By now most trainers will have seen the news that remote raiding is going to be changing in two major ways: prices of the remote raid passes will be increasing steeply, and we will be limited to a maximum of 5 remote raids per day. The community has had a huge reaction to this change, and website Eurogamer sat down with Ed Wu, one of Niantic’s veteran developers, and their Pokémon GO VP for an interview on why they are making the changes, and what is to come in the future.
“It’s a big and meaningful change to a huge part of the game… so as you might imagine for a change of this magnitude, we’ve of course examined many possible alternatives. After thinking very carefully about this, what we’re doing is relatively simple. Generally speaking, the goal is to keep Remote Raids as a part of Pokémon GO, but to do so in a sustainable way. The change is necessary for the long term health of the overall game, and our principles of getting folks outside and exploring the world together.”
Niantic have long stated that their aim for Pokémon GO is that we are out in the world, exploring and socialising together, and that the pandemic offered real problems for their view of the game. Remote raiding was launched to combat the lockdowns and keep the game and communities alive, but Wu mentions in the interview that they have now become the dominant way people play the game, which they never intended or wished for.
“The world has largely moved back outdoors and Remote Raid passes have come to dominate the overall experience of playing in a way we never intended. It’s become essentially a shortcut to playing the game. We’ve seen an imbalance because the current price of Remote Raid passes is matched to the Premium Battle Pass which is distorting the game economy, and making the game unsustainable in the long term.”
Niantic believe that remote raiding has destroyed the desire to raid as a community, and any reason to raid in person. This is something that I believe most trainers globally can see, long gone are meet ups in person for raid hour, or evenings spent meeting up with your local community to grind a new raid boss, instead most of us are content to raid from home with a different community, a more global one.
Wu knows that this decision isn’t one that is going to be taken lightly, or particularly well by most of the Pokémon GO community. Niantic are concerned that the long term impact of remote raids is that it will shorten the overall lifespan of the game. With games like Wizarding Unite failing, and other Niantic games being cancelled before they even came out, it is easy to see why they are concerned about the long term playability of their biggest success.
“We know this is a big change and some folks will have a strong reaction to that. We’re very empathetic to that reaction. But we really think this is the right thing for the overall long term health of the game, and our desire to make sure it’s great for many, many, many years to come.”
One of the things Wu discusses is who the average Pokémon GO player is. It is easy to look at twitter and see the hardcore players and think they are the core of Pokémon GO, but in reality, most people playing Pokémon GO are much more casual. They discuss the “median” player, and who that is, and that is who they try to focus on when considering these major game changes.
“There’s a wide variety of folks who play Pokémon GO. Generally speaking, the number of people who will be affected by the cap on a day-to-day basis is a relatively small part of the total set of folks who play our game. It’s often sometimes useful to ground what the median player of Pokémon GO is – it’s something I talk about with the team all the time. The median player of Pokémon Go is probably someone like a Singaporean grandma who walks with her senior group for 30 to 60 minutes every morning as part of her exercise and social routine, [who] mostly focuses on catching Pokémon with her friends, and maybe very occasionally or maybe not at all raids.”
Niantic acknowledge that there are hardcore players who will do huge amounts of raids each week, but their concern is that remote raids have taken away from their fundamental ideals for Pokémon GO.
“The game balance and economics of Pokémon GO are now being dominated by Remote Raids in a way we never intended. And for a segment of the player population, this is fundamentally unsustainable. It constitutes a small, small part of the player population, [but] it’s a player population we care deeply about as they are some of our most engaged players who have invested many, many years, and much of their attention and enjoyment into this game. And it’s important to make sure the game is balanced for all segments.”
One of the key points to takeaway from this interview is that Niantic are concerned that we are a player base have taken what they see as a shortcut in the game, remote raids, and made it a focus, taking away from what they call “the journey”. They want us to enjoy the journey and it feels like, almost slowdown, and enjoy the experience along the way to a destination, rather than just the destination. In this case, the journey is quite literal, the walking between gyms with fellow players, to the destination, the in person raid.
“When games offer shortcuts, they also ensure these don’t distort the overall value of the game by doing things like imposing limitations on the number of times they can be used. So in many ways, this is actually very analogous to a wide variety of games that have similar loops, and where ultimately, a game is about both the journey as well as the destination.”
Elite Raids are proving to be a big part of why Niantic are choosing to make these changes right now. Despite an incredibly rocky experience with Regidrago Elite Raids, the game data showed that people really did go outside, in person, and meet up with their communities, in ways people haven’t in a long time. Long term it will be interesting to see how this data from Elite Raids matches up with their attempts to push a focus back onto in person raiding in general. Did people turn up to Elite Raids because it was a new boss and they had to do it in person? How much of that choice was led by FOMO (fear of missing out) and the fact that this is an occasional occurrence rather than a regular one? How much will people raid in person when they have to do it regularly, versus an Elite Raid which is a special occasion?
“[Niantic are working to] ensure we are delivering on the promise of things like Elite Raids where we have meaningful, interesting, new forms of gameplay out there in the real world. With [the launch of] Elite Raids, we were able to see the impact and actually see many people come out again. Yes, it’s not at the level it was in 2017. But one of the things that’s really heartening to us is that when we look at the data, folks who are heavily engaged in Remote Raid passes, the vast majority of them are actually also engaging in Elite Raids and real-life experiences. In fact, the proportion of folks who raid Remote Raid exclusively as they play Pokémon GO and do not participate in some form of in-real-life activities are actually a very, very, very small portion of the total [player] population – and one we actually see decreasing quite a bit over time. The world has, I think, evolved and changed year after year, from 2021 to 2022, to 2023. And we’re seeing those changes in our players and their excitement to engage again in going out into the real world. The timing is in part because yes, we’ve debuted these new features like Elite Raids, we’ve been able to see the impact they’ve had. And that folks are excited, even if they Remote Raid, to also go out there back into the real world. That’s given us the knowledge and confidence this is the right thing to do for the overall long term health of the game.”
Wu is also keen to tease that new and exciting changes will be coming to the app in the future that will impact on who people view in person play. Campfire is clearly intended to help in person raiding grow, and Niantic’s intention is that will be released fully and globally very soon. They hope it will help communities find each other, and be a central place for community organising.
“We have an incredibly exciting slate of both new forms of raiding, as well as new features in store we’re working really hard on… I really do believe we have a blockbuster slate of summer features that rise to that level of importance for the game”
Wu teases that it isn’t as simple as saying there will be new raids coming to GO, though shadow raids are mentioned, which were recently found in a datamine by the Pokeminers. Recent success of the postcards and Vivillon launch are stated as ways to encourage community spirit and gameplay, though obviously this isn’t an in person feature like raiding is.
“There are many meaningful ways we can inspire folks to explore the world and have social interactions and I think our features will reflect that diversity of our player base in the way they approach the game.”
One of the major concerns many players have after this remote raid change announcements, is that the long anticipated nerf to damage done to raid bosses by those raiding remotely must also be imminent. When quizzed on that, this is what Wu had to say:
“We’re not making other changes right now. Over time, we might. One thing that’s important is a variety of limitations around Remote Raids have not addressed the fundamental issue of the imbalance they create in [the game’s] economy, but a daily cap absolutely will. And that gives us a lot more confidence and freedom to make other changes without worrying about their distorting effects. So, nothing to announce there and we’re really trying to keep the changes simple. Frankly, we could go and change a wide variety of things but right now we’re trying to keep it [simple].”
Finally, Wu touches on two other topics that Eurogamer asked about, EX raids, and Arceus. EX raids were stopped with the pandemic, and Elite Raids have so far been seen as the evolution of those original EX raids. EX raids could be a really frustrating feature, with invites being difficult to trigger, and those invites often coming during school and work times, at completely inopportune times that meant even if you got an invite, you couldn’t necessarily participate. So far Elite Raids, whilst having their issues, have been easier to plan to attend, with us getting a lot more notice on when they will occur.
“We’re trying to evolve them in a variety of ways. I was very close to the development of the EX Raids, they’re very near and dear to my heart. At the same time, I want to acknowledge there were ways in which it was difficult to schedule them and get the right set of folks scheduled to play together at the right place at the right time. I think it was often a source of frustration for both the community and for us, and so we are looking to evolve EX Raids, and you can see that in things like Elite Raids. This is not to say we wouldn’t try EX Raids again, and I don’t want to categorically say we never will, but we’re also cognisant of some of the frustrations folks have around them. Any time we want to approach it again, we want to make sure those are well addressed.”
Arceus is a Pokémon people have speculated about a lot in terms of how they could come to Pokémon GO, because not only are they are a much loved Pokémon, but they also have a whopping 18 different forms!
“I don’t want to commit to anything – let me be clear about that! But any time we introduce a Pokémon that folks are really excited about, we want that to be a really epic experience…. Any time we want to take on something that’s exciting in that fashion, we really want to do it justice, that’s memorable and that ties people’s memories to the location they visited and the people they were with. Whenever we take on a challenge that epic and interesting, rest assured that’s how we will approach it.”
2023 looks to be a divisive year of changes in Pokémon GO, and how the community react to Niantic and their changes will be interesting to say the least. Campfire launching worldwide will be a great tool for the community providing they get on board, and hopefully the April round of Elite Raids will be more successful than the Regidrago Elite Raids. Pokémon GO and the future can feel a bit like the community are sitting on a knife edge, but we have hope for the future, and a love for this game, and we hope it can continue to improve and grow, but also that Niantic will listen to community feedback.