Pokémon GO, the 2016 mobile game phenomenon that spanned the globe, is currently facing a boycott. Thousands of players, and dozens of high-profile POGO influencers, believe developers are ignoring their concerns over significant quality of life changes in-game. Over the last year, Niantic, the developers of Pokémon GO, have been pivoting and adjusting to pandemic constraints with new changes to gameplay mechanics.
When COVID-19 peaked and social distancing measures tightened, Niantic rolled out a bevy of changes to the game on a quality of life level that many thought would be here to stay. Remote Raid passes were introduced to players to use in order to battle in local and event-style raids of highly coveted Pokémon. Furthermore, walking requirements for GO Battle League were removed, bonus Field Research Tasks were added daily, and the distance was increased from which players could interact with PokéStops and Gyms.
It was clear that the changes would not be permanent, as Niantic made announcements in May about a return to a more normal form of gameplay. In the announcement, they said, “Thankfully, finally, times appear to be changing. While globally there is still much progress to be made, there is genuine hope now. We can look forward to brighter times once again.” A month after May’s announcement, Niantic made official the changes that would be leaving (increased distance features included) and new ones that would be added, breaking down exploration features that would see reworking.
Since these announcements, the world has seen the pandemic transform in the face of overwhelming politics, crumbling leadership, and a dangerous new variant that is putting a greater strain on the healthcare industry. Players turned their frustrations to Niantic, who they feel continue to overlook the concerns of their consumers and have opted to boycott Pokémon GO in the wake of the developer’s decision to remove social distancing features. The boycott, planned for August 5, has been championed by thousands of players, hundreds of whom shared their disappointment online to stand in solidarity with players across the globe.
I spoke to three of the community’s veteran members about their thoughts on the current boycott and where they think this will take Pokémon GO, its players, and Niantic. Leek Duck, whose online presence came with the release of POGO in 2016, has been the go-to provider of Pokémon GO event news, updates, and more, with high resolution posts and graphics that provide in-depth detail about everything POGO. Joe Merrick, webmaster of Serebii.net and its respective Twitter page @SerebiiNet, has been the preeminent scholar on all news, updates, release information, and more in the world of Pokémon and has helmed Serebii.net for over the last decade. I got their thoughts on the current state of POGO. ZoëTwoDots is an Australian POGO player and content creator, with a growing subscriber base well over 200,000. She’s been an avid vlogger in the past and currently covers gameplay news, events, and community related content in POGO.
What was your immediate response to Niantic removing the social distancing features?
Leek Duck: Initially, I did not have a strong reaction to it as I’ve been aware of these bonuses eventually being removed. I did believe it might have been a bit premature in light of recent news of the virus. I personally could live with the changes. But after hearing the responses from hundreds of thousands of trainers did cause me to reconsider. So although my personal opinion differs, I feel I needed to voice the concerns of this vocal portion of the player base.
Joe Merrick: It was a bit of a shock. The world still isn’t in an ok place and worsening in some and moving back to when we had people congregating on the corner of a street to do a raid seems counter to what we need right now. The increase helped so many people who may be differently abled, be able to play, and allowed people to participate in raids without risking angering any local businesses.
Zoë: My immediate response was disappointment. I genuinely believed from the persistent feedback in the months leading up to the change date that Niantic wouldn’t actually remove the bonuses. The feedback provided by creators and the community was immensely comprehensive on why the bonuses were just an outstanding quality of life update beyond a temporary bonus. Addressing things like accessibility, safety, compensation for GPS drift just to name a few.
What do you think about Zacian and Zamazenta being released at a time when players are asking Niantic to hear them out?
LD: Although I don’t know for sure about Niantic’s timelines, upcoming events like the third Ultra Unlock are usually planned ahead weeks ago, if not months. So I don’t believe their release was in direct response to the boycott or people’s opinion of taking away the bonuses.
JM: I think it’s an unfortunate coincidence.
Z: I assume that the Zacian and Zamazenta portion of the event was probably locked in months and months ago. I have no doubt the excitement for attaining these Pokémon has been diminished though due to the lack of public comment on the communities’ issues around spin distance and incense reduction. I know for myself, general morale in-game has been low, including for the upcoming new legendaries.
Are you hopeful Niantic will take into consideration the thousands of voices speaking against the removal of social distancing features?
LD: I’m pretty split on this. I think, on one hand, Niantic was presenting themselves as very firm on this issue through their silence. But the pressure today might be enough for them to at least pen a response. We will find out what their response will be soon enough but I’m hoping it will be a favorable response.
JM: I am hopeful but I don’t think that it will come to anything. They have now responded saying they hear us, but have only promised a task force to bring “proposals” when it seems to be such a binary option of more distance or less distance. There’s so few drawbacks to it but the only thing I can think of is that it may anger companies with Sponsored Stops to be spinnable from far away.
Z: I’m hopeful they will but I wouldn’t be confident enough to bet on it. From the contacts I’ve had with staff at Niantic, they’ve always been welcoming of feedback and criticism, but I don’t know if that openness continues up the chain of command. I hope the higher-ups can challenge their own perceptions and hear the community, to work, adapt and grow together rather than their current “my way or the highway” stance.
At the end of a long day of player protest and outrage, Niantic made the following blog post on August 5 citing the community’s frustrations:
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. That said, we will continue to monitor health and safety guidance related to outdoor activities, and will make future changes if necessary.
The statement can be read in its entirety here.