Last week, Niantic’s John Hanke warned Pokémon Go players that popular tracking websites may no longer work in the future. It seems that moment has now arrived.
Yesterday, Pokémon Go received a new update that, among other things, got rid of the “footsteps” mechanic that alerted players of how far away other monsters were spawning. The mechanic, as it existed before the update, became the source of much frustration because it inaccurately displayed every single critter at the maximum distance—making it nearly impossible to track down specific monsters.
Despite this bug, players still had an option to hunt down Pokémon: using websites such as Pokevision. Such tracking websites were capable of displaying exactly where creatures would spawn, and could also tell players how long the monsters would be available for, functionality leagues ahead of what the actual game offered. Millions of players took a particular liking to services like Pokevision, not just because of the obvious utility, but because, unlike Niantic, fan-led trackers kept users informed about any downtime:
Fast forward to the latest Pokémon Go update: not only is Pokevision no longer useable...
Pokevision’s updates to Twitter are also not encouraging:
I reached out to Yangcheng Liu, Pokevision’s proprietor, and he was cagey about what he could and could not say about the situation. When I asked him if Pokevision was down because of high volume, he assured me that traffic has been the same, and that he could not say anything further. When Forbes asked Liu if Pokevision would be down indefinitely, he responded it “possibly could be.”
While loved by many, services like Pokevision have always operated in a murky gray area. Beyond arguably enabling cheating, tracking websites/apps often also break Pokémon Go’s terms of services. Some trackers, like Poke Hound, outright charged money for tracking Pokémon. Unsurprisingly, Niantic has reportedly been shutting such websites/apps down, with multiple developers around the web sharing cease and desist letters:
All of this evidence comes together to make it seem as if Niantic or The Pokémon Company have taken action against Pokémon Go trackers. In turn, players are left with no option other than to wander aimlessly while playing Pokémon Go. It’s a frustrating experience, and this has led players have taken to voice their displeasure on social media:
The community seems to agree with my assessment from last week: rather than “tak[ing] some fun out of the game,” as Hanke aleged, services like Poke Vision only enhance the Pokémon Go experience, especially in its current form.
While it would be easy to paint Niantic as the villain here, it’s possible that the situation with Pokémon Go tracking websites may be more complicated than it appears. Looking back at Ingress, Niantic’s previous game, we can see that Niantic has actually experienced this exact problem before. Like Pokémon Go, Ingress also had fan-developed mapping services, and these reportedly taxed servers so much, they ended up making the experience worse for everyone. Ingress was also a significantly smaller game than Pokémon Go.
At the very least, given the clear terms of service, Niantic is definitely within its right to shut down tracking services—it’s just not a very cool move given the current state of the game. Personally, I know that I’ve been playing a lot less since the three-step glitch, and I’m less inclined to play now that the feature is no longer in the game. I’m hoping that Niantic is hard at work at a better tracking solution than the previous footsteps system, which nobody could figure out anyway.
We reached out to Niantic about Pokémon Go tracking services, but did not hear back in time for publication. It’s also worth noting that, while websites like Pokevision no longer work, services like Poke Radar—which rely on user reports rather than Niantic’s API—still do. Given Niantic’s silence on the subject of in-game tracking (we’ve asked them about it to no avail; Hanke has avoided the question at places like SDCC and in other interviews), the community might already be at a tipping point though: