Massively On The Go: Pokemon Go’s Kanto Tour failed to Meet Go Fest 2020’s high standards

    
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So Pokemon Go Kanto Tour has passed, and we’re currently in the middle of the “week-long wrap-up event.” I’m using quotes because, frankly, the Kanto Tour ticketed event was a mixed bag. As some of you may have noticed in our event guide, Niantic pushed out a lot of extra details at the last moment, adding, augmenting, and deleting information of the event on their hours-before-the-event FAQ. Changes were still being made even as the event went live in New Zealand, to the point that player social media posts from that region were more reliable than Niantic’s (thank you as always for your service, de facto beta testers).

Niantic’s own event wrap-up tweet seems to summarize what I’ve seen/felt around the community fairly well, as has this discussion on the Silph Road subreddit. There were positive results, without a doubt, and some very happy players, but also some very fair criticisms. Rather than trying to summarize what all went wrong with the event, I want to compare it to Go Fest 2020 as it may be more useful in understanding the issues while constructively telling Niantic (and other AR developers) how they might want to approach live events in the future, especially during COVID.

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Slow rollouts are better than a deluge

One thing that’s been a theme for Niantic is overwhelming the playerbase with things to do. In some ways, this can be a huge compliment. Having a lot of content that people want to do is probably one of the best problems a company could have, I think. The problem, however, is when that issue comes from a paid, limited-time event.

Imagine going to Disneyland, but each ride is actually a game that requires three to six competent players. Now introduce COVID and limit the park capacity to 100 people. Now make it so rides randomly open and close in 25-minute intervals with 5-minute warnings for openings. Now make it so people have 12 free rides and have to pay $1 for each additional ride. Now make it so that these rides are actually limited to just today. And finally, make it so half your friends aren’t actually even in the park but can join three rides remotely, but you have to talk to them on the phone rather than through the game, while you’re trying to play the game.

If you just change “Disneyland” to wherever you live, and 100 people to your local community, that was the feeling of the Kanto Tour: some good ideas crammed together with clunky limitations and lacking proper communication tools. If there was ever a time I really needed better in-game communication tools– even just preset phrases– the Kanto Tour was it.

Even as someone who covers the game, I was overwhelmed. In my own personal circle, everyone from high school students to retirees all mentioned that the event announcement was underwhelming while the actual event ended up being overwhelming: a huge non-collapsible list of quests to scroll through, a separate special research questline, NPCs to fight, a constant deluge of raids with few that could honestly be called fillers, five new non-guaranteed shinies, version exclusives that lead to required trading, and an unannounced addition of lifted trade rules with discounts.

You could pick any three of those and have a good one-day event. All of those together, though, without a post-event cooldown window (at least on the US west coast) left some attendees feeling frustrated, and that’s without accounting for perceptions of shiny encounter rates.

I do understand that Niantic wanted to make this a great event. Presumably that’s why we were supposedly given a week-long event that I assume they feel mirrors a slower pace of what was the main event. I’ll argue against that later, but for now, let’s stick with rolling things out.

If we were to compare this event to Pokemon Go Fest 2020, I’d say the latter did things better. They have a lot in common: a lot of features, five different hourly themes rotating around the clock, lots of new shiny pokemon, and long questlines. In fact, the Kanto Tour actually had an additional two-hour roundup at the end of the first day while also giving fewer shinies. So why might some people feel the Kanto event was more overwhelming than Go Fest 2020?

Simple: Go Fest was spread out over two days and gave people the option to expand their inventory before the event. Day one was more about catching pokemon. It was 10 hours long, but the emphasis was on basic gameplay: catching (and shiny checks). Niantic made this even easier because, during COVID, your buddy would bring you supplies so you didn’t need to leave home.

The second day still had all the spawns as the day before, so people could get in more time if they wanted to. However, Niantic also added a new questline that complimented the new content: fighting Team Rocket. While there was obviously an advantage in choices if you were outside, Niantic’s use of the “Rocket Balloons” to deliver content no matter where a player was came at a rapid enough pace that people didn’t really need to leave their homes. Remote Raid passes weren’t plentiful, and this is still something Niantic can work on, but overall, the event seemed to have an appropriate pace and could be enjoyed from home.

Again, Niantic crammed the February 20th event into one mega-12-hour-event without giving people an inventory expansion option. It then dropped nearly all of that was unique about the event to leave crumbs for us for about a week. What Niantic could have done was started with the version-focused catching day and event-long quests, then added the raiding day with remote raid pass packages so people could raid from home rather than encouraging people to go out during a pandemic along with regionals the next day, then start slowly backing off from the other bonuses. Between days, relevant bonuses (which should have been announced with start and end times) should have been active as post-event cooldowns so people could take their time socializing and managing their resources.

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Give full information at the time of ticket purchases

Look, I get it. Some things you want to keep a secret. But this should be within reason. The last-minute FAQ, to me, says that Niantic internally realized that people weren’t understanding the full depth of the event. Case in point: On The Silph Road, a dedicated POGO subreddit, comments about our guide showed didn’t understand basic ideas about the event, such as choosing your version, which should have been an option you could make but change starting at the time of purchase. People also didn’t understand the exclusives or why that was used to encourage trading, even though it seemed like it was really clear to me as a series veteran.

Two things, though: Not everyone is a main series veteran, and to be blunt, people are dumb. We all make mistakes, especially when we forget to read. But the depth of this issue alone should have shown Niantic that it’d planned far too much and should have spread this event out more.

I know Niantic relies on its Content Creators to essentially make infographs to disseminate information for the game, but I know that even people in groups that spread those miss things. I know this because those people in my community contact me, and I don’t currently lead any groups (nor do I publicly share my work with those groups). While making information obtuse arguably could have led to social experiences before COVID, the lack of face-to-face experiences right now really destroys that. As a teacher, I know people have different learning styles, and I’m sure Niantic is aware of this too.

However, Niantic creates this information problem itself by, frankly speaking, being bad at communicating. As I previously mentioned, the company was still releasing information hours before the event went live in New Zealand. Again, the company had about three months to give us some of these details, such as regional pokemon being limited to raids only.

The information was also either unclear or flat-out wrong. For example, Niantic said players would have a week to complete the “Catch’em All” quest, but regional pokemon (again, only in raids) were limited to February 20th only. Roughly 36 hours after the event ended and fans complained, Niantic offered to bring regionals back “soon,” but they will be limited not only to raids but within their home regions. While Niantic is offering three Remote Raid Passes for one coin to help with this, the change also largely requires players to utilize third-party sites to complete their collections for a paid event. 2/23 Update: Local regionals are now back in raids until 8 am on March 1.

Rattata, a traditionally annoyingly common pokemon, has also disappeared, so people who spent the event day focusing on raids or shiny checks found out today that they may not be able to complete the quest this week because they didn’t realize a traditionally common pokemon would suddenly become unavailable. Combined with the regionals, Niantic is once again creating game design that is counter-intuitive to how the game is traditionally played, but worse, it did this after requiring players to pay for a limited-time event.

Worse, the event was not something that could have been done from home. I think Niantic developers need to start running tests by spoofing their test client accounts to rural areas where, unlike parts of San Francisco, most people can’t reach a Pokemon Gym and a PokeStop from their living room. PokeStops were needed for multiple quests and as a source of supplies, and by not delivering them to players as done in the 2020 Go Fest, the studio ensured that the event was not, in fact, something someone could do from home. Update 2/23: As pointed out by Reddit user tkcom, players were also affected by a potential mega-nest bug that affected previous events, so some locations were also at a disadvantage.

And sadly, the raid situation was no better. While I am thankful that Niantic provided three remote raid passes for the event, that was not enough to cover the seven raid targets (eight if you includes your own local regionals that suddenly were restricted to raids). That also didn’t account for the fact that beating a pokemon does not guarantee a catch, further supporting the idea that Niantic probably should have made regionals available in the wild and given people more remote raid passes.

Worse, though, was that Niantic advertised this event as being doable at home but provided nine Daily Raid Passes, which can be used only by physically being near the raid you want to attend. This means that either Niantic is so naive as to believe that the majority of players live close enough to a gym that they can raid from home (this is false outside of some major capitals) or it knew people would need to leave their homes and essentially incentivized leaving home, a terrible incentive during a pandemic.

This is all information that was announced very soon before or during the event. What was not announced was the special trade limit cap being raised and the stardust requirements being halved. This could have been a great feature considering the fact that there were version-exclusive shinies, which cost a lot of stardust to trade.

However, not only did this bonus appear suddenly, but it disappeared suddenly as well. My friend and I had decided to play during the event and save trades for after the event so that we would hopefully have enough spare shinies to share (this did not happen, but I know some people were able to get many shinies, so this may be a suburban spawn issue). To our surprise, well before midnight (when trades reset), we found that the bonuses were completely gone. We’d missed out. Had we known the limitations, we would have acted sooner. Niantic has been more forgiving during Community Days, granting two-hour long wrap-up times for trades, but not this time.

For an event that the public knew about for three months, far too much information came the day of. I don’t think any of it was really necessary to keep from customers unless it was Niantic’s intent to mislead them. This is especially salient during the pandemic.

What’s worse, though, was the constant notes about post-event chances to still do event-related content. Not only did regional pokemon disappear from raids and common pokemon disappear altogether, but the raid-event pokemon lost their event moves after February 20th. Even relatively informed press like yours truly, already overwhelmed with the live event, have been mildly surprised with everything Niantic’s taken away, and I say that as someone who tends to be pessimistic about Niantic’s generosity.

Again, Niantic has a history of communicating poorly, with press and fans equally. If content creators (who receive information differently than press) are acting as player advocates, someone is ignoring them. It is difficult to maintain fan trust when a company asks you to pay for vague, non-refundable events with details that are changing moments before and during the event.

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Follow through on what you announce

As I mentioned, the event was advertised as something that could be done by staying home. Initially, Niantic had only hinted at that for the most part, largely by discussing “incense,” the consumable that brings event-related Pokemon to you, both wild varieties and often from their own incense-limited pool. It has been working as a fantastic tool for the most part. But Niantic, at the last minute, took things a step further. As per the event FAQ,

Do I need to leave my house in order to participate in GO Tour?
No, this event is designed to be playable at home if needed. To have the best possible experience we recommend playing in a local park or other similar area; however it is very important that you follow local health guidelines.

As Niantic had previously done quite well with Go Fest 2020, it seemed reasonable that Niantic would know how to handle this. Go Fest did hide the specific Day 2 events, which I still don’t think was necessary, but it was largely functional from home. Raiding was a minor part of that event but ended up being far more critical to the Kanto Event. While major details were in flux, such as whether or not certain rare pokemon would be limited to single encounters, the above Q&A never changed. An elderly neighbor thought she’d be able to stay home, and I personally felt disappointed when she had to spend extra money for a paid event that was advertised as being playable from home.

At this point, I’d argue a large part of this is on Niantic’s refusal to grant and/or treat all varieties of raid passes as remote passes. Having a conversion system in place during the pandemic could really help people out and make these events more accessible. With everything else that happened during the event, I think the ability to raid from home as freely and often one could raid in-person would have allowed many of the event’s flaws to be easier to dismiss.

Niantic’s previous use of delivering resources to housebound people was grossly absent, which was doubly weird as the previously mentioned NPCs at Pokestops largely acted the same as Rocket Members who spawn and follow the player at different intervals throughout the day. The same delivery method Niantic themselves had used at an increased pace to make Go Fest 2020 so memorable.

Niantic has mentioned a makeup day. Even Go Fest 2020 had this, so it’s not totally unexpected, but does give me a fair bit of second-hand embarrassment for the company. My hope is that I’m simply announcing ways Niantic is essentially fixing its problems in retrospect, though I’m hoping it will be absent of major flaws I didn’t expand on, like some non-paying players got the event for free. We’ll just have to wait and see. As Niantic already has this Kanto Event crawling until the weekend when things get exciting again (the lack of information has me guessing the Bird Raids on Saturday will not grant them their special movesets), I’m also guessing Niantic will wait until after the March 6th Fletchling Community Day. We’ll update readers once Niantic makes the announcement.

Massively OP’s Andrew Ross is an admitted Pokemon geek and expert ARG-watcher. Nobody knows Niantic and Nintendo like he does! His Massively on the Go column covers Pokemon Go as well as other mobile MMOs and augmented reality titles!

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Fisty

/me nods

The lack of remote raid passes was a pain. Most folks I met with had already used them up first thing in the morning. Ended up with 4 of the Raid bosses, but should have been able to clear it.

Inventory expansion was necessary for me and I still had to leave those 200 free pokeballs in the shop.

I ended up with 3 shiny that day, and I expected more. Ended up getting 3 since Sunday and able to complete all tasks and get the same mons in the wild that were available during the event.

It was fun and its great getting bombarded by stuff to do, but they need a different approach for the next one.