Massively on the Go: Pokemon Go’s latest interview is light on answers and heavy on spin


In our many years of coverage of Pokemon Go, we’ve found it’s been pretty common for Niantic to issue unclear announcements, and one-on-one interviews with the company have been scarce. But a recent interview the company gave Eurogamer demonstrates precisely why the company is probably at its best when it’s not being interviewed.

Author Tom Phillips asked genuinely good questions, such as whether the Safari Park hybrids are going to be any different from the event already given and its original plan, where is Kecleon, why the company pushed more not-related-to-Pokemon AR task features when players still don’t understand how they benefit us, or what happened to the October Developer Diary we were promised during Niantic’s sorry-we-ignored-our-community September “reveal.” Not one of these questions was answered clearly, and some were not answered at all. While players are already seeing why Niantic didn’t want to talk about Liverpool (yay for event nerfs and missing features), the future is not looking very bright.

Niantic shares no new details about its plans for POGO, attempts to wax poetic about its own greatness, and plugs its tech without explaining how it benefits players. Eurogamer conducted one of the few Q&As that clearly demonstrates it was asking the questions the community wants to hear, but bafflingly, Niantic failed to provide reasonable answers, not just on future content but on the state of the game.

Nowhere else in the interview is this more apparent than talk about the new Pokestop Powering up feature, which effectively asks players to act as Google Street Data Collectors for no pay as they attempt to temporarily unnerf a Pokestop whose radius has been knocked down to the 40 meters that got Niantic in trouble in the first place. The feature is being tested, and there are other bonuses, but early tests and general distrust of Niantic’s data collection seems to indicate players aren’t having it. The studio tried to dodge the question, but Eurogamer pressed on:

Eurogamer: I get that, and of course, Niantic has big plans for the future of AR which are fascinating. But I’ve also seen comments from Pokémon Go players now who aren’t sure what this may add to the game for them now, beyond the PokéStop bonuses it immediately unlocks.

Michael Sterenka: The way we’ve always approached our AR features in Pokémon Go is more of an optional approach, right? For example, Go Snapshot, you don’t have to spend your time setting your phone into AR mode and taking photos of Pokémon. But we see thousands of players around the world who really love that feature, and their Pokémon GO experiences going to their local park or the downtown area and setting up a fun AR multiplayer photoshoot with their Pokémon. So these types of features – we totally understand – are not the types of features that every player is going to gravitate to immediately. But we do think that the augmented reality possibilities that can be unlocked in the future, by leveraging a 3D map of the world is something all Pokémon GO players are actually going to love, once we’re able to to fully actualise that concept. And again, I think what I would be excited about as a Pokémon Go player isn’t necessarily what’s right here and now in augmented reality, but it’s knowing that in the years to come, there will be that paradigm shift. Augmented reality is going to be the type of technology that is just seamlessly integrated into our daily lives and when that happens, it’ll be great to know Pokémon GO can continue along with you on on that journey.

“Thousands of players” in a game with at least 800,000 players who are active daily sounds like a fraction of a percent. I suspect many of them are either influencers or are attempting to be influencers, since no players I know report getting the multiplayer photoshoot option to work. The few times I’ve done it have cost me 20 minutes or more for work. Niantic’s AR modes are frequently glut features nearly all players turn off or outright ignore.

But AR scans in particular are problematic, as Niantic has once again given the players no promise as to what we can do with it. At best, we’ve seen pokemon can follow us as we wear some special glasses. Maybe feed it a berry. Tech demo stuff.

In practice, the currently live AR catching mode remains turned off for every single player I have met since the mode released, and that was well before COVID. The idea that the company is asking players to do more free work for them that doesn’t even involve Pokemon only furthers the idea that Niantic’s true business is selling the data you give it – an impression it could counter if it would just give straightforward answers to the press and players asking reasonable questions.

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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