We Need to Talk About the ‘Social Changes’ Coming to Pokémon GO

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Yesterday Niantic announced a swathe of changes that are coming to Pokémon GO over the next few months.

The features are designed to do a few things:

  • help bring people together to enjoy Pokémon GO,
  • provide new bonuses for participating in local raid battles,
  • and changes to items in the in-game shop (weekly 1 PokéCoin box).

It also includes the introduction of a new Niantic social app. So let’s talk about the changes. I woke up to see Niantic trending on twitter, so I knew the community had a lot of feelings about them.

New Social App

The introduction of Niantic’s new social app is a big one. It aims to bring community organising into a Niantic app, rather than see it spread across Discord, Facebook etc, and it has potential to be massively helpful to players.

Key features of the Niantic’s social app include:

  • Local #Communities: Easily find other players by creating local communities around you.
  • Niantic Friends: Easily add and manage your friends and fellow Agents in Ingress, and across all Niantic titles.
  • Direct & Group Messaging: Organize all your chats with friends in one place, and coordinate Field Ops.
  • Real-World Events: Quickly create and share local events, farms, or meetups with reminders, and invite your community to join and play!

Being able to find more local players will be a great help, especially for rural players, who might not know a single other local player. Being able to easily jump between the Pokémon GO and the social app is key, and we hope it will be effective and smooth.

Trainers have long been asking for an in game chat feature, and while this isn’t quite that (it is a separate app), it is a step in the right direction. Being able to see a raid and post up locally asking if anyone else fancies joining you will be really handy, and hopefully communities will find it increases their communication again.

I know a lot of people who dislike Discord, or who haven’t used it before so don’t want to learn a new app, so our local community is very split between Facebook chats and Discord groups.

Then there are personal issues between players that mean those have divided even more, and it gets really complicated for a new or returning player who wants to find local groups. Hopefully this will see less of that, and more focus on the game. Having a place that is dedicated to the game, made by Niantic themselves, has a lot of potential for good and increased communication. It’s really exciting!

Right now my personal biggest concern with this app is safety. I hope there will be proper blocking and reporting functions in place from launch, the ability to hide your location, a ban on child accounts joining, and that only approved friends will be able to message you.

Communities can become toxic very quickly, and I hope people will use this in a respectful and appropriate way, but when they aren’t, I hope Niantic has systems in place to ban and block. I also hope that it will force a focus onto the specific Niantic game you are playing as well, without much allowance for public random chats. Sensitive topics won’t help keep communities alive if they are being discussed and causing arguments.

Fingers crossed, we have high hopes for this new app being easy to use, safe, and effective for bring the community together!

Niantic Launches Social App Experience in Closed Beta to Select Ingress Agents

Changes to Raid Battles

As of this month, Mega Energy and Rare Candy XL are available as rewards for completing local raid battles, making it easier to evolve and strengthen your Pokémon. This is great. We’ve been asking for ways to obtain Rare Candy XL, and increasing rewards to in-person raiding is a great way to encourage people to actually raid in person.

We are big believers that you should increase rewards for in person, rather than decrease the options for remoting. Rewards, not punishment.

Also, starting on May 23, the shop’s 1 PokéCoin Event Box will no longer include Remote Raid Passes and will instead feature a rotating array of items. Three whole days notice. Make sure you claim this weeks box before that free remote raid pass vanishes!

Now these are the announced changes. Overnight another change was noticed by trainers, a sudden increase of price to the remote raid pass bundle, from 250 coins, to 300 coins. It is now the same price to buy individual remote raid passes, as it is to buy the bundle. There was no mention of this, so the first time most people noticed was when they bought/attempted to buy them.

This is naughty, people have been buying these for a long time, and a lot of the time you are buying them quickly as you jump into a raid invite and realise you don’t have any passes. Before you know it suddenly an extra 50 coins is gone and you are left wondering what happened. The bundle is now basically pointless, other than to mean you don’t have to buy passes as regularly.

Niantic promised more transparency with their changes, and not directly making this change clear is disappointing. We know that remote raid passes were said to be temporarily cheaper, but when you are then changing the price, make it clear, and give us notice, not an announcement with an immediate effect price change.

It also leaves us feeling ominous about the future of remote raiding which many have found hugely useful, as the nerf feels like it is looming in the not-so-distance future.

This is a change that will potentially affect Niantic’s bottom line in a big way. Many people will buy less remote raid passes, and simply raid less, because in-person raids are not always viable or possible, and with the increasing cost of living crisis around many parts of the world, remote raid passes are something people might stop buying.

Pre-pandemic my local raid groups would often organise raid trains for raid hour, but the pandemic put a stop to that, and I honestly can’t see it resuming in the same way. People’s lives have changed, Covid is still very much a thing, fuel is way more expensive, people are working more, families have grown, priorities have changed.

While we get together for Community Days and other events, I can’t see us ever going back to those regular raid hours. When you work full time, have a family, are studying etc, planning, and getting to a raid in person, can be really difficult, and remote raids mean that people didn’t have to try and get a raid in their lunch hour, or spend an evening chasing gyms in the hopes of a raid.

With increases to fuel prices, inflation, the cost of living rising generally, the pandemic still spreading, it seems poor timing by Niantic to decide to push through this change. Does it really hurt them charging 50 coins less? Does it really ruin the whole community to give one free remote raid pass a week?

Rural Players

Niantic has confirmed their commitment to rural players as well: “To support players who have difficulty reaching Gyms, we will continue to work on solutions such as tools for community leaders to organize local events and faster approval for new Gyms.

This is an interesting one. As a semi-rural player, I’ve basically submitted everything locally that could be a point of interest (POI), and they’ve been either approved or rejected, and now I’m stuck.

There are huge gaps between gyms and PokéStops, and there is nothing else I can submit in those gaps to make the game more playable. For very rural players, finding anything that fits within the rules of a POI is even more difficult.

Unless Niantic make adjustments that mean other things can be submitted, many rural areas will never change, because there simply isn’t anything left that could be a POI. Wayfarer has many issues as it is, the appeals process is long and slow, and even then, I’ve had an appeal rejected for playground equipment, which as far as I can tell, is a suitable POI by Niantic’s guidelines. If Niantic doesn’t consider that to be a suitable POI, what else can we possibly submit?

I hope Niantic communicate more with rural players, and look at how they can increase those POI in new ways, or potentially allow more flexibility for POI in areas without traditional options for POI.

Rural players have been at a constant disadvantage since the game started, and cities remain the best options for playing in high density spawn and POI areas. While it can be fun to travel to a new city to explore, it’s also nice (and free!) to stay in your local area and walk around and appreciate where you live, which is trickier when you are rural.

The idea of Community Leaders being given more tools for smaller local events is really intriguing. The potential for pop up events in locations they might not ever get a traditional event is a great idea. Imagine if on Community Day you knew your local park was going to get a bunch of extra PokéStops as part of a smaller meet up. You know players would turn up for it and it would be great to play together in person!

Especially if consideration is taken for accessibility so more players can attend. Where I live, the closest event I can recall was a two and a half hour drive away, so it would require 5 hours of driving for a 3 hour Community Day event for example. It’s just not happening!

But if one was held half an hour away, I would absolutely consider going and trying to take some local players with me for an adventure.

Disabled Players

The impact on disabled players is something we have discussed on GOHub before, whether in terms of general accessibility, or specifically the reversal of the pandemic bonuses. Nick from Trainer Tips has discussed this recently with Kelsey, the Pokémon GO Community Manager at Niantic in a recent video, but their answers were sort of hazy at best.

They mention wanting to talk to the disabled community more, but so far as far as we can tell, no communication has occurred to date. As someone who has been fairly vocal about my own experiences as a chronically ill/disabled player, I am here and ready to chat Niantic!

I was recently shown an open letter that Crystal Legionaires has written to Niantic, and I implore you to have a read of their letter, and see how being disabled has impacted upon their experiences of Pokémon GO.

There are many trainers on twitter who have written about their experiences, and the #HearUsNiantic campaign tried to bring the impact of these changes on disabled players to Niantic’s attention.

The only thing we as players seem to have successfully been able to fight was the reduction of PokéStop effectiveness. Everything else is unheard.

Whenever we talk about accessibility and Pokémon GO there are always those that say disabled players should simply find another Pokémon game to play. That is a really gross, ableist response. During the pandemic the bonuses allowed disabled players to finally be a part of our community, and it meant they could partake in the game more fully.

Disabled players are also more likely to be some of the most hardest hit by the cost of living crisis as they already face higher living costs due to their disabilities, are able to work less, and face expenses others don’t.

Disabled people unfortunately are statistically more likely to be worse off than able bodied people, in fact in the UK (and I am sure in most parts of the world), recent studies have found that 50% of those who live in poverty, as disabled people. This is likely to worsen with inflation and increased prices to energy bills and fuel.

The pandemic has also massively increased the amount of disabled people around the world.

With Long Covid affecting approximately 1 in 10 people who have a Covid infection, and it having impacts on those who are already disabled by making their illnesses work (which includes myself, it badly affected my chronic pain treatment and I am now having to explore other options, leaving me in much higher pain levels than I was pre-covid infection), there are more disabled players playing Pokémon GO than ever. We just want to be able to play the game like anyone else.

We understand that the ‘point’ of the game is exploration, but when that isn’t viable for us because of ill health, feeling left out even further makes us feel even worse.

Conclusion

We wish that Niantic would understand that you don’t encourage by punishing, ie. taking away 1 coin remote raid passes each week, but that you do encourage by rewarding, so Rare Candy XL in raids.

Whether raising children, or training animals, positive reinforcement has been proven to be more effective, and Niantic could do more of that, whilst also allowing people to keep playing how they have been for the last two years.

As this progresses, it will be interesting to see how the app works for local communities, and how the changes to remote raids impacts their profits.

What are your feelings on the changes? Will they impact upon the way you play the game, or the way you spend in game? Let us know in the comments!

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