Behind the scenes with the Niantic Task Force

Pokémon GO's increased interaction distance makes a return and we get to share the story behind the scenes

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As you may be aware, the Pokémon GO team has just announced that from now on, 80 meters will be the base interaction radius for PokéStops and Gyms globally. This announcement comes in as a result of the recent #HearUsNiantic protest campaign, which united content creators, media influencers, and players alike.

Today, we want to share a bit of the back story behind this change, including parts of the discussions we — and many other content creators — had with Niantic employees and members of the Niantic task force.

Please be aware that in order to protect the privacy of Niantic employees, we are not allowed to share their names, but we are allowed to share what was discussed.

Meeting the Niantic Task Force

On August 13th, we received a curious message from the Niantic Community Team, inviting us to a meeting where we would be free to chat with members of the Niantic Task Force and provide direct feedback to decision-makers at the company.

We were a bit surprised by the invitation, but we decided to go with it. We do have a channel of direct communication with Niantic that we can always tap into, but this was the first time they requested feedback in such a direct and blunt way.

We reached out to Twitter and asked our community the following question:

Did we ask these questions and forward your feedback? You bet we did. Here’s what we’ve learned during our hour-long conversation with Niantic.

Increased interaction distance was launched too eagerly

One of the first topics discussed was how the 80m interaction distance was introduced in the first place. Niantic admitted that increasing the interaction distance was a knee-jerk reaction to COVID-19, rather than a well-thought-out strategy.

The company shared that they believed internally that the pandemic (and in-game COVID bonuses) won’t last longer than 3-4 months. Of course, the pandemic has lasted quite a bit longer, which lead the developers to keep the bonuses active much longer than they originally intended.

And how did the 80 meters number come into play? They just doubled the original number, without too much in-game testing. This seemed fine at the moment, but the devs expressed concerns after more playtesting. Open spaces worked better than streets and urban areas.

Note: The original 40m distance was picked after some playtesting, as it felt right and it worked well with GPS accuracy limitations.

Niantic shared that they are not happy with the decision they made, mostly because the increased distance interaction is in direct contrast with the company’s vision that promotes exploration and movement.

We were shown pictures of how PokéStop interaction looks 40 meters and from 80 meters of distance, and we must say that the difference is quite staggering. In most cases, 80 meters is too much for Niantic’s taste, as players can barely see the PokéStop and there are often objects that obstruct the view – roads, trees, signs, etc.

Controversial or not, we do agree that we have problems discerning what is what when looking at something from 80 meters, especially when the object is a small item such as a cool graffiti or a wall ornament.

Sponsored PokéStops have nothing to do with this

Pokémon GO London New York Sponsored Pokéstops
Pokémon GO London New York Sponsored Pokéstops

One of the most notorious questions we wanted to ask Niantic was if the reduced distance was put in place to promote interaction with sponsored PokéStops.

Niantic employees confirmed that this is not the case and that revenue generated from sponsored PokéStops is not significant enough to warrant any major gameplay changes.

Sponsored PokéStops are treated just as regular PokéStops in terms of gameplay.

A game designed around exploration

Niantic spent a lot of time discussing one of the key pillars of their game design: exploration. We really cannot emphasize this enough. Throughout everything the team does, this is the one aspect that will never be ignored.

A lot of our community’s feedback has been focused on the notion of “there’s nothing left to explore, so give us back 80 meters”, which is something Niantic does not agree with the slightest.

They did not outline any plans or upcoming features, but they did confirm that their core mission is to “get people outside and playing”.

Moving forward and mending the relationship with the community

As the meetings with Niantic wrapped up, it seemed rather obvious from our standpoint what should be done: PokéStop interaction distance should be reverted back to 80 meters. 

And that’s exactly what happened this morning, marking a stark change from Niantic’s previous behavior towards their player base:

As this announcement was coming out, Niantic reached out to us again, sharing that this was just one of the first changes coming in the near future:

Thank you all for your input and meeting with us while the task force was discussing, your feedback that this change was a great quality of life improvement has been heard.

Excited to have everyone see the full proposal come Sept 1; we’ll continue developing the ideas we have so far for motivating actions around our pillars and improving communication with all of you and the rest of the PGO community.

And soon after, the message was shared again, reassuring us that we are not going backward, but forward, in terms of communication, community engagement, and future interactions with the company:

Just want to echo that this is the first change we are making. There will be more to come in the coming days. We will also share the full proposal including recommendations around product, communication, and community engagement prior to 9/1 with you for feedback. We hope this is a step forward in rebuilding the trust and partnership with our great community which you are core members of.

Parting words

Well, first of all, we are happy to report that Niantic is indeed not a demonic, money-grabbing, and soul-sucking company that Twitter rage threads make it out to be.

In fact, this could not be farther from the truth.

During our time with them, we (and other media) shared a metric ton of feedback about the game, in-game performance, bugs, and quality of life features we’d like to see (ready button for raids, for example).

The company is very receptive to feedback, but they did admit that they could have done a much better job communicating changes and letting the player base know that their feedback has been heard.

We’ve been repeatedly assured that this is something that will be improved in the future.

We left the meeting with a strong impression that the people working on Pokémon GO at Niantic are as passionate as we are about the game, and that they are aware of the problems they have as a company when it comes to interacting with the community.

Media influencers, such as GO Hub, are a good way to keep the community informed, but we are not by any means a tool that Niantic should and could rely on to get their message across.

This, combined with their eagerness to rebuild the trust with the player base, makes us feel quite optimistic about the game’s future.

We’ll know more on (or around) September 1st, but this is what we wanted to share with you today.

Stay safe, and keep playing Trainers!

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Zeroghan started the Hub in July 2016 and hasn't had much sleep since. A lover of all things Pokémon, web development, and writing.

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