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Niantic said it is walking back a change in its immensely popular Pokémon Go mobile game after players said they would boycott it. And while it didn’t apologize, it did say it would communicate better in the future.
When the pandemic struck, Niantic kept Pokémon Go players in the game by enabling them to engage with physical locations from a greater distance. As the pandemic subsided, the company announced it would get rid of that change and require people to get closer to those locations to interact with the game. And as the Delta variant spreads, players revolted. On August 5, the company said it was walking back that change.
Now Niantic is saying it’s changing its processes to listen to the community more.
“First, I want to thank you for being patient,” said executive producer Steve Wang, in a blog post. “Your passion and concerns have not been lost on us these past few weeks, and our internal task force has spent a lot of time discussing the changes we made to the PokéStop and Gym interaction distances. Now we want to give you an update as promised.”
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The interaction is being watched closely as Niantic has generated $5 billion in revenue from the game over the past five years (based on estimates by measurement firm Sensor Tower).
The original intent of the game was to get people outdoors and discovering new places like public monuments and local parks. It did this by placing PokéStops and Gyms at these locations so people would walk there to get various Pokémon creature rewards and fight battles. The hope was to get people to walk a mile or more and get into better shape.
But in the pandemic, gathering a lot of people around a PokéStop or Gym no longer seemed like a great idea, so Niantic extended the range you had to be from the location from 131 feet (40 meters) to 262 feet (80 meters) in order to interact with the location. That made it easier to get the rewards, but it also meant you could walk less.
This summer, the company said it would return the range to 131 feet, and that seemed like a good idea as the vaccinations took hold in places like the U.S. and it seemed safer to go out. Wang held 30 community meetings and hear that people considered the 262-feet radius for PokéStops and Gyms to be “an incredibly positive quality of life improvement over the past year-and-a-half.”
And he also heard that people thought Niantic should be better at communication. Last week, the company said it would keep the 262-feet radius in the game. He noted that Niantic had a rough time when it tried to adjust the game settings for New Zealand only when it went back into lockdown. And that showed the company won’t be able to adjust the experience on a country-by-country basis in real-time.
“We should be communicating and engaging more with [players],” Wang said. “I hope that, with your patience and understanding, we can do better here. There are many ways we can improve, but to start, we’re making the following commitments.”
In October, the company will begin publishing a developer diary every other month to share the latest priorities, events, and features for the game. It will also set up regular conversations with community leaders to continue the dialogue. And it will continue work on updating the known issues page and in those efforts, will prioritize bringing greater visibility into the status of existing bugs for players.
“The lack of communication regarding the PokéStop and Gym interaction radius was not handled well on our part, and it was a great learning experience on how to better engage with our players moving forward,” Wang said. “Our top priority is and always has been to get people outside into the real world and creating human connections with each other. Thank you for being a part of this journey with us — you’ll hear from us again soon.”
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