Letters to Niantic: From the AR Community

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AR and Pokémon GO once seemed destined to go hand in hand. Niantic are an AR company, many aspects of the game lend itself to AR, and the initial trailers showed AR gym battles and more! We had high hopes of being able to see our Pokémon battle in real world locations, fight Mewtwo on the streets, and so much more. And instead we’ve been left with… AR mostly used for quick catching whilst grinding, and by our amazing AR community to photograph their Pokémon.

Niantic have acquired a collection of AR companies over recent years, so it is obvious AR is still a focus for them, but for GO, it seems to be left to the wayside.

Recently on Instagram I saw fantastic AR photographer shinyshinx.science asking if anyone could remember any AR updates in the last year. It got me thinking, when was the last time we actually saw any sort of proper AR update? Reality Blending was announced way back in May 2020, and still isn’t available for most phones, including some of the newest models on the market. The only other AR update I can recall in recent-ish times is from early summer 2021, when the AR community realised that Buddy animations had broken in AR mode, and we started the #BringBackMyBuddy hashtag to shine a light on the issue.

Noibat’s pose above is no longer available thanks to the Buddy animation change/error/we don’t even know if it was on purpose since it hasn’t been acknowledged.

So since last summer, has anything changed? The short answer, is no. Pokémon GO/Niantic has never acknowledged the changes to the Buddy animations (even on their known issues support page on the PokémonGOLive website), so they remain the same, and since AR reality blending was first released, it hasn’t had any updates, or any visible attempt to bring it to more devices so it is more widely available.

So the most recent change to AR was that something broke and was never fixed, or it was reality blending, which hardly anyone can actually use. Sigh.

Looking back, the major updates that have happened to AR in GO over the years has been the introduction of AR+, Buddy Mode, the Group AR mode and reality blending. Not much for a company that is primarily focused on AR!

Interestingly, other titles by Niantic, like Pikmin Bloom, have much more advanced AR modes. In Pikmin Bloom you can turn on AR, and as soon as it recognises a floor/flat surface, your Pikmin group will spawn in. They can wander around, can be called to assemble into a group that faces the camera, and are generally more dynamic than Pokémon in AR mode. We can only position a Pokémon in one fixed spot, with a maximum of 3 animations (if using Buddy mode), and we can’t photograph more than one Pokémon on our own.

If Pikmin Bloom can get AR features like this right from the get go, why hasn’t Pokémon GO had any updates in recent years? The point of Pokémon GO was always that Pokémon would be in the real world with us, but Niantic seem to have forgotten that part of their mission. We appreciate that Pikmin are much smaller that Pokémon, so therefore the way they work with the environment can be easier, but there are plenty of small Pokémon too.

Even Peridot (which is still in beta and not widely released), seems to have much more focus on AR. The virtual pets seem to be able to interact with the real world environment much more successfully than Pokémon can, with screenshots from the game showing reality blending working much better than in GO.

Many of the parts of AR photography in GO that people love involve manipulating it in some way, from the Bokéhmon technique which involves forcing your camera to be out of focus, to Tiny Pokémon, tricking your camera into making the Pokémon way smaller than GO wants them to appear.

AR is such an underappreciated aspect of GO, because in part, Niantic does so little to promote it. Outside of occasional AR competitions, and maybe retweeting the odd photo they get tagged in, Pokémon GO just doesn’t really promote this part of the game. Arguably they are putting people off it, because the main AR they encourage is the scanning of PokéStops and gyms, which many people don’t feel comfortable with. The most people do with AR mode is either utilise the quick catch when they are grinding because it allows for much smoother animations and therefore speedier catches, or to take a quick snapshot when there are special photobombs available for events.

AR photography has so much potential, and the incredible AR community proves that with the beautiful work they create, even with such strict limitations. We’d love to one day be able to see our Pokémon battle in the real world locations we are exploring, and photograph them at the same time! Even just the addition of some extra animations would be a hugely exciting update for the AR community.

With few of the content creators being interested in AR, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that there is a community that is constantly growing that focuses on AR, we are just a quieter voice in the sea of Pokémon GO trainers.

Don’t forget about us Niantic, AR could be so much bigger and better!

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