased Pokéstop interaction radius would be made permanent: “Some of these changes will remain implemented for the foreseeable future, such as the ability to raid remotely, changes to the GO Battle League, and the increased distance at which you can spin Photo Discs at Gyms and PokéStops”.
The removal of this feature will and is impacting the community in countless negative ways.
One of the three pillars of Niantic’s core philosophy, as communicated by founder and CEO John Hanke, is exploration. Mr Hanke, exploration and the desire to explore was never negatively impacted by the increased Pokéstop interaction radius. The thing negatively impacting exploration is the global pandemic.
We request the increased interaction radius remains a permanent quality of life change in Pokémon GO.
We understand changes like this take time to discuss internally, and therefore look forward to your reply by COB Monday 9th August 2021.
Yours respectfully, The Pokémon GO Community
With Niantic’s new “internal cross-functional team” now waiting in the wings for the next big Pokemon Go debate, fans and devs alike can only hope situations like this do not escalate similarly in the future.
A viral boycott for any developer is not exactly ideal, though it has given trainers a chance to have their voices heard.