Massively on the Go: A guide to staying safe in MMOARG Pikmin Bloom

    
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When we first covered the global release of MMOARG Pikmin Bloom, we noted that because of Niantic’s poor history when it comes to “safety,” player communities have been remarkably reticent about encouraging people to jump in and share data. Even in my short impressions piece, I mentioned a very real need for players to be more conscious about how and where they PB.

After getting a little help from a friend, I’ve gotten a better grasp on the safety scope of the game. In some ways, I’ve found Nintendo and/or Niantic was fairly thoughtful about designing the game, even with the flower trail option. It’s far from perfect, but here are some tips for enjoying the game while minimizing your chances of literally leaving a flower trail to your real-life home.

“Your Mii and location witll be visible to others, so please keep the planting to safe public spaces.”

Dangerous flowers

First, let me start with the short version:

  1. Never turn on flower planting at home
  2. Only turn on flower planting in public areas with many gameplay nodes.
  3. More player-set flowers/trails means safer play area.
  4. Keep avatars off unless with friends or comfortable in a high-player density area
  5. Don’t be afraid of passive play; expeditions targets are saved and can be addressed later.
  6. When you are done playing, turn off flower spreading. It won’t work while driving or if the game is suddenly shut off, but it’ll start again once the game is restored.

While the game immediately warns you that you can be tracked any time you’re planting flowers, it doesn’t exactly hit home. After all, most of the warnings in Niantic’s games seem obvious, like don’t play while driving. But the flower planting option in particular is problematic because it creates a literal trail of where you’ve been while using it that lasts days (as of this writing).

The in-game mock-up doesn’t exactly show how things look in game, nor does it really explain the scope of the features it describes, hence the need to expand on this.

Let me be blunt: Do not turn on flower planting in a private area, especially in low-play environments. Niantic’s note about public spaces is important because the more flowers there are on the map, the harder it is to track someone. Think of the flowers like footprints. If there are a ton of footprints, it’s harder to track a single person. As my friend and I were checking the features in a spot I had played at previously, I needed to use a flower color available to higher levels to test a few things. Even then, when tracing over/around/across my own steps, it became harder to figure out where exactly I’d been recently compared to the previous day. This means that the game becomes safer as more people play over a longer period of time.

It also needs to be really driven home that the “Play with Others” option is essentially meaningless. On or off, friends or not friends, anyone and everyone can see flower trails in-game, as they are created and remain at least for days afterward. The multiplayer option only turns on your avatar, which cannot be interacted with. It doesn’t show your avatar’s name, even to friends. Avatars do, however, show where you are as you are moving, so keeping that option off is safer.

Once again, this means that even with the “Play with Others” option off, people can see if you’re planting flowers in your own home. Having the option on will reveal your avatar and show that you’re home, but no other information is revealed: no user name, time played, language, distance walked… it doesn’t even actually show your pikmin as in the picture above. While one could argue that having a female-appearing avatar (the game doesn’t ask for gender) might attract unwanted attention from certain kinds of “players,” at least a potential stalker would have to be familiar with your avatar in order to pick you out of a crowd and follow you.

And that’s the problem. As in previous Niantic games, rural players are at a disadvantage. So far, I may be the only one in my town playing the game. This is why I have limited the flower planting option to one open, safe location. Especially with the “Play with Others” option on, it would be very easy for a new player to find me. While that would be nice, Niantic continues to fail to take personal safety seriously. Anecdotally, Blizzard in 2010 was more helpful in addressing a suicide threat by one of my World of Warcraft guildies who was out-of-state than Niantic was when I realized I had someone following me in Pokemon Go in real-time, even when I circled back, jumped in my car, and drove to a new location. The inability of Niantic to immediately respond to these situations, especially outside of cities where the player density is low, makes it feel like a real threat to my personhood should I play the game alone. I’d recommend keeping “Play with Others” off unless you are playing with a group of friends or in a high-density area with many avatars, as you would also know where other players are who could help you. If you’re playing alone and still want to plant flowers, be in a very public space and ready to drive to the police should someone follow you.

In-game safety precautions

The light-white circle around nodes indicates the interaction/bonus range

Admittedly, all of this sounds bad. On the one hand, if the game is unpopular, maybe it won’t be used to track players down and mug them as has happened in Pokemon Go. On the other, however, is that players may never reach a critical mass where they can safely play anonymously and potentially meet others without either party feeling threatened that they were targetted. That latter group may be small, but it may also be a reasonable amount of the target audience, as the game is more about resource management than anything else at the moment.

Nintendo and/or Niantic did do a few things right, though. You don’t need be too worried about leaving flowers on by mistake. The game won’t create a trail if you’re driving too fast or if the game is turned off/crashes before you turn off flower planting, so unless you’re walking near your house, no one should be following you home. You should still turn it off once you’re done playing, though, as flowers planting will resume as soon as you start up the game again.

As I previously mentioned, the game does seem to push you to play in areas with a lot of nodes, as pictured above. The longer your flower planting is on, the bigger your bonus. Petals are not unlimited, however, and are one of the sources of monetization, which shows that the company believes they’re a valuable consumable. As this is a game of timers, it’s fairly possible to amass many of these and not worry, but at the same time, I still recommend that people not use flower planting constantly, especially away from nodes in low-play areas.

Do note that when you’re not actively playing, the game is running fine in the background. My refurbished Samsung Galaxy A51 can run PB in the background as I chat on Discord or play Pokemon Go, though the latter often crashes if I switch back to PB.

Yes, you may pass some good Expedition targets doing this, but there’s a reason not to worry. First, for those who haven’t unlocked them yet, Expeditions passive missions you send your pikmin out on, taking a certain amount of time depending on the item’s location relevant to where you are and how many pikmin are sent.

The thing is, any Expedition targets you could send your pikmin on will be detected automatically in the background and available when you get home. It’s quite similar to Nintendo’s old 3DS feature, Streetpass. I’ve actually mentioned the feature twice before. Essentially, if you pass a neat thing even if your game is off, when you get home, you can interact with it. Was there a Blue Pikmin Seed at the grocery store and you didn’t get it? Send your pikmin out from the comfort of your couch. Sure, if your game were open, the Expedition would only take a minute, but at least at home you can send your pikmin back there virtually even if it’ll take a bit longer (depending on the physical distance you’ve traveled). Yes, it is faster if the game is open, but you’d also be distracted by your phone. Besides, if you’re playing Pikmin Bloom, you’re probably looking for something a bit more relaxing, right? Right.

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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