In a recent interview with PvP content creators Caleb Peng and SpeediestChief2, Michael Steranka (Pokémon GO Game Director) discussed the recent fiasco regarding Pokémon viewing distances and more issues, including PvP.
Regarding Pokémon Radius
As a recap, in a recent update (0.275.0), the radius in which Pokémon spawns show up on the map was nearly doubled. A Niantic rep had initially told several influencers, including ourselves, that this was an intended change. However, less than a day later, Niantic Support tweeted that it was a bug and will be fixed in the subsequent update (0.275.1, see our article).
According to Steranka, the “intended” part was supposed to fix a bug (first introduced in 0.273.0), where a Pokémon immediately despawns the moment they get out of the “big circle” (70m), instead of the intended behavior of staying on the map for a while.
Steranka claims that “there wasn’t an awareness that it was actually the radius that people were talking about”. However, many creators have said they specifically asked about the radius.
Steranka also noted that the increased radius resulted in some unintended “bugs”, such as GO Plus not catching Pokémon in the “big circle”. I will remark that I haven’t heard of anyone complaining about that.
“If we’re going to make a big change like that, we want it to be intentional, and we want to design for it and make sure that it runs smoothly.
We really want to test things out and make sure that’s the optimal experience.
For a new player, that might be a bit overwhelming when you open the game and see 50 different Pokémon around you.”
Other Key Points from the Interview
The host asked about accessibility of PvP Pokémon (like Medicham and UL/ML mons) for new players.
- Steranka said that while they do provide some Pokémon (Swampert, Noctowl, Lanturn), they want other Pokémon (Medicham) to be a “motivator to try and grind”, and to “reward the players who have been playing and grinding for a long time” with top-tier Pokémon.
- “We want people to feel like the time investment that you’ve put in this game has led to really good and strong Pokémon”.
- They also don’t want players to get meta teams during their first week of playing.
The host asked Niantic’s investments to grow the PvP player base.
- Steranka cited “strengthening our PvP infrastructure” last year (referring to the Interlude season where they fixed bugs like fast move denial). However, he says doing that made the dev team turn away from other areas of the game.
- Instead, he says the team is focusing their attention on other things in 2023. They also hope to expand the local in-person tournament scenes for PvP.
The host asked about the disconnect between the remote nerf and the large number of XLs for Master League legendaries.
- Steranka mentions the extra XL candy from in-person raids and the global rollout of Campfire as remedies.
- He thinks the underlying challenge is the accessibility of Rare Candy XL. The upcoming Go Battle Weekend gives out more RCXLs in the premium track.
- Steranka also says they try to offer a more accessible league whenever ML is in rotation. (Remark: Little Cup and Catch Cup are such examples from past rotations.)
There were some discussions on the PvP championship series, but I largely skipped as I myself am not interested in that. It starts at 53 minutes in the video.
The host mentioned the reappearance of PvP bugs lately, and asked why they can’t hire more devs.
- Steranka says more developers makes version control complicated. “The code base especially within PvP is incredibly tricky and very specialized”, especially for a “fast and snappy” PvP system, where Internet connectivity matters.
- He also says they need a “financially viable business” and don’t have unlimited money for hiring.
- In addition, he says only the top 1% of players notice the PvP bugs and inconsistencies.
- Overall, “the solution is a little bit more complex than just hiring more people”.
The host asked if there may be any potential major changes to PvP in the future, such as ability, status effects, held items, etc.
- Steranka cannot confirm or deny anything right now.
Shop Price Increases
The host asked about declining values of boxes in shop.
- Steranka said they had “incredibly good deals” as default boxes for a long time, and it’s “a little bit irresponsible” for them to leave them available as long as they did.
- Steranka and the host both also noted that players have a tendency to compare to the historical best deals in the past.
- Ultimately, he feels they have to “do right” by what’s the “true value of different items and experiences”. They’ll continue to offer and test different bundles.
A community member asked about the existence of bad moves, like Rock Smash.
- Steranka says quality of moves are relative, and that “good moves are good because they’re better than others”. They also don’t want every Pokémon to have the same energy generation.
- In addition, it allows “balance opportunities” in the future.
The host asked if there was a nerf in the drop rate of Charged TMs, and whether there will be a TM rework (e.g. allowing previously ETM’ed mons to go back to the legacy move without using another ETM).
- Steranka says there are no plans, due to the “design philosophy” to keep the game “as accessible as possible”.
- He mentioned the frequent suggestion of allowing regular TMs to select moves (just without legacy moves available), but they want players to “feel like they’re earning things and progressing towards building these Pokémon”.
- An alternative system like the Main Series Games, where there’s a TM for every move, was dismissed as being too complicated.
A community member asked the possibility of remote lucky trading for international friends.
- Steranka says this was designed intentionally. When players do go to in-person events like Go Fests and CDs, that’s a “powerful social lubricant” for them to trade with lucky friends. Remote trading removes the “moment of in-person excitement”.
A community member asked why there isn’t an unranked GBL mode, unlimited GBL battles, or a “show 6 pick 3” format.
- Steranka says “show 6 pick 3” makes the game too “complex and intimidating” for novice players. Players can still participate in local tournaments to practice the “show 6” format and prepare for championships.
- Unranked modes can end up splitting the player base, which increases the queue times.
- The daily GBL limit was due to it being played at home, and they don’t want it to be “the only thing that people are doing all day”, nor for it to become the completely dominant part of the game.
A community member asked about bottle caps and IV modifiers.
- Steranka can’t share any future plans.
- If there’s something that they would ever incorporate, they want to fill the gap in terms of existing collection mechanics, giving players something new to chase instead of just being a shortcut to their goals.
A community member asked about the internal priority list, comparing PvP to other aspects like new Pokémon releases and live events, both for Steranka and the “c-suite” at Niantic.
- This was partially addressed earlier, but Steranka noted that the c-suite folks “get thrown a lot of heat from the player base”.
- He says John Hanke doesn’t try to micromanage day-to-day operations of Pokémon Go, and he trust the PoGO team to make their own decisions.
- Even though Steranka doesn’t personally agree with some decisions, he disagree that’s because folks are “out of touch”.
A community member asked about anti-spoofing efforts.
- Steranka said the team stepped up about anti-spoofing and banning in the past year.
- He also says their telemetry is really strong in not flagging false positives.
A community member asked about the carbon footprint of the game, since the only way for rural players to play is to drive to a city, and raid trains are a thing.
- Steranka says they try to build Pokémon Go that encourages the opposite of that, such as speed-locking.
- He claims that examples like raid trains are more for “top couple percent” of players, and that a lot more players are encouraged to “go out and walk” through playing, which he thinks is the larger impact the game has made.
- He says carbon footprint is something Niantic takes seriously, and cites open street events and Earth Day as examples.
Someone asked about Level 60.
- Steranka has nothing to share on that front, and notes that many players are still working towards level 50.
A community member asked if special cosmetic maps and UIs like last year’s Halloween are coming back.
- Steranka says the team does want to do more about that in the future.
A community member inquired about “internal barriers that prevent transparency”, noting that information is often withheld for no reason, such as Dev Diaries.
- Steranka says “it’s just incredibly complex” as the game operates in a dozen languages, and they want to ensure parities and cultural nuances. They also want to align with TPC with what they want to share with players.
- He claims that efforts into communication are “underappreciated”.
- Regarding accuracy of communications, he cites visualizing and translating hundreds of different Pokémon a month. I’m not sure what exactly he means.
A community member says they feel PvP is just not a priority for Niantic, and ask how players can work together to convince Niantic that PvP is worth more of their efforts.
- Steranka says keep up with feedback, and cites vocal responses from players about the minimal move updates for the Season of Rising Heroes as an example.
- He understands that criticism comes from a place of passion. However, players are also way more likely to post negative experiences than positive ones, and they’re “so uplifting for the team”.