Anyone who follows our Massively on the Go column and its long-running Pokemon Go coverage knows that Niantic has faced years of criticism from everyone from accessibility advocates to non-urban players. Over the global pandemic in 2020 and 2021, the company wisely tweaked the game to reduce its potential for pushing players out into the world to spread the virus. Niantic reduced walking requirements, increased spawns, added remote raids, and made much more content accessible from home – from lockdowns.
But as we’ve been covering, Niantic has been dead-set on reversing most of those changes, which has upset the playerbase all over again: first because the pandemic is not remotely over and indeed is heading for another wave thanks to mutations in the COVID virus, and second because disability and accessibility advocates see Niantic shutting a door on their participation in the game.
To that end, players recently protested the company with a “Pokemon No Day,” a petition with over 166,000 signatures, and a manifesto from the community that made clear that players don’t want a return to the game directing them into unsafe, disrespectful, and difficult-to-access locations; instead, they demanded that Niantic acknowledge the diversity and inclusivity of the community and respond by Monday.
Dear @NianticLabs your community needs you to address the recent in-game changes to #PokemonGO. #HearUsNiantic we love this game and the communities we've built together. This game thrives on inclusivity and diversity. Show us you understand that. pic.twitter.com/1N6EAaM5m2
— ZoëTwoDots 🎀 (@_ZoeTwoDots) August 5, 2021
Respond the company now has, although it hasn’t acceded to all of the player demands. It emphasizes that its mission is still to “[encourage] people to explore, exercise and safely play together in person” and insists that its new exploration bonuses were implemented in “select geographies where it is deemed safe to be outdoors,” which obviously players do not agree with. And as MOP’s own Andrew noted yesterday, when health and safety professionals can’t agree on safety during COVID, it’s a hard sell that a video game company knows best, particularly when the game in question has literally contributed to 22 deaths and 61 injuries and counting.
The company does offer a few concessions. It says it’s creating a “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.”
“We have heard your feedback about one change in particular – that of the PokéStop and Gym interaction distance. We reverted the interaction distance from 80 meters back to the original 40 meters starting in the U.S. and New Zealand because we want people to connect to real places in the real world, and to visit places that are worth exploring.”