Let me start off by saying Go Fest 2022 was not perfect. We saw Pokemon learning moves they weren’t supposed to, Flygon learning its Community Day move without advertisement, broken raids, massive visual bugs at least caused cluttered screens if not lost pokemon, and suspicions that Day 1’s shiny odds were bugged. I’ve seen lots of complaints on social media about how bad the event is. However, I also think some people need to take a step back and consider the big picture – and I say this as a constant critic of the company who is admittedly still managing my own expectation levels.
While I know some people are comparing Go Fest 2022 to last year’s five-year anniversary, I’m hoping most critical people can understand why a milestone celebration would objectively be better than a regular event. When I wrote about how 2021’s Go Fest could be the last great one, I didn’t mean that Niantic could never top the event. I meant that the pandemic had ensured Niantic had a lot of good accessibility changes that I feared it would roll back, which is exactly what it started doing a month later and is still doing to this day.
Even so, this Go Fest was, in a small way, a return to form.
Missing the mark but still hitting the board
The biggest unannounced news was that Niantic unnerfed incense spawns for ticket holders during the event: one spawn per minute instead of per five minutes. Players had been upset by the nerf for months now, and announcing this may have helped to repair some of the self-inflicted damage Niantic caused itself by rolling back accessibility features all players had enjoyed.
However, it also may have caused some issues, as either the tech team didn’t get the memo or the QA team didn’t test the event (and no, I don’t mean the unpaid players in New Zealand who always seem to do Niantic’s testing on the live servers). As noted above, bugs made catching pokemon difficult, both visually and perhaps functionally, as pokemon on the map would immediately disappear when clicked on, not even giving players the chance to throw balls at them. While the issues were less severe on Day 2, it affected both days of the event.
Everyone noticed the lack of shinies on Day 1, and I feel that this issue alone overshadows most of the event. Interestingly, my personal group spent Day 1 in a popular spot and Day 2 in a far less popular spot and got more shinies on Day 2 despite the decreased shiny rates, and we weren’t alone.
That being said, Day 1 was actually not a bust for us. We played in a place I know that is dense with players and stops and has a healthy number of gyms. This was because areas like this can give a strong sense of the old 2016 community feel while also giving access to modern features. Still, my group plays to walk. Raiding prevents walking, as do dense spawns of highly desirable pokemon, and as I’ve mentioned in many previous articles, these can negatively impact Niantic’s exercise goals.
Because of this, we decided that in the future, areas like this are probably best for shorter events where there’s little to no incentive to walk. We actually like Niantic’s goals of exercise, exploration, and socializing in theory, but the execution often leaves much to be desired. We have to have an event’s full details in order to achieve that, and I’m fairly certain many players, both individuals and groups, are the same. Surprise event features are rarely pleasant.
Nevertheless, I need to note that Day 1 was enjoyable overall. I was surprised my two newer POGO friends enjoyed the collection quests that had been cause for anxiety in the past, but it was easy to see why. Their experience with day-long collection quests before this was with the Johto Tour, which was the biggest event they’ve seen outside of the December Community Day round-up weekend. What they expected was an overwhelming deluge of anxiety again, but I think the combination of the two-day event and my assurances (that Go Fest is the one event when I feel I get my money’s worth and enjoy it) helped sell them on ticket purchases.
As noted above, the Tour events fail because Niantic throws everything at you at once, and this has really become a hallmark issue of the company. Yes, that means more options, but the “spray and pray” design direction targets no one in particular and thus ensures few people end up with a solid experience. For example, I like looking for rare pokemon to catch, but having to do that while also needing to raid, do rockets, evolve pokemon, make a new friend, and do all the other activities the game offers and be shoved into a 12-hour event or forever be left out. It’s exhausting. I don’t get to focus on what I want to enjoy, and I’m highly encouraged to do activities I might not normally be interested in.
Go Fest spreading the options out over two days and having more focused activities makes it more enjoyable than the Tours for most players, but this year’s planning seemed odd at best or badly thought-out at worst. Day 1’s focus was mostly on collecting while also offering some nice raid options. It was fun, no doubt, but felt disjointed. Again, for someone who likes to focus on catching, Day 2 was actually more fun because there were fewer 5-star raid options on Day 2. Weirdly, Day 1, the catch day, may have been more fun for raiders because there were more 5-star raid options, which I hope stands out as odd.
I’ve stressed this before, though: Catching by yourself in a group is not multiplayer. Yes, alone together content can be fun, but it gives little to no reason to actually group up. While we may have seen a lot of players, we really didn’t talk to many. Maybe it was the bugs killing some people’s moods. Maybe it was because the same bug also made it difficult to really focus on what people had caught and whether or not it was a personal spawn or a public one that one could announce to other people. Or maybe it was just that we’ve all learned to tone-down playing games in public so it doesn’t cause a disturbance.
No matter what it was, I think it’s a clear sign that Niantic really needs to look beyond its own borders if it wants the social aspect of the game to flourish in a meaningful way. Older people often bug my friends and me about looking at our screens, even if they miss our conversations about which animals sweat or whether or not you can get people to eat bugs just by frying them.
That’s also a stronger reminder, however, that Niantic shouldn’t try to drive people into certain locations but rather allow us to “set up” location-based games where we want. I know it means the studio can’t just keep cloning old games or re-using old data, but that may be what’s needed for it to achieve its goals. Unfortunately for Go Fest, players were at the mercy of Niantic’s maps. I heard several stories about gatherings being ruined due to raid availability, with people abandoning whole parks to drive around in search of their desired raid ‘mon.
While veterans of Go Fest in the COVID era expected an emphasis on at least raiding, Day 2’s “mystery” nature was frustrating for planning. Niantic probably doesn’t think about it, but not everyone lives in a major city, some people have multiple jobs, folks play in groups with different dietary restrictions, and not everyone has a “good for everything” location to play in.
Within my personal group, two of us remembered having to do a ton of driving on Go Fest Day 2 in the past, so we hit a different area just because it was more flexible, but had far, far fewer people. Worse, while we like the location, the ongoing harassment I still receive from a POGO stalker Niantic won’t adequately address means we can’t be nearly as friendly with strangers there. It was fun for us and people on our friend’s lists, but the few players we may have seen basically had no chance to get to know us. Personal safety is simply not something Niantic actually cares about, and we’ve been solving problems despite Niantic’s non-help.
That wasn’t the whole of Day 2, though. Rockets were spawning much more and giving more rewards, but to be honest, I think 12k eggs really turn people off to completing too many of these. Between the long walks necessary to hatch them, clogging the rewards tab, and doing this on Sunday (the day before many of us need at least two open slots for Adventure Sync rewards), it wasn’t a good call.
However, because there were fewer raiding options and fewer tasks to complete and everything was spawning, the long-haulers in my group got to do more walking on Day 2 while still doing a lot of raids. The increased shinies we got put people in better moods, and people were happy enough to even buy more space and use their premium passes, which had been gathering dust. It’d be interesting to see the numbers, but as I’ve been suggesting, it feels like having less can encourage people to do more, at least when they have content they can focus on instead of being asked to do everything at once.
I know some people loved the raid day last year, as it brought back nearly all the game’s legendaries, but that was stressful, encouraged driving, and celebrated a five-year anniversary. I don’t want or need that on a yearly basis, especially as that’s clearly hard to top, and not just because Niantic is starting to catch up on unreleased main series pokemon to parade out.
That being said, for both days, we played in areas with a good number of raids in a condensed area. These are few and far between even for suburban people, so rural players can struggle. Also, I played for the entire event both days. Two friends played for two-thirds of the event. My friend who could play for only the last third of each day had to really work for those final raids, to the point that we had to both drive and (literally) run just so she could use the nine free passes included in the event ticket price.
So no, Go Fest 2022 in general wasn’t perfect. Maybe it’s also a sign of how low my expectations of Niantic are these days: All I want is for it to create a tight, focused experience where it doesn’t feel like goals and outcomes are not only mismatched but at odds just when spelled out on paper. Niantic still didn’t clear that hurdle but did nearly hit the target, something it’s been struggling with for community events since basically 2022 began. With the bar set so low, the event feels like a win, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t much room for improvement.
The need to empower communities
One complain I kept seeing was the shorter warning for upcoming raids combined with shorter raids themselves, but I understand why Niantic did it: It’s easier to have multiple raids at the same location in a short amount of time. This does help increase the odds of people getting the raids they want, but only if they’re in it the whole event, have multiple raids they want to run, and refuse to drive.
However, one thing became clear: Niantic needs to give communities more control over raid spawns. Folks on social media noted that when no good raids were nearby, people simply packed up and drove while playing, defying the spirit of the game. While I actually didn’t have to do that this year, I did end up having to drive a bit to reach gyms we simply didn’t have time to walk to for our late comer.
For both individuals and groups, being able to “activate” a raid and choose the boss could really help group play. In-game groups, preferably like the Final Fantasy games or Guild Wars 2 would be best, but Niantic doesn’t seem to want to go that route, and it’s probably for the best as I don’t entirely trust what it may do. In fact, I am slightly concerned this sort of feature is going to be attached to Campfire, Niantic’s potentially insecure messenger app, but it would potentially help alleviate the issue. Groups that want to help players could bring desirable ‘mon to our raids, but at the same time, I can also see groups of griefers spawning Pikachu raids to troll the locals, which is even more possible due to Niantic’s inability (or unwillingness) to eliminate spoofing.
While I think Go Fest 2022 was good for what it was, there’s still the possibility that Niantic could backslide. We just had Remote Raid passes increase in price, and the current damage remote raiders are doing is “buffed” for what Niantic wants it to be. The company is also pushing for more in-person events.
This was why I worried last year’s Go Fest could be the last great one. This year’s event may not have been the best, but it was far better than how bad I knew it could be. I hope players who were dissatisfied with this year’s event can remember that not every year is going to be milestone-anniversary-tier-awesomeness – but also that Go Fest 2022 was way better for all players than the past Go Fests that were limited to in-person ticket holders. Making the event global so people can at least somewhat control how and where they play is a step in the right direction. I’d much rather look at 2022’s Go Fest as the worst-of-the-global-celebrations than the worst-of-all-Go Fests, which was far worse than this one.