Niantic responds to Pokemon Go players, acquires scanning company

In an earlier post I wrote about how Pokemon GO developer Niantic was rolling back some gameplay changes implemented during the pandemic, and how many players were pushing back against the reversion to the pre-pandemic status quo. Last week Niantic posted a response to the Pokemon GO community:

“We have heard your feedback about one change in particular – that of the PokéStop and Gym interaction distance. We reverted the interaction distance from 80 meters back to the original 40 meters starting in the U.S. and New Zealand because we want people to connect to real places in the real world, and to visit places that are worth exploring.”

Several threads on Pokemon GO-related subreddits featured reactions to Niantic’s statement. Some users dismissed the developer’s message as diversionary corporatespeak and crisis PR. This was echoed in several of the top comments in an r/Games thread:

“tl;dr We heard you. Now shut up and leave us alone. Quit telling us how you should be enjoying our game. But just to make you be quiet, we promise to make an investigative task force who will look into the risks and benefits of increasing the distance and get back to you at a later date.”

“Ah the classic “we need an internal team to decide the best course of action” when the solution is already right there and had been implemented for months. They’re not changing anything, they’re attempting damage control and hoping it all blows over.”

Over on r/PokemonGo, several users found Niantic’s stated rationale of “encouraging exploration” as dubious:

“This game is like 2% exploration and 98% visiting the same neighborhood pokestops and gyms over and over again, and Niantic knows this.”

“You want to give us exploring? Give us biomes, give us rare Pokemon in hiking areas, give us better pokemon in eggs so we see the benefit of walking. Why the hell would I want to walk any extra to get the same dumb pokemon that is in the wild? Do I really need to “explore” a QFC parking lot? Lies. Exploring has nothing to do with it.”

Many of the comments in the above thread posited that Niantic was appealing to virtues of “exploration” and “exercise” in order to mask their purely financial interest in prompting players to move to Poke stops. Niantic is clearly invested in maintaining their edge in geolocation and augmented reality technology: last week the company acquired a 3D scanning company called Scanverse. As Greg Kumparak wrote for TechCrunch:

“As I first wrote about years ago, one of Niantic’s goals is to build a detailed and endlessly-evolving 3D map of the world — a step they see as fundamental to enabling true, rich augmented reality experiences if/when the world ever embraces something like AR glasses. It’s a rather massive (and never-ending) task, but one made a bit more feasible by way of its ever-roaming player base across games like Pokémon GO, Harry Potter Wizards Unite and Ingress.”

Meanwhile, debates over the gameplay changes have now spawned divisive conversations over Covid and vaccines on the Pokemon Go subreddit. One user asked why Niantic was reversing the pandemic gameplay decisions when the virus is still with us, and the board moderators have affirmed a zero tolerance policy toward Covid denial or anti-vaccine posts.

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