Letters To Niantic: We Need To Talk Part 2 – Lets Get Down To Brass Tacks

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In the convoluted world of opinions, we tend to find Trainers that either praise or bash Niantic for their actions, and unfortunately, we don’t see this stopping any time soon. However, even if we are harsh with them at times, we have to take a break from the hate and spread a bit of cheer or at the very least be constructive with our critiques.

Letters To Niantic is a series in which individual GO Hub writers take a moment to send a personal letter to Niantic to express a little bit of joy or concern in a fun, constructive and potentially kitschy way. You’ll find yourself sometimes giggling, sometimes solemn, agreeing and/or disagreeing as you read, opinions are very personal, but we promise there are valid issues underpinning the letter that need to be understood and addressed.

As stated previously in Letters To Niantic: We Need To Talk, my follow up letter goes into more depth on the issues and subjects highlighted in my sit down with a prominent UK trainer. The conversation, and I’m sure they won’t mind me saying, was heated and animated for much of it with many “and another thing” moments. But this just showed the passion for the game and the depth of thought involved for the suggestions to improve it. 


Dear Niantic, 

Whilst my first letter was more of a nudge to try to get us talking…. to get this relationship back on track, this follow up is going to get more to the point about our problems. But it is not going to be all about what is wrong with no thoughts on how to resolve the highlighted issues. We really, truly, want nothing more than to get things heading in a positive direction for us both. We want to help and be helpful. So here’s our take on things at the moment as we see them.

Communication

To start off we will continue the theme of the first letter, Communication. I’m sure you can agree it definitely needs to improve. We’ve highlighted here the areas we feel are in desperate need of change and what we believe could work.

Social Media

Issue: The social media output for the game has seen a sharp decline in accuracy and timeliness recently, with some announcements coming even after events have started. The result of this is that the go to source of information about the game is not the company that created it but communities like GO Hub, Silph Road, discord servers and even recently data miners.

Suggested Resolution: take control of the output again, make it on time, accurate and informative. Make the go to source of information the source it should be, Niantic’s official channels. Give the trainers of the game the feeling that if they aren’t following the official channels they are going to be missing out. Right now that is very much the opposite.

Issue: Further to the low quality of the social media output from the official channels, content creators for the game seem to not be being utilised to their full potential both for getting information out to the trainers that follow them and garnering their feedback and suggestions.

Suggested Resolution: Have regular (at least monthly) round table meetings with the most prominent content creators to discuss the state of the game, direction and issues before they become too widespread. Content creators have great influence with those who follow them and this could be utilised to get your message out to trainers in a positive and managed manner.

In Game Surveys

Issue: Trainers are very disconnected from what appears to be a more and more isolated development process.

Suggested Resolution: Make use of trainers, give them a sense that they are part of the development process with In-Game surveys. Useful targeted feed back on a variety of issues across the multiple platforms for a few minutes of a trainers time will help with development and with a reward of cosmetic items or a small amount of coins for doing so will bring a greater sense of involvement from the trainers taking part. The surveys need to be short so as to recruit as many trainers as possible to give relevant feedback. Make them an opti-in option in the settings so they are not intrusive but involvement is controlled by the trainers.

Developer Diaries

Issue: The Developer Diaries were seen as a way to gain insight into the process of developing the game and show the reasoning behind major decisions and changes in direction for the game. They have not lived up to the potential and sadly have fallen by the way side as they have not been published in a while.

Suggested Resolution: We would love to see these return and be more regular, fortnightly would be brilliant but if not then at least restoring the monthly posting of these articles would be a start. Focus on what matters to the trainers by utilising the previously mentioned survey data to give more transparency on the development process, decision making, technical difficulties and many other topics that could be discussed to again give trainers an understanding of the immense work that goes into creating a game like this. Whilst a small subset of trainers would be wowed by the incredibly detailed and technical post on the infrastructure involved in bringing the game to the trainers, but most will just want to see the reasoning behind decisions within the game and the processes involved in taking a proposed change through to delivery. Its just about giving a greater understanding of the whys more than the hows.

Road-Map For The Season

Issue: With a move to seasonal content trainers are no more informed than they were previously. In fact it seems that we are less informed about things than we have been and as such we can’t be as involved as we’d like to be.

Suggested Resolution: Publish a full season road-map with save the dates for all community days and any major events for the entire season that would require planning to attend in person. There is no reason to give details of the events, the event content can be a surprise, but having dates and locations available as early as possible would give trainers the ability to plan to attend. Most people have very busy lives and are unable to just drop everything to attend events they would like to at very short notice. Giving greater notice via a fully fleshed out road-map would not only improve attendance at events but also give trainers a sense that there is a plan for the whole season.

Trainer Engagement

Issue: Engagement seems to be at an all time low. As discussed previously the social media output, the developer diaries and even support for the game is perceived to be poor at best. When issues arise or changes are made that quickly are found to be unpopular the trainers highlighting them appear to be ignored.

Suggested Resolutions: Utilise the In-Game surveys and social media to take control of the narrative and be pro-active in response to changes and issues with the game. Flood social media so that there is open and transparent discussions of any major issues, glitches, bugs or server side problems. In doing so trainers will work more closely with you to assist in the resolution of issues and feel part of the process. This will in turn bring about a more accepting view that issues occur in any software development process and that you have processes in place to resolve them in as timely a manner as possible.

Seasonal Content

After Communication the next big item is the move to seasonal content. A move that follows other major games but seems to still be in its infancy in its implementation in Pokémon GO.

Issue: Seasonal content seems to be disjointed, repetitive with little tie-in to the season itself.

Suggested Resolutions: There could be the inclusion of a multi-tiered battle pass that rewards players with cosmetic and premium items depending in whether they choose the free or paid tracks. The rewards could then tie into the theme of the season. A battle pass could compliment a full season long set of challenges that also tie directly into the theme of the season and take the full season to complete. The road-map could describe the seasons challenges which if completed would give trainers a set of finale challenges for even greater rewards. This could invigorate the seasonal format and give trainers a sense that there is a seasonal plan that ties together in an engaging manner.

Events

In-person events now that we are post pandemic are getting back to what they once were with respect to trainers attendance, sadly the quality, notice and engagement doesn’t seem to have caught up yet.

Issue: The perceived quality of the events over a season has been slowly dropping as more and more of them are “spammed” at trainers with shorter completion times. Trainers with busy lives are now finding they are unable to complete them within the allotted time and are becoming more frustrated.

Suggestion Resolution: Fewer higher quality events which tie in more closely with the season, would increase the perception that they are better planned and more well thought out than is currently the case.

Issue: Lack of sufficient notice for in person events.

Suggested Resolution: To give busy trainers enough time to make arrangements to attend events not only in their local area but in other countries as well the seasonal road-map detailing the dates and locations of events would give more trainers the opportunity to attend

Issue: Events seem stale and repetitive.

Suggested Resolution: Make in person events more of a spectacle by engaging content creaters, social media figures who play the game (as an example the well received Ed Sheeran event), local communities and community ambassadors and provide in game codes with event specific cosmetics or tangible merchandise like t-shirts that can be handed out at the events to instill a sense of excitement and desire to attend.

Community Ambassadors

Issue: The community ambassador programme is not being utilised to its full potential.

Suggested Resolutions: Re-invigorate this essential programme to involve communities around the globe. Increase the number of Community Ambassadors and the coverage to spotlight the many communities around the world. The more local ambassadors you have the more integrated the communities feel. These ambassadors can then be your communication streams and also the points of contact for the in person events for the merchandise and in game codes.

PvE Content

Finally, there is more to Pokémon GO than PvP. PvE is how we started, what drew us in, but seems to be, now anyway, just to service the PvP side of the game. Maybe its time PvE got some love.

Issue: At this time the nature of the game is, grind catches to try to get good PvP rated meta relevant Pokémon. Wild catching, battling gyms and raiding – the PvE side of the game – seems mostly geared to facilitate the PvP side of the game. There is no strong PvE tie-in to the season and the events for that season. If you are not into PvP, playing the game feels like a slog at times because you are just filling Pokédex entries and gaining XP nothing rewarding in the long run.

Suggested Resolution: We love the Pokémon main line games, that’s what brought a lot of us to Pokémon GO, but there isn’t a sense of cohesion in the events and the over arching seasons that elicits that feeling we remember playing the main line games. Part of the joy of reaching Level 40 now is that the ascent to level 50 takes more than just grinding XP, it is more involved, takes skill and gives the PvE side of the game more of an impact. When the increase in max level from 40 to 50 was released the general consensus then, and still today, is that it actually made the game feel more like the challenge we hoped it would be. All the previously stated improvements to the seasonal content for the game would go a long way to making the game feel more balanced and interesting for those trainers who find PvP not to their tastes.

Conclusion

There are almost certainly as many opinions from trainers as there are trainers as to what could be improved to help make the game work better for them in particular. We’ve tried to document here the biggest bang for buck fixes and improvements that would elevate the game for the vast majority of players. We have tried to be both critical and supportive with not just a list of the problems but also workable solutions. We hope that you – Niantic – take the opportunity to engage with the global community you have cultivated over the years to work together to improve things.

Regards,

BlueNephros, The GOHub Team and the dedicated, enduring players of this amazing and frustrating game we all love to be a part of


Final Notes

There is a lot to unpack in this letter but the issues, whilst many, usually have very simple, and we feel, effective suggested solutions. Quite a large amount of the solutions would not be costly either as they mostly ask that things that were promised are provided, things that have declined in their effectiveness be restored to their former selves and that the communities far and wide are engaged effectively. A more knowledgeable community becomes an even greater asset and also a just as great an advocate. 

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