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Why Was the Niantic Sustainability Campaign Such a Flop?

As part of the recent Sustainability Event in Pokémon GO, Niantic launched a campaign to encourage players to take part in real-world sustainable practices. They asked players to plant trees, build bee hotels and clean up trash while catching Pokémon such as Trubbish and Grimer. Trainers could also switch to reusable bottles and bags, cycle to work, or donate to an environmental charity. Most of us are doing something sustainable already. All we had to do was prove it to Niantic by taking a photo and posting it on social media with a specific hashtag. Easy peasy, right? Turns out, maybe not.

Niantic even offered in-game rewards to incentivize trainers to take part. The rewards were divided into 3 tiers with targets of 2500, 5000, and 10,000 unique posts. Pokémon GO has millions of daily players. Even the top target should have been a walk in the park. Literally, Trainers could take a walk around their local park and pick up a bit of trash.

Except we didn’t hit the top target. We didn’t even hit the lowest target.


So, what went wrong? Well, this seems to be a classic issue of poor communication. Unfortunately, Niantic is regularly criticized for their communication skills. It’s baffling, really. Pokémon GO has an in-game news feature, a newsletter, a website, social media pages, and a whole army of dedicated content creators. And yet they still can’t just give us all the information in one neat package.

To be fair, the in-game news feature did mention the Sustainability Campaign. The problem was that it gave no details about it. Players had to click through three links, scroll through paragraphs of text and wish upon a Staryu just to find out how to take part in the initiative. Why couldn’t the information have been in the game itself? Many players were unsure about who, what, where, when, and how. It’s possible that many different sustainable acts weren’t logged just because players didn’t quite meet all the criteria.

In total, 1873 people took part in the Sustainability Campaign and correctly posted their actions on social media. Niantic pledged to plant 627 trees in order to help us meet the Tier 1 target of 2500 unique acts. Nobody was disappointed at the idea of more trees. But players were disappointed with the rewards.


Unlocking Tier 1 rewarded players with increased 5* raids. If Rayquaza or Mewtwo had been in raids, this might have been something to celebrate. However, the 5* raid boss during Sustainability Week was Therian Forme Landorus, which had already been in raids for weeks. It is a top-tier ground-type attacker but has no shiny available.

No shiny, no grindy.

It didn’t help that Landorus had also been the 5* raid boss during the Rivals Event, which included a Global Challenge to complete 40,000,000 raids. After a challenge like that, the last thing that trainers wanted was more Leggy Lando raids.

For some trainers, the Tier 1 reward also felt like a bonus for Niantic, not the players. More raids mean more raid passes which means more money for Niantic, right? How are increased raids a reward for players, especially when the featured raid boss has already been around for nearly a month?

The reward for Tier 1 would have worked better if we had also unlocked Tier 2, which rewarded a free bundle of 3 remote raid passes. Reaching Tier 3 would have also been a better reward as it unlocked double catch XP for the last day of the Sustainability Event.

Tiers 2 and 3 rewarded better bonuses, but they still didn’t seem to be enough to really incentivize trainers to take part. It’s true that players should be participating in sustainable acts regardless of in-game rewards. And they probably are. But the Sustainability Campaign is not just a good gig for the environment; it’s also a great PR stunt for Niantic. They should have pulled out all the stops, shouted about it from the rooftops, and given players bonuses worthy of saving the planet. Previous years have been much more successful, but then again, this year has been a little different for all of us. Still, it felt like Niantic treated this event as a bit of a Slakoth.


Yes, that old Chesnaught. Niantic’s Sustainability Campaign of 2021 has indeed been a bit different from previous years. In the past, charities and organizations could host big clean-ups and other events to really get their communities involved.

This year, the focus was on individual sustainable acts. Small things do matter. But switching to a reusable straw doesn’t quite give the same levels of satisfaction as taking part in a massive beach clean-up with your friends.

The poor communication around the campaign also meant that players didn’t realize that their small acts could count. A lot of us are trying to do our bit by staying home and staying apart. Arranging a litter-picking outing with friends just doesn’t fit that bill. It seems a lot of people dismissed the Sustainability Campaign without even reading the blog, as they didn’t think the initiative was compatible with pandemic life. It was, but Niantic needed to do a better job of telling us that.

The social media aspect could also have been an issue, as some Pokémon GO players don’t use it and don’t want to. Social media also encourages people to be big, be flashy, be viral. It’s possible that many players didn’t want to share their small sustainable acts online.

The lack of engagement with the Sustainability Campaign of 2021 is a real shame. The 2020 campaign was canceled, but previous years have been a great success. This was likely due to better communication, organized events, better rewards, and of course, no Covid. Ah, the good old days.

It’s important to state that the failures of the 2021 campaign does not reflect the player base. The Pokémon GO community is extraordinary. We’re outdoorsy gamers! Most of us care about outdoor spaces because that’s where we play the game we love.

Let’s hope that next year will be a much bigger success.

Did you take part in the Sustainability Campaign? Why do you think fewer people took part this year? Let us know in the comments, on Twitter, or in our Discord server!

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Pokémon GO AR Photographer - Team Mystic - Yorkshire, UK

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