In June 2021, Niantic announced that they would be making changes to the bonuses introduced during the pandemic. They also announced new bonuses to encourage exploration in places where it is safe to do so. These changes are to start after GO Fest, and initially in the US and New Zealand. In the future, the changes will roll out to more places, in line with local health guidelines.
The response to this announcement online was….bad. Really bad.
The Pokémon GO online space was already in a state of turmoil. The most recent update to the game has caused several glitches and increased lag. Players were expecting communication from Niantic regarding fixes and future updates. Instead, players received more bad news.
You know that meme of someone pouring gasoline into a fire? That was what the Pokémon GO social media pages looked like on the announcement day. We had our eyebrows singed off just by scrolling through Twitter.
In their blog post, Niantic argues that the changes and new bonuses are designed to encourage exploration in areas it is safe to do so. However, many players feel that the bonuses introduced during the pandemic were amazing quality of life changes. Taking them away feels like the game is regressing, not progressing. The increased distance to PokéStop and Gym radius made gameplay easier and more accessible, so many players are confused as to why Niantic would revert the increase.
Let’s take a look at some of the reasons why the PokéStop and Gym radius might be changing.
Let’s start with the reason that Niantic has provided. They argue that reverting back to the original PokéStop and Gym radius encourages exercise and exploration. They believe that the current increased distance means that players are less likely to interact with POIs (points of interest). They may also be concerned that some players can now reach POIs from their homes, so those players have no incentive to go outside.
Many players feel that this argument is a bit weak.
The vast majority of players still cannot reach a PokéStop or Gym from their home. Most players still have to step outside and walk around their local areas to spin discs to get essential items.
The increased distance does mean that players do not have to get as close to POIs as before. But to say this discourages exploration still does not make sense. Players still have to get within 80m of the POI. And interacting with the POI in-game is a form of exploration in itself – you can see the POI’s photo and description. If those elements pique your interest, you can get closer to the POI and have a good look around.
However, most players play the game in their local areas. Because, duh. We cannot all go to different cities every time we open the app. We already know our local POIs. We are the ones that nominated them as POIs in the first place.
With this in mind, many players feel that the increased distance has not discouraged exploration.
Instead, they believe that the increased distance has made the game easier, safer, and more accessible. It has been the best quality of life update in a long time, especially for players that identify as disabled.
The increased distance means that players have space to play safely. We do not have to crowd together in front of businesses, playgrounds, or places of worship anymore. It means we do not always have to cross busy highways or navigate steps. For players in wheelchairs or using buggies, the increased distance makes their game experience much more enjoyable.
For us, the increased distance does not discourage exploration – it just makes exploration a bit easier to do.
Yes, it is true that the Wayfarer system is intended to only allow safe and accessible POIs to enter the game. But the Wayfarer system is unable to truly represent the real world with real people going about their lives. The increased radius arguably fixes this problem, creating a bit of leeway to truly facilitate real-world exploration.
Some players also feel that the fact that Niantic are looking at ways to keep the remote raid system makes their argument about exploration hypocritical. Nothing in the game has reduced exercise, exploration, and real-world social interaction than the remote raiding system. Players can literally raid anywhere in the world from their beds, without having to get up or interact with anyone. So why would Niantic want to find a way to keep remote raiding but reduce the PokéStop and Gym distance?
Well, there is no denying that remote raiding has been a bit of a cash cow for Pokémon GO.
Consequently, many players feel that the reasoning behind keeping some features but removing others is financially motivated. This has created a sense of betrayal within the player base and fuelled the anger online.
In their blog, Niantic briefly mentions that the increased distance may return for certain events or features. This could be a reference to EX raids, which Niantic have said will be returning in the future.
However, some players are afraid that this could refer to a possible subscription service, which encourages players to pay for an enhanced gaming experience. Data miners found suggestions of a subscription service a few months ago, but data mining can be unreliable and not everything finds its way into the final game. And it would be a bad idea for Niantic to revert the distance based on their ethos of exploration, only for them to then ask players to pay for the benefit in a few months’ time.
But there could be another reason that Niantic needs to reduce the PokéStop and Gym distance. Maybe they have plans to update gyms, raids or PokéStops and they believe the increased distance is not compatible with the new planned features. We have already seen this start to happen with the new raid interface rolling out in the game. Data miners have also found hints of possible new route features that incorporate POIs. It is possible that Niantic needs to revert the distance for upcoming features, but they do not want to give us all the information just yet.
Keeping Sponsors Happy?
In a recent video, TrainerTips suggested that reverting the distance might be related to the existence of sponsored PokéStops and Gyms. He speculates that sponsors may want the distance to be decreased because players will have to move closer to the POI and will then be more likely to interact with the business that is sponsoring it. As an example, you might be more likely to buy a drink from a coffee shop if you have to walk closer to it to spin the PokéStop.
Online, players have expressed their anger at the idea that this could be the real reason behind the changes.
Many players feel that the increased distance has made the game safer and more accessible. They believe that trading in these benefits to keep sponsors happy would be ethically problematic.
There is no way to know for sure if sponsored PokéStops are part of the decision-making process in relation to the decreased radius. However, it is possible that Niantic has a legal obligation to go back to the original radius based on contracts with sponsors. Again, we cannot know this for sure, but there are plenty of players speculating about this possibility online.
Out of Touch?
Another possibility is that Niantic simply did not know how much the player base appreciated and benefited from the increased PokéStop and Gym distance. A few months ago, they warned us that they would be removing or changing some of the pandemic bonuses. Maybe they thought that reverting this feature would mean that they could keep to their word without upsetting the player base too much.
If this was the case, then wow did this backfire. The community was so upset that there is now an online petition with over 50,000 signatures asking for the increased distance to remain permanent.
We can only hope that the community response will encourage Niantic to rethink their decision.
We also hope that they acknowledge and address the communication problems that currently exist between company and community. The key to any healthy relationship is clear and open communication, and many players believe that this is something that Niantic really needs to improve on.
The anger and backlash in response to Niantic’s decision is multifaceted. Yes, many players are upset purely based on the removal of certain pandemic bonuses. However, many other Trainers are upset because of the lack of communication, ongoing issues in the game, and what they perceive as a lack of transparency in Niantic’s decision-making process. They believe that there are more reasons to keep the PokéStop and Gym radius than to remove it. Despite this, it seems that Niantic are still intending to remove the feature. This makes players feel unheard and raises suspicions that Niantic is not being entirely honest with them about all the reasons for removing the feature.