Massively on the Go: Everything we learned from Pokemon Go’s post-backlash Task Force

    
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While Niantic already reverted its Pokemon GO gym and PokeStop nerf in late August, the company said that more changes would be announced on September 1st, along with the rest of the “Task Force” findings. Those changes had been shared, but now we have the reasoning too. While they make sense, they also suggest company was far better off with its original global COVID bonuses – focusing on the global community rather than trying to micromanage each country’s experience. The company also vows to communicate with players more via content creators.

That may not be much of a surprise or even seem backwards, but for a meatspace game that can potentially incentivize players to unwittingly spread a major disease that’s clogging up hospital beds around the world, it seems tone-deaf. In fact, today’s release of the Task Force findings only reinforces this, both with its content and delivery.

First, let’s look at the changes players received starting September 1st. For trainers around the world, including in the United States and New Zealand, these are the bonuses:

  • 3× bonus XP for spinning PokeStops for the first time, down from 10x for US and NZ
  • 2× Lure duration
  • Increased Incense effectiveness*
  • Additional Incense effectiveness while walking*
  • Boosted damage for trainers battling remotely in raids**
  • Guaranteed gifts from PokeStops*
  • Buddy Pokemon bringing gifts more often*

*These were normal COVID bonuses still in effect for most countries; they’re simply being extended or – for US and NZ players – returning.

**This would be normal damage for your average, unaware player, as we have never experienced the reduced damage Niantic eventually plans. Plainly speaking, Niantic plans to nerf the damage at some point but is wording this so it can show that it was always its intent that remote raiders would deal less damage than in-person raiders, which we’ve previously argued against.

The game will also no longer grant US and NZ players two Daily Raid Passes as it did after the radius nerf in August, just the usual one. While it was a nice feature, it was one many protesters didn’t get to make much use of between trying to stay safe at home, respecting social distancing, and trying not to tempt friends into spending more money on the game, assuming the player was even actively playing the game during this time.

It should also be noted that AR tasks were re-enabled after mysteriously being offline for a few days. Whether it was by accident or intentional, we’ve seen no indication of the company taking responsibility for the disabling or re-enabling of the feature. 9/2 Update: And once again they’re broken, but Niantic seems somewhat aware.

Now, it’s good to see Niantic admit it needs to listen to players more (mostly via community leaders it seems). Starting in October, we’ll be getting monthly dev diaries, and the company says it’ll be speaking with community leaders on a monthly basis as well.

The problem is that the game is five years old and not exactly groundbreaking. While the technology may be new, nearly all its problems can be traced back and found in MMOs, including games leading to real-life violence. Anyone paying attention to how online games spill into the real world could have predicted half of the problems Pokemon GO would experience at launch. In fact, we’d just covered an Ingress player death around a month before POGO launched, which was also after I’d met a real Ingress player and had started my personal notes on what I thought would need to change before POGO’s launch (and nothing did).

Lack of communication is also an age-old issue. However, this is more complicated: Remember, POGO doesn’t have guilds or chat, much less official forums or a Discord. It relies heavily on fan communities and social media, but that’s not exactly a problem. As some people may have noticed, the Pokemon GO community often has full visuals and breakdowns moments after major announcements, often before major gaming websites post the news. This is because Niantic treats press and content creators differently. Content creators already had Niantic’s ear. They receive information before press for most things aside from some major events, like E3 or the Go Beyond game update reveal. Requests for media interviews – from multiple sites I’ve worked for – never went anywhere.

In other words, Niantic doesn’t have a great track record for working with the press or players, and this announcement makes it appear that Niantic is essentially going to increase engagement with content creators, not with fans or anyone else. Note how many players couldn’t name the former Community Manager, much less who’s in charge since she left the company in August 2021. This is problematic as you may belong to a very large subreddit or Discord while not interacting with streamers, and therefore you’re being ignored.

For example, ZoëTwoDots, one of the main people who pushed #HearUsNiantic on Twitter, has about 215,000 followers. Brandon Tan, another big name, has about 500,000 followers. I don’t engage with either of them or many other POGO personalities outside of coverage, but I am quite active on The Silph Road, which has about 702,000 followers. The TSR community has been responsible for a lot of dissemination of the game and bug testing. Yes, various communities use TSR’s data, but that’s for their own communities, and TSR members have already questioned this decision. And yet, it’s possible that because TSR was not part of the movement, our voices there may not be heard going forward.

In many ways, one might argue that the influencers and creators act as mini-CMs, though the harder-to-control type that could potentially turn on a game if they feel they’re strong enough to quit and keep the bulk of their audience. They are not exactly seen as objective, though, as they do sign NDAs that of course the press generally do not. While we haven’t seen these NDAs ourselves, other companies do have stipulations against what the signer can say in terms of potentially harming the brand name.

While content creators may have led the charge on the most recent issues, we’ve also seen them fail to notice copy errors and fail to publicly question design choices in ways regular fans and press do. Content creators are essentially unpaid marketing, but they have their own communities to look out for. If there’s a Global Communications Manager helping with this, it may be better for the whole community, especially if the new one is allowed to do the job and isn’t tasked with additional work beyond the scope of that job (as the previous one was).

We’ve reached out to PR about who the new CM is and whether or not interviews may be possible, and we’ll of course update this piece should we learn anything new. Until then, we look forward to those promised monthly dev note updates and hope that Niantic’s actions are reflected in its words and deeds, while bearing in mind that history tells us to keep our wild hopes in check.

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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