Niantic Gets Surprisingly Frank About Their Failings With Pokémon Go

Legendary Pokemon celebrate interaction distances

Image: Niantic

In June, Niantic announced they were intending to start reversing some of Pokémon Go’s measures put in place to make the game safer to play in the midst of a global pandemic. At the beginning of August, they stunned everyone by going through with it, reducing key distances from 80 meters to 40, despite huge fan uproar. Three weeks later they finally backed down, and now have put out a statement that’s surprisingly frank about how badly they fucked it all up.

“Niantic has a lot of room to grow when it comes to communication with our players,” is how the statement from POGO executive producer Steve Wang puts it. A refreshingly straightforward and honest comment, in an industry that is much more likely to obfuscate with corporate bollocks about “improving developer-player synergies” or what-have-you.

When Niantic announced they were setting up a “taskforce” in response to just how much they’d pissed off their players this summer, I admit I was pretty sceptical. They’d decided to reduce interaction distances in their game by half in the US and New Zealand right as the Covid Delta variant was causing deadly new spikes in both countries. It was patently stupid, and it didn’t seem like it needed a friendship circle and trust falls to recognize that.

But when the outcome is frankness like this, it seems a positive result for players. Firstly, Niantic have made clear that they’ve finally realized that 80m interaction distances for Pokestops and Gyms just plain make Pokémon Go a better game, and it’s here to stay, worldwide. Secondly, they’ve taken on board that they’re absolutely terrible at listening to and communicating with their player base.

On the 80 meters, Wang is extremely clear:

“We understand that the increased 80 meter interaction distance became a welcome benefit for many players — that is clear from the feedback we saw from the community. So we want to keep it: as announced last week, 80 meters (not 40 meters) will be the base interaction radius for PokéStops and Gyms globally from now on.”

This is great news, and honestly, it’s extraordinary that they somehow hadn’t taken this on board over a year ago, when it was so loudly being communicated by everyone playing the game. However, that’s the sort of thing that will hopefully improve with the other part to this confession:

“We should be communicating and engaging more with Trainers. I hope that, with your patience and understanding, we can do better here.”

Recognizing that there are lots of ways they could improve, Wang’s statement lays out three to start with. From October they will publish a “developer diary” every other month, which will “share the latest priorities, events, and features for the game.”

Then they plan to continue with what they called their taskforce, having “regular conversations with community leaders to continue the dialogue we began this month.”

Finally, for now, there’s a pledge to improve the game’s “Known Issues” page, which until now has been laughably dreadful. Think of an issue you know about the game: it won’t be on there. But, Wang says, it now “will prioritize bringing greater visibility into the status of existing bugs for Trainers.”

The post waffles on a bit about how important it is that Pokémon Go gets people out and walking, and “discovering interesting places,” and of course that’s why they were so desperate to get those interaction distances back down again, no matter how deadly the scenario. Nothing to do with how people are more likely to spend money on Remote Raid Passes if they can’t reach their nearest gym from home, no sirree.

It also recognizes that they’re just not equipped to “effectively adjust the experience on a country-by-country basis,” and so from now on, changes to the game will be global. Which, again, is pleasingly honest. As is the closing statement:

“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.”

So kudos for that.