Pokemon Go had a few updates during the pandemic as the game evolved to cope with the confines of a global lockdown. The game is all about going outside and catching Pokemon, so much so that in the early days of the phenomenon, people were getting arrested for trespassing, police were having to intervene and disperse large crowds, and the boomers created lots of horrifically unfunny maymays about the Pokemans. While the initial hype died down eventually, the core fanbase was crystalised, with Pokemon Go becoming part of their daily routine. Popping to the shops? Look for Pokemon. Sitting in the pub? Check the PokeStops. Meeting up with some mates? Do a gym battle. The pandemic effectively brought an end to every routine most of us had, and among the plethora of things affected by that was Pokemon Go.
To its credit, Niantic – the developer behind the mobile hit – changed the game. Incense, used to lure Pokemon towards you, was previously significantly more effective when on the move – this was changed to ensure you could catch away to your little heart’s content even while stuck inside. Meanwhile, the distance you needed to be from a PokeStop or gym was increased, meaning it was much more likely you could activate them from home. For me personally, my house is next to both a gym and a Stop, but prior to the pandemic, only the gym was accessible – and even then, that was only if I was in the kitchen and the game drifted in the right direction. Now I can reach both from anywhere in the house.
The game also upped the rate at which your buddy would find gifts (to counteract the lack of walking you would be doing) and introduced Remote Raid Passes, which allowed you to join raids that you weren’t close enough to reach manually. This meant groups were still able to congregate and raid together without needing to actually meet up and cough germs at each other.
Obviously, one day I dream of leaving this humble abode for more than just ten minutes with cloth wrapped around my face to pick up frozen pizza. I live in a seaside town that seems to have more restaurants than people, despite the mathematical paradox of that, and I want to be able to visit them all again. Like everyone else, I want the pandemic to be over. It seems like we’re getting close to that point too, with the vaccine rollout well underway. Niantic has pulled the trigger a little early though, and a lot of the pandemic bonuses are going away. It seems a bit premature given that we’re still being advised to avoid unnecessary travel and groups of more than six, and masks are still in use. Aside from that, these features substantially improved the game – Niantic needs to keep them.
They didn’t make the game easier. It’s not like Pokemon Go now has a ‘Perfect IV’ button or a guaranteed shiny mechanic that, while useful at first, would soon make the whole thing boring and dull. Being able to spin a Stop from slightly further away doesn’t hurt anyone, but it opens the game up so much more even when we can play it properly again.
I’m all for developers nerfing popular strats to refresh the meta, stop exploits, or make one aspect of the experience less overpowered. Pokemon Go isn’t really a game that fits this bill, though, since it’s mostly a game where you collect and evolve Pokemon. Even for the most competitive players, this update does not apply. All the update means is you now need to be very close to a Stop or gym to use it, instead of being quite close.
Allowing a little bit more distance means you’re less likely to get in someone’s way, allows for more safety, and lowers the risk of trespassing or otherwise making a nuisance of yourself while trying to pop your shiny Greninja in the gym. The Remote Raid Pass is staying, so the idea that being further away from a gym is ‘cheating’ in a post-pandemic world doesn’t really stack up either. The only potentially advantageous element of these updates is the buddy gifts, which will rapidly increase once everyone is able to go out for long walks again and not just government mandated exercise. But then, no one is really upset about the buddy gifts – Niantic can get rid of them altogether as far as I’m concerned. The decreased gym and Stop distance feels like backwards steps that will put people off the game right when Niantic should be capitalising on our ability to adventure outside again with some juicy, crowd pleasing additions.
Of course, and I hate that I have to say this, we should not be sending death threats over this. I think it’s a bad move and I’d like to see it reversed, but Niantic’s community manager – who will have had precisely zero input in the change – has been hounded off Twitter after a tidal wave of vitriolic harassment. I love Pokemon Go but it’s just virtual cartoon characters that live in my phone. Let’s be a bit more sensible about it, yeah?
Pokemon Go has had its ups and downs these past five years – I hate the 12km eggs and the outdated battle UI, while Sylveon and the Kanto Eevees have ridiculous evolution systems. Even Community Days have lost all meaning. But it’s also a great rescue home for several abandoned mechanics and Sierra is a brilliant character. I understand the frustration over this change, and I’m frustrated alongside you, but we probably need a bit more perspective. I hope Niantic sees the light and lets us stand a bit further away from a PokeStop we want to spin, but when that’s the biggest issue we have with the game, the reaction seems a bit extreme. I hope the closest PokeStop to those folks is in a field so they can go out and touch grass.
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