I was in quite early on Pokémon GO (if only GO stood for Global Offensive) as far as the craze in the UK; I was the first that I knew of to sideload the files needed onto my new Nexus phone and was playing along with everyone else. I had a moment of total nostalgia when my parents got me Blue and I was one of the ‘in kids’. More of that is in this entry but my point is that I was on the bleeding edge and learning with everyone else. We learned how to catch, how the gyms worked and until everyone else had it, I felt like I was part of a club. Yes, a very nerdy club, but an exclusive club all the same.
I was ecstatic when the game finally hit the UK, despite the servers still being more unstable than your typical psychiatric patient, everyone was talking about it. I’ll even admit that GO was the tipping point for me to upgrade my four year old Nexus 4 to a Nexus 6P.
Nintendo’s stock went up by 30% to the point where it’s company value was higher than Sony’s, this despite Nintendo only licencing the assets and such to Niantic, a company under Google/Alphabet’s umbrella that developed the AR game Ingress prior to taking on GO.
Originally, the game was designed to get people out of the house and explore. Tracking Pokémon was done through the footprint system and it meant that with paying attention a little and logical thinking, you could round up on what you wanted, and catch it. Pokéstops were places to get free items (though you could always buy them from the microtransaction shop), along with levelling up your trainer to get more items and access to better items.
Theories and methods of how to catch what you wanted in the game went from ‘just keep an eye on your Nearby tab’ to elaborate methods like the one below.
The game is all about hunting down your favourite Pokémon and catching them. There were other ways like finding eggs and walking around to hatch them, and other things to do like challenge Gyms and defend them (which earns you the premium Pokécoin currency), but it was meant to get you out and about.
Now, Niantic seems to be undoing all of that with a single update; 0.31.
The first thing that it did was remove the footprints entirely from the Nearby, and as such remove the ability to select a nearby creature to hunt, and get rid of the pulses that came from the Nearby icon when you faced the right way. The former was fine; there was a ‘three footprint bug’ that had crippled the feature. The latter, not so much.
While the bug was still an issue, websites like Pokévision and Pokéhound showed up, scraping data from Niantic’s servers and showing the Pokémon’s actual location and how long it was spawned there for. It didn’t fake a GPS location or inject data into the stream the application used. It was a map; a tool, and you still had to go out and get it. This gave people that played the game (myself included) the chance to still hunt down creatures albeit with a more precise system.
Niantic’s CEO said that he is ‘not a fan’ of the sites like Vision and Hound, and as soon as the new patch hit, they were gone. And then in addition to that, Niantic sent Cease and Desist letters to the large sites. There are other options available that have worked their way around it, and you can always build your own (which of course is my preferred answer). The core issue remains however, that GO is about hunting Pokémon and with the footprints system gone and the larger mapping sites crippled, you can no longer hunt Pokémon unless you’re lucky.
Niantic have the metaphorical golden goose on their hands. The microtransactions are making millions, and it’s still the top free to play game in both Android and iOS charts as I write this. But there’s rough times ahead, even with Niantic finally reaching out and actually communicating what is happening, albeit on Facebook. Players are reversing the transactions and demanding refunds in droves, and more importantly, those players are getting the refunds back because the fundamentals of playing the game have changed. I honestly think Niantic have screwed themselves over permanently with this move because by the time it’s fixed, a lot of the casual audience will have waned leaving the fanatics who are so far up the totem that their mere presence will discourage new players from joining. I hope I’m wrong.