Niantic Labs has addressed the Pokemon Go community following its widespread disappointment over recent changes to the game’s extended range feature.
Earlier this week, AR developer Niantic reduced the Pokestop interaction radius for the app in America and New Zealand. Following the initial COVID-19 outbreak, the interaction range between Pokestops was changed to 80 meters; with the most recent update, this has been halved to the original 40 meters. As the COVID-19 Delta variant — which is nearly twice as contagious as previous variants — spreads, it feels like a particularly nonsensical idea to revert the measures taken to protect players during the pandemic. In response, the Pokemon Go community created the “#HearUsNiantic” hashtag and penned an open letter to the developer.
The open letter addresses the crucial benefits that the 80-meter Pokestop interaction radius has had for players worldwide. This radius allowed players to play from sheltered and safe locations, reducing their risk of trespassing or crossing dangerous roads to interact with points of interest. It also abided better by the social distancing rules established by the CDC in 2020. In addition to making Pokemon Go a safer game to play, the radius made it much more accessible for disabled players, players with sensory conditions, and players who must care for young children. The open letter ultimately requests for the 80-meter radius to become a permanent quality of life change.
On August 5th, Niantic Labs responded to the letter, saying it appreciates the feedback because “not every game has such a passionate, global player base that we’re fortunate enough to have.”
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The developer explains that the recent changes were made to “restore some of the foundational elements players enjoyed prior to 2020, and reward players once again for moving and exploring.” The letter continues by stating that encouraging players to safely explore, exercise, and together in person “remains Niantic’s mission.” This is why Niantic decided to implement the changes in “select geographies where it is deemed safe to be outdoors.”
This may apply to New Zealand, which has handled the COVID-19 pandemic well since the start. However, the United States is currently undergoing seeing a dramatic increase in infections. It is now averaging 100,000 new COVID-19 infections per day.
Niantic addresses the radius reduction specifically, saying it wanted “people to connect to real places in the real world, and to visit places that are worth exploring.” In order to address the community’s concerns, it states it is “assembling an internal cross-functional team to develop proposals designed to preserve our mission of inspiring people to explore the world together, while also addressing specific concerns that have been raised regarding interaction distance.” These findings will be shared by September 1, which will mark the next in-game season change. It will also start dialogues with community leaders “in the coming days.”
It is unclear as to how Niantic will address the community’s concerns, but players on Reddit are largely reacting with skepticism since the move feels unnecessary, to begin with. It’s one thing to revert the bonus in radius once the COVID-19 pandemic has been largely taken care of. But, as the days pass, it’s clear the Delta variant’s strength might just mean the worst is yet to come.
“We will continue to monitor health and safety guidance related to outdoor activities,” says Niantic, “and will make future changes if necessary.”