Video games saw a boom during the pandemic, as people suddenly had way too much free time. They were used as momentary escapism, as well as a way to connect with other people without leaving the house. However, one incredibly popular video game saw the pandemic as a problem: Pokémon GO, the worldwide sensation augmented reality game released in 2016 by Niantic and The Pokémon Company. In order to make it so players could still play the game during lockdown, Niantic added several quality-of-life features that made it easier to play from home. Some of these changes included a new way to raid remotely, the Incense item lasting twice as long and attracting more Pokémon, and Rocket Balloons so players could still battle Team GO Rocket grunts without having to search for them at Pokéstops. Also, Daily Field Research tasks were given automatically that award Pokéballs and other useful items, and doubling the distance players could spin Pokéstops from. Some of these changes, Niantic announced, would become permanent—such as Rocket Balloons, daily Field Research, and remote raiding (although there will be a cap to the number of remote players per raid as well as a damage reduction starting in September).

Niantic walked back the other changes at the start of August, with the changes being pushed to United States and New Zealand trainers first. This decision has sent a wave of outrage throughout the community worldwide, with most complaints being directed at the Pokéstop spin radius being reduced to pre-pandemic levels. Players took to social media to beg Niantic to reverse their decision as soon as it was announced that the distance would be reverting—after all, Niantic had initially stated that the increased distance would be permanent, but later told the community that that announcement was an error. However, Niantic remained silent and pushed the changes through regardless, angering players worldwide. This came to a head on August 5, where some players organized a boycott of the game using the tag #PokemonNODay to share the news around Twitter and Facebook. Many prominent Pokémon GO Youtubers and Niantic partners have also spoken out about the change, urging people to stop spending money in the game until Niantic reverts the changes, and with some, like REVERSAL, planning on quitting the game entirely by the end of the month if the change isn’t addressed. The community also used the tag #HearUsNiantic to amplify their voices and even shared a letter from the community to Niantic, sharing the reasons that the decrease in the Pokéstop radius would actually harm the game. #HearUsNiantic trended on Twitter worldwide for most of the day.

pokemon no
The "Pokémon NO" Day graphic shared to the Pokémon GO Worldwide Facebook page.

But what is the outrage? After all, this change was only implemented a year ago. Players had been fine before, why couldn’t they be fine again? Well, first of all, the pandemic is still alive and well in most places, including the United States and New Zealand, where the changes have already been reversed. The decision to reverse everything now feels premature. But, it’s about more than that to the avid players. In the community letter, Pokémon GO players outline the benefits of the increased Pokéstop spin radius. Pokéstops are points of interest on the in-game map, corresponding to real life buildings, signs, playgrounds, or statues. Players can get items from them, and Pokémon frequently congregate around them. However, some Pokéstops are in restricted areas, or across busy roads or highways that don’t have sidewalk access and cannot be reached on foot without a risk to the player. Many players shared that they were finally able to interact with Pokéstops near them that were places like across a 4-lane highway, or in the middle of the ocean, because of the spin radius increasing. The radius increase also heavily benefited disabled trainers, giving them access to Pokéstops in areas that may not be accessible to them in real life, such as Pokéstops on steep inclines or at buildings without wheelchair ramps. Trainers also pointed out that the increased radius let them be more respectful to the Pokéstops' real-world counterparts, giving players a way to still access items and Pokémon without blocking places like churches or playgrounds, which was a common problem reported by places during the summer of the game's release.

Niantic’s initial reason for reversing the changes they had implemented was because they believe that the game should be about “exploration”. However, the community points out in their letter that “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.”

The community letter urges Niantic to respond by August 9, 2021. However, Niantic has been silent so far on these issues, despite the community’s efforts.

Update: Niantic has posted a response on their blog addressing the community. They claim that they have "heard [the player's] input loud and clear," and are working to implement a task force to work with community leaders to find a compromise between exploration and interaction with the real world and what the community wants. They say they will have an update regarding this on September 1st.

Food for Thought

As an avid Pokémon GO player myself, I really hope Niantic takes the time to listen to their players for once. Even before, it often felt like the company did not really listen to the people who made their game as popular and successful as it is, and I hope these actions will get the ball rolling on Niantic listening to player feedback. I actually participated in the boycott today, and will do my best to remain a free to play only player. As someone who loves the game and has been playing since Day 1, it is frustrating to see a game I love so dearly being handled by a company that refuses to acknowledge its players. I hope to see Niantic respond and take steps to listen to the community’s concerns.

What are your thoughts on the reversal of the pandemic changes to Pokémon GO? Do you agree with the boycott or the community outrage? What do you think of Niantic's statement? Let us know in the comments below!