Pokémon Go creator Niantic Labs announced Wednesday that, from April on, the mobile game’s Community Days will revert to their pre-pandemic length of only three hours long. Following the recent enormous nerfing of in-game item Incense, players are not at all pleased at Niantic’s seeming refusal to listen to what had widely been recognized as previous positive changes to the game.
In the last month, Niantic has been making further moves in an attempt to bring Pokémon Go back to where it was before it made changes in response to covid-19. At the beginning of the month, the developer announced it switched Incense, an in-game item that attracts Pokémon, back to its pre-2020 design, reducing its efficacy. It now attracts one Pokémon every five minutes instead of one per minute (when staying still). Then yesterday, it was announced that April’s Stufful-themed Community Day would last just three hours, down from the six that everyone had grown used to.
To Niantic’s significant credit, the studio was quick to amend its billion-dollar Pokémon Go project in response to 2020's locking down of planet Earth. As so much of the world responded to the terror of a global pandemic by staying home, a game built around the idea of walking outside made some smart changes, allowing it to maintain its momentum and audience. Among other tweaks, radii for interacting with PokéStops and Gyms were increased, remote raiding was added, Incense was boosted to make challenges possible without having to leave the house, and walking distances for taking part in the PvP GO Battle League were scrapped.
Ever since, Niantic has been trying to change things back, always under its claim that its games’ primary motivations are to get people outside, moving around, getting exercise. Of course, its real primary motivation is to make money, and a number of the necessary changes clearly meant players were able to get more out of the game while spending less.
As early as June 2021, when covid-19 continued to wreak disaster all around the world, Niantic made it clear it intended to reverse the changes, requiring players to congregate in public once more. In August 2021, despite the outcry, it astonishingly went through with it. The incredibly obvious uproar at this, as the pandemic continued killing millions, meant Niantic backed down after three long weeks. Come September, there was an impressive display of contrition about just how abysmally it had all been handled.
Since then, the adjusted distance requirements have been promised to remain forever, which makes simple sense, since the game is so much more approachable for it. Unfortunately, it seems we have to keep going around the circle for every other positive adjustment the game has seen.
It’s pretty important to point out that these “temporary changes” have been in the game for two years this month. That’s over a third of the game’s lifetime, and for the vast majority of current players, they’re fixtures. Or even more significantly, how it’s always been.
Speaking personally, I started playing Pokémon Go with my son in August 2020. It was how we spent our government-mandated single hour of permitted daily outside time for months. (What the hell have we all lived through?) In July 2020, I couldn’t have named you a Pokémon other than Pikachu. Now, I could write you a guidebook. From my perspective, and that of countless millions of other players, the changes to the game arriving this month are huge regressions that actively spoil the experience.
Recently, as we needed to stay home one weekend, my son discovered he could no longer use Incense to help complete March’s Sandshrew Community Day, and as such he was unable to accomplish the given tasks. This April, we now won’t be able to take part in the Stufful day in the morning, as we usually would, because it now won’t start until 2 p.m. Sure, personal issues, no big deal to you. But examples of how seemingly needless changes make the game far less appealing to play.
The stated reason for the Community Day halving is that Niantic’s research shows only five percent of players were playing for more than three hours anyway, according to a post from the company. I mean, sure, that sounds like you’re deliberately excluding your whales right there, which is an odd business choice—but hang on a second. Sure, most people might not play more than three hours (not least because Community Day quests have been so thin and awful for so long it’d be hard to drag it out further), but surely not all the same three hours. It’ll be any three hours across the available six! It’s such an oddly false logic.
Kotaku have, of course, reached out to Niantic to ask if it considered this, along with other questions about the decisions and will update should they reply.
Niantic wants people to see each other, to have that sense of community once more, and believes that, by constraining the activities to a smaller window, it’ll make such encounters more likely. But this ignores just how many won’t be able to take part at all given the changes and rejects the views of those who—given the continued enormous spread of Omicron—aren’t comfortable gathering in groups of strangers in public!
Niantic maintains it will continue to listen to feedback, and has proven it will back down if the community is loud enough, so perhaps we will see a reverse-ferret by May’s Community Day.