In the course of a few weeks, Pokémon Go has gone from a mega hit, to a broken game even its most ardent fans cannot defend. This shift in the community is due to mostly one thing: a lack of communication from Niantic.
It’s been like this since the beginning, really. When Pokémon Go originally launched, the servers were constantly overloaded, and remained that way for over a week—an unusually long time, even for a popular game. Niantic didn’t say much at the time, though they did eventually stabilize things, so the community tolerated it.
Over the last couple of weeks, tensions have been brewing thanks to the “Nearby” mechanic, which used to denote how far away monsters were located:
No pawprints meant the critter was close, and three pawprints meant the creature was at the maximum distance away. While it was hard to parse and use for tracking Pokémon, many were able to use it to successfully hunt specific monsters within their vicinity. Pokémon Go may not have launched with all of the features that it originally promised, but it was still fun enough to enjoy, with the biggest draw being finding as many different monsters as you could.
Then, something strange happened: every monster started appeared at the maximum distance on the Nearby tab, making it impossible to track down any monsters. This became known by the community as the three-step glitch, and it plagued the game for weeks. Niantic never really talked about it, beyond telling people that they were aware of it during a panel at SDCC, and then avoiding questions about the glitch altogether when asked about it by press (Kotaku included.) Needless to say, players weren’t very happy about that situation, especially since the whole point of the game was to capture more monsters.
Last weekend, Niantic got rid of the steps altogether in an update:
And then, to rub salt in the wound, it appears that Niantic are also shutting down websites that help people track down specific monsters within the game too. The only way to play now is to go in blind.
Fans are livid. So pissed, in fact, that some who dropped actual money on the free-to-play app are asking for refunds in droves. Others elected to flood the app with one-star reviews on the app store, and are encouraging everyone to follow suit:
Things have only escalated from there, with users doing everything they can to voice their displeasure with Niantic:
Today, Pokémon Go received a new update:
The one thing people actually care about—tracking monsters—was not addressed in this update. The current conspiracy theory is that Niantic introduced a useless update just to wipe out negative reviews from last weekend, and while that’s certainly possible, it’s more likely that this is one of those bi-weekly updates that Pokémon Go was always slated to have. When a game updates so frequently, chances are pretty good that the average tweak will mostly address minor stuff.
But we don’t actually know. Niantic is black, unknowable box that only speaks vaguely about future plans, if they talk about them at all. Despite all the rage pouring from the internet right now, Niantic has said nothing about what they’re doing about tracking, or if the feature is gone forever. Players don’t know if Niantic is hard at work getting stuff up and running; there’s little on social media that actively addresses complaints or assuages fear. Discouragingly, even the official Niantic support page has gotten rid of any mention of tracking. The effect is that the community is left alone to bubble and boil in its anger.
Maybe it’s just a vocal minority who is going too far. Pokémon Go has millions of players, and only a small number of them are on Reddit and Twitter, drafting campaigns to bring Niantic down—or at least get its attention somehow. Then again, tracking is a feature that is important to everybody, not just folks who go through the trouble of figuring out whether a monster has the right IVs or not. Even the average person understands that it is more fun to find new monsters that they haven’t caught yet, rather than to settle for endless Rattatas. That’s why millions of people used services like Poke Vision in the first place.
I’ve spoken to players who live in rural areas, where Pokémon are either sparse or shitty. They want to know how to track monsters better. I’ve spoken to players with children, or who lead busy lives, and they can’t just waste hours wandering around in the real world, in the vain hopes of finding a decent Pokémon. They want to track down monsters better. I’ve spoken to people with depression, who tell me that it is easier to motivate themselves to go outside when they have clear, specific goals. They want to track down monsters better, too.
And why not? Even in the main games, once you capture something, the Pokedex outright tells you everywhere else you can capture that specific Pokémon. Personally, I also tend to reference Serebii for monster locations too constantly while on my 3DS, and it’s never gotten in the way of my enjoyment of the games. The same is true of Pokémon Go, perhaps even moreso thanks to Pokémon Go’s social component. Even if the app told me exactly where to go, I’d still have to physically go there, and would likely stop along any Pokestops along the way, or chat with people hanging about.
I think Niantic knows that tracking is an important feature, too. I mean—in its current state, the “Nearby” tab is useless. What good is it to know there might be a Squirtle somewhere within a one mile radius if I don’t know where to go? Wandering sounds good in theory, but in practice, it can be annoying and tiring if you have your eyes set on a specific monster.
Beyond that, if we look at the original trailer for Pokémon Go, you’ll note something interesting:
As the people play, the game is telling them where to go, marking specific monsters and updating distances in real-time:
At some point, Niantic also believed that knowing exactly where to go didn’t ruin Pokémon Go. Maybe things have changed since then. Until Niantic says differently, I’ll take the reveal trailer to be the most idealized version of Pokémon Go. That version of Pokémon Go, the one that doesn’t force people to wander aimlessly, may be on its way. Niantic may be working on it as you read this, and that’s exactly what makes this whole situation so excruciating. It’s possible that everyone is crucifying a developer who does want to make things better, but because they’re not communicating enough with the playerbase, people find it easier to believe that Niantic is just an uncaring corporate entity. Desperate players who can’t find anything good are more likely to purchase lures to attract monsters to their location, after all.
In 2016, it is not enough to build and launch the most popular game of the year. You have to talk to people, earn their trust, develop a relationship. If nothing else, Niantic is in dire need of community managers who make an effort to connect with players. People already love Pokémon Go, but with things the way they are, nobody is really sure if Pokémon Go loves them back.
UPDATE 8/2 12:09 PM: Niantic has issued a statement on tracking and Poke Vision here.