An Analysis on the Niantic Developer Diaries

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As noted during Niantic’s official response to the #HearUsNiantic campaign, Niantic pledged to us, the players:

We should be communicating and engaging more with Trainers. I hope that, with your patience and understanding, we can do better here. There are many ways we can improve, but to start, we’re making the following commitments to you:

  • Starting in October, we will begin publishing a developer diary every other month to share the latest priorities, events, and features for the game.
  • We are going to set up regular conversations with community leaders to continue the dialogue we began this month.
  • We will continue our work on updating the Known Issues page and in those efforts, will prioritize bringing greater visibility into the status of existing bugs for Trainers.

Thankfully, the Known Issues page DOES seem to see regular use and updates (though some issues are still not noted), and GO Hub leadership — and the members of Niantic’s Partner Program — does still interact with Niantic directly. So the latter two bullet points above do, for the most part, continue today.

But what about the Developer Diary?

It’s true that Niantic did make some efforts here. But have they been useful, and appropriate to the outcry that prompted them? Let’s quickly look through their history, content, and where we stand today.

DEV DIARY (October): COMMUNITY DAY

The very first dev diary arrived on October 21st, 2021, focused on a video discussing Community Day and their purpose and future.

In our September 1 task force update, we committed to delivering a regular series of developer diaries to provide insight into the development of Pokémon GO’s features and events.

We’re excited to announce that the first episode of our Dev Diaries series is here! Hear Michael Steranka, Director of Global Product Marketing for Pokémon GO, delve into the history, evolution, and future of our staple Community Day events! Stick around until the end for a hint at the next Community Day’s featured Pokémon and what plans we have for announcing Community Day events moving forward.

There wasn’t really any new information (aside from the strong hints of the November Community Day Pokémon), but generally players seemed to appreciate the feedback and insights into Niantic’s mindset that we had not had before.

Then came December….

DEV DIARIES (December): THE SEASON OF HERITAGE

So as much as many players welcomed the October Dev Diary, players were generally puzzled with the next one on Christmas Eve, 2021.

For December’s Dev Diary, we’ve collected insights from a range of Pokémon GO staff as we head into the new year. The topic this time? The Season of Heritage!

As we move into our second year of Seasons in Pokémon GO, we thought this would be a good opportunity to reflect on how Seasons have continued to change over the past year—as well as what their future might be—as we head into the Season of Heritage and beyond!

What followed was essentially a sales pitch on the rough storylines of the various Seasons in Pokémon GO. This was all fine and good, but didn’t seem to be in alignment with what had prompted the Diaries in the first place: communication with the playerbase on issues important to those players. While some players are very much into the storylines in GO — and no grief to those who do! — the vast majority were hoping for something more. As nicely summarized by this article from the Massively On The Go fan site:

“Niantic had originally offered dev diaries up to the playerbase when the company was trying to resolve the Pokémon No boycott, a player and influencer campaign that agitated against Niantic’s initial decision to undo COVID-related safety measures…. However, the dev diaries that have since manifested have little to no value to actual players…. The first issue, on Community Days, referenced a feature so old that everything discussed was either common knowledge in veteran player circles or non-issues. The second one focuses on the game’s latest season, which has largely been successful. While it comes as no surprise that a company should pat itself on the back via marketing and PR, the dev diaries have now both sounded like advertisements, rather than acting as a way for the dev team to address community complaints before they become major flare-ups.

In addition, some of the actual content of this particular Diary raised some concern….

In addition to focusing more on Seasons in the coming year, we also want to continue striving toward achieving our company mission and vision by encouraging Trainers to get out and Explore, Exercise and have Real World Social Interactions with other Trainers. As part of that goal, we’ll be reevaluating some of the bonuses we’ve maintained over the last couple of Seasons—namely Incense effectiveness while stationary and increased Remote Raid damage.

This particular Diary seemed part fluff that didn’t really tell us much about features players were concerned with, and part warning that changes were on the horizon.

And boy were they ever. But first, we had one more, thankfully more substantive, Dev Diary to go.

DEV DIARIES (February): GO BATTLE LEAGUE

This was the sort of diary we’d been hoping for all along, one that detailed key changes being actively worked to improve the game experience. At least, for those who care about PvP.

Since the GO Battle League launched two years ago, we’ve been collecting feedback and working to polish and enhance Trainers’ experiences. With the interval season coming up, we wanted to give you a peek behind the curtain at the improvements that Pokémon GO’s battle engineers are currently working on.

Our engineers try to think about battle systems holistically, which means balancing work across raids, Team GO Rocket battles, Gym Battles, and Trainer Battles. For the GO Battle League, we’ll look at four areas.

  • Battle-code maintenance: Rewriting and restructuring the code to add more stability and flexibility for future engineering work.
  • Fast Attack fixes: Addressing Fast Attack inconsistencies.
  • Battle Logging: Providing a way for Trainers to submit detailed reports after poor battling experiences, so our team can more effectively diagnose issues and fix them faster.
  • Urgent Bug Prioritization: Addressing the bugs that occur in the GO Battle League in a method that provides the most impact to our Trainers.

We’re excited to use this Interval Season as a way to work on implementing changes that you’ve been asking for! And if you’d like to dig into the details about the inner workings of the GO Battle League, read on to learn more directly from our developers.

FINALLY, some real talking points with minimal fluff. While much of the rest of the February Diary was light on details, this was overall received very positively by the communication-hungry playerbase (including this author). Of course, the Interlude Season came and went without major fixes being implemented until very recently, partway through the current, ranked GO Battle League season. Better late than never?

While GBL continues to have its issues, there is no doubt that between what was promised (and discussed frankly in the Diary entry) and what was eventually delivered, February’s Developer Diary was the most successful yet in providing meaningful updates to the community and following up with later action, resulting in a net positive for the game and the players who play it.

Unfortunately, this Diary entry was quickly followed up with a bad hanger-on from the previous entry, which had warned of “reevaluation Incense effectiveness”. That came to fruition just a couple days after the February Diary. Needless to say, the community was (and still is) rightly upset, for many of the reasons detailed by my GO Hub Colleagues here. Be it the gut punch to rural and disabled players, or the drastic effects for all players during following Community Days and other events, or the complete lack of any notice of this change despite Niantic themselves pledging to give 30 days notice for changes just like this, this was easily one of the most aggravating days in Pokémon GO’s history. Guess we can’t say this didn’t warn us in the earlier Diary, but just as Niantic had us happy with the February GBL update, this made things very much feel like a one step forward, two steps back scenario.

But we still have one more Diary to discuss.

DEV DIARIES (April): MEGA EVOLUTION AND MEGA RAID UPDATES

Which brings us to the latest, announcing a complete overhaul to the Mega system. Similar to February’s GBL Diary, this one went into a little detail about changes happening for PvE players, with Megas finally becoming less frustrating to use.

For April’s Dev Diary, we’re excited to share a look into the changes we’re making to Mega Evolution and Mega Raids in Pokémon GO.

  • Highlights
  • Most Mega Raids will be easier. You can now take them on with fewer people!
  • You’ll be able to Mega Evolve your Pokémon from raid and battle prep screens.
  • Pokémon you have Mega Evolved before will now have an additional visual effect added to their information page to commemorate this momentous achievement.
  • We’re implementing Mega Levels and changing how Mega Energy is used.

And so on with details about how those things would work. Generally, this was also positively received, but there was one question many raised: why was this being released as a Developer Diary?

Let’s back up. By Niantic’s own words, the developer diary was to “share the latest priorities, events, and features for the game”. Technically, this and all previous entries fit that description. But this was also, remember, in direct response to the #HearUsNiantic campaign and the massively popular Community Letter signed by 28 leading Pokémon GO content creators that finally prompted action.

So here’s the key question:

HAVE THE DEVELOPER DIARIES MET THEIR TRUE PURPOSE?

Put another way: have the diaries led to increased communication with the community and assuaged our concerns over changes to the game? Have they communicated improvements to the game that the players are actually concerned with?

Being generous, I think the best we can say is they have been a mixed bag. The first two entries were very much fluff pieces that we could have done without, or at least had as general updates without being saddled with the “Developer Diary” title. The last two were more in line with what I think players are looking for… but even then, especially in the case of the updates to the Mega system, have been no different from the many other announcement articles pumped out on PokemonGoLive.com every week. Are these truly Developer Diaries?

In my mind, the Diaries have not accomplished their true purpose, and the whole reason they were created in the first place: to open communication between the game developer and the game players on changes that would enhance gameplay. The closest by far was the February update detailing improvements being made to GO Battle League. Technically the others have been additional communication, by definition, but not anything that should really have “developer” attached to it.

The implication of such a diary is that we would get insights into behind-the-scenes fixes and changes being made to the game in the backend, things that the developers and engineers are working the kinks out of to make troublesome areas of the game better, like the GBL updates. One out of four ain’t bad? Maybe one and a half.

Or am I off-base here? Do YOU feel the Developer Diaries have been what they should be… what you expected? Do they seem to be addressing player concerns and improving communication, or just additional news cycle items that could be released in addition to another type of actual Developer Diary? What are YOUR thoughts, Trainer? Please let us know in comments… we want to hear from you!

Just one final, though very important, note before we close this out.

DEV DIARIES (June): ?????

If you’re take a look at whatever calendar is closest to you, you’ll notice it says “July”. (And if it doesn’t… uh, time to flip the page!) Niantic pledged to release a Developer Diary every other month beginning last October. While they often came very late in the appropriate month, they still came on schedule.

…until now. We had NO Dev Diary in June at all.

Now yes, I know. There’s a TON going on right now, and Niantic released plenty of news items during the month of June… twelve on PokemonGoLive.com alone, by my count. And yes, GO Fest season is now in full swing, and of course the first of the live Fests is happening this very weekend… as I type this, in fact! Busy times.

But nobody said Niantic had to release the Dev Diary during these busier weeks. There was a whole gap from June 10th (Deino Community Day new updates) to June 22nd (Ultra Beast news) where just one simple new item came out (discussing the content creators Niantic has flown out to their GO Fest events to meet players). There wasn’t time in there where we could have had our Developer Diary? The one we were told we’d have as one of only two truly tangible outcomes (the other being Pokéstop Interaction Distance reversion) of the #HearUsNiantic movement and player outcry?

So in addition to the Diaries mostly falling short of what many expected them to be… now we don’t one at all. Maybe it would have been more of the same, but we were promised this. This was Niantic’s idea. And even this barely lasted nine months before it was missed entirely. It’s possible that their very unfortunate recent layoffs may have played into this, but all the same… a simple tweet letting us know it was running late would be easy to do.

So where does this leave us? Is this the end of Developer Diaries? With what we’ve gotten from the four we’ve had so far, does it even matter? Was the entire #HearUsNiantic for naught, and if so, where is the outcry from our community leaders now?

Have YOU been satisfied with the Diary thus far? Do you care that they missed it? Maybe by itself, another Diary about Routes (which would be particularly timely during the “Season Of GO”) or GO Fest or whatever they would fill it with this month wouldn’t matter. But to tie it back one more time, the whole purpose of these was to respond to player outcry over very real concerns. They are supposed to be for US, not for Niantic to have another title for announcements and feature discussions they planned to release anyway.

In my mind, the Dev Diaries, with the sole exception of the February update, have failed their purpose. They may as well just drop “Developer Diary” from the title entirely.

That all said, Niantic letting June slide completely by without one is a troubling sign. They have forgotten that they made a pledge to us last September and October. Are they hoping we won’t notice? Hoping the Diaries have been so watered down that we wouldn’t care? If so, and they intend to just stop, then again… where is the notice of them ending? Where is the communication?

I fear they have learned nothing. And that, my friends, is of much greater import than even the Diaries themselves.

We STILL deserve better, do we not?

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