Massively on the Go: Pokemon Go’s Los Angeles Sinnoh Tour was one step forward and one step back for Niantic


Pokemon GO’s Sinnoh Tour LA Tour has come and gone, and honestly… it’s helped me appreciate some parts of the Hoenn Vegas Tour while reminding me why it’s so hard to cover Niantic as a company.

Say what you will about some other game companies, but relatively few host public events. Worse, though, is that Niantic’s reputation for bugs and lack of/poor communication makes it very difficult to determine where we can assign praise. What is really a design choice vs. what’s a bug is not a question I really have to consider for most games, let alone in-person company game events, but here we are.

For today’s Massively On the Go, we’re going to look at what really improved for the Pokemon GO LA Tour vs the Vegas one, while discussing what may have been at best a happy accident or at worst Niantic’s continuing inability to function as anything but a design-as-you-go app developer.

Hard-earned praise

I don’t normally write anything for fanboys from any camp, but readers know that I am especially critical of Niantic because of its “COVID’s over” clawbacks and the stalking and security issues that started way back in Ingress and continue in its games as recently as 2021’s Pikmin Bloom. It was so bad that I stopped covering the studio’s new games in-depth last year. I say all this so readers understand that there were genuine improvements with this event that even a critic like yours truly can appreciate. However, even the things that are improvements are occasionally problematic.

First, let’s talk about the ticketed event days in particular. I think the biggest piece of praise Niantic earned stems from the overall quest load on attendees. Tour events in particular have often been heavy, with everything from needing to catch/evolve every pokemon from a specific generation to hunting down very specific pokestops at the live event locations. While the teased Spiritomb quest sadly continued the latter, the rest of the event really wasn’t that bad. The collection quests were light, and aside from being asked to earn buddy hearts at the end of the story quest, I found that long after even my casual friends had earned nearly all their buddy’s daily allowed hearts, it was mostly doable within a few hours.

Being free from a huge to-do list made it easier to enjoy the event and people/dogs there. On that end, Niantic did well, and it would be nice if all future events not only did this but also were at least two days long. Again, the first two generations’ “tours” were single-day events and incredibly stressful. Having two days when quests can be done within a few hours makes events more accessible to casuals and gives hardcores plenty of time to hunt and raid.

Similarly, Niantic was better about both server/connection issues at the site and bugs. Compared to Vegas, especially on Sunday when I attended the LA event, the game was actually functional. That may sound like the bar is low, but POGO players understandably have low expectations for events. A functional game is basically that bar, and while Niantic often can’t even do that, this year’s tour event compared to others (and I’ve attended almost all of them) basically met that requirement. Being able to actually play makes it easier to take breaks and socialize without worrying about getting everything you paid for.

Niantic bringing back the Community Day moves was also a really good decision and kept with the precedent set by the first two tours, but it was glaringly absent for Hoenn’s Vegas and Global tours. You’ll notice a theme with this complaint, but mentioning this bonus was something that really should have been communicated prior to the event so people could have prepared their pokemon and/or relevant trades. We still haven’t heard if the Global event will get this too, but our guide currently assumes it will.

Longer Parties were nice too, lasting basically the whole event. I’m still not big on Parties for anything beyond raid damage or seeing where my friends are if we split up, but the unique event rewards were fairly motivating. However, solo people were certainly in a bind. It could have been a good way to encourage socializing, but I didn’t see much of it. To note, I used to go to some game cafes in Japan (think board game cafes with a side of in-person LFG help from the staff), so it’s not as if Niantic couldn’t do anything, but I suppose it would have been far too player-friendly for me to realistically expect it from most companies, especially Niantic. This is less a criticism than a simple note that there’s always room for improvement, especially if it’s something that’s already been done by other companies.

The event “Finale” with Rocket Leader battles (without needing their radars) was also fairly memorable. I really like that we get to join up with the “bad guys” sometimes just because I’m curious about them as people and like seeing them get developed. In terms of rewards, though, not only was it nice to get more Shadow Legendaries, but they were a decent challenge compared to our usual encounters with them. I’m not sure if the red 12k eggs that were also a reward from their battles were intentional or not, but I appreciated them as well.

Finally – and there’s going to be a huge asterisk on this – was the city-wide play. I’ll talk about the bad parts later, but people in my community who had experienced this in the New York live event loved this.

The LA version for me, as a local, was pretty good. I spent a good deal of time on Saturday playing the event as I would any global experience. Had communication been better (and if I hadn’t been covering a company that I know frequently generates communication issues and outright deceptions in addition to experience-ruining bugs), I could have scheduled a Disney day with friends or maybe hit up Catalina Island or some other fun non-Pokemon-centric travel destination. In theory this was a really good idea, but the fact that when writing our guide I had to make it clear I wasn’t positive about the range of the event should speak loads. Worse, though, was that I had to have friends of friends and social media help confirm what I wrote during the event itself. This is exactly why a lot of the event, like Niantic itself, would benefit greatly from better communication.

Poisoned communications

Surprising no one who has followed our coverage of Niantic or has played the game, communication for this event was incredibly bad: There was no announcement of CD moves or recipients, there were no defining parameters of the paid “city-wide” addon (which was two counties-wide, so the name is a major misnomer), there were poor Saturday directions for line entry to the point people were given an extended event, there were Rotom bugs for on-site Saturday-goers, we saw raid timers and event functions changed between Friday and Saturday, and most of the bonuses to badge selection were announced just days before the event. If the event hadn’t been so close by, I never would have gone on my own, much less roped friends into it.

First, let’s go back to how the Spiritomb quest was awful. On-site, you couldn’t finish the quest. You could finish only 3/10 of it, and even locals I know couldn’t finish it. As my friends got only the Sunday ticket and have had busy weeks, they didn’t realize what they would miss out on completing it until the last minute.

Again, as we’re all locals, they could go elsewhere to finish it, thanks to the community map I’d posted, but even then, the most accessible and safe areas to complete the quest weren’t places we often went. If Niantic was trying to highlight the area’s social/economic issues, it did a good job of it, but I’m pretty sure that wasn’t its aim.

Game-wise, though, the Spritomb quest was very distracting. The “city-wide” experience should have been included in the ticket price to help reinforce the idea that one would need to travel, or Niantic should have limited the quest only to those who paid for the “city-wide” experience. I did the Culver City stops I mentioned in our guide, as they registered as both convenient and safer than other options, and while I could walk to get about eight of them, the aggressive traffic and not-exactly-welcoming locals made it awkward. It also was a huge reminder that Pokemon GO is often optimally played by car. Even worse, though, is that it incentivizes illegal parking, as I didn’t see anyone playing on the street, but I did see people parked in the red zones or at unpaid meters to join raids and then drive off.

Outright promoting or partnering with local themeparks for these Spiritomb stops would have been both safer and healthier. I’m happy that the game helps motivate exercise for people, but even among friends who are also focused on their health, jumping into a car to play optimally can be hard to resist.

The car play wasn’t just affecting this part of the event, though, and this is where the raid timers/eggs come in. Normally, raid eggs let people know there will be a raid at a location and give players time to plan, and once it starts, the raid will last 45 minutes or more. Niantic has previously cut both timers down in the past, and I’ve been a critic of that for a while. Friday wasn’t terrible, and whether it was a bug or on purpose, many of the reward ‘mon got both the special Location Cards and (more importantly for min-maxers) the special event moves on ‘mon from the badge they didn’t choose.

However, Saturday and Sunday significantly dropped the odds of getting the Location cards and the event moves, dropped the egg raid warnings, and reduced raid times to under 10 minutes. As someone who has a group where people do the Wednesday raid nights by foot, I can tell you that playing without a car on Saturday was extremely difficult, and I often had to rely on remote raiders to help me. I was playing solo, so I was more mobile than usual, but we all know groups only move as fast as their slowest player, so unless a raid popped on a Starbucks or other rest area, most of my fellow in-person raiders were often a duo, maybe a trio. The low timers eviscerated my in-person community plan.

While forcing players to rely on remote raiders helps boost Niantic’s otherwise declining revenue, the move both reinforces the fact that the remote raid nerfs/limitations were a mistake and that the game isn’t actually about promoting health and wellness (as the company continues to claim) but about making money (as we all know). The two can go hand-in-hand; Jurassic World Alive doesn’t have this issue thanks to global queues being available just by standing at a local raid of the boss you want. That game has its own issues, but I’m simply noting that Niantic does have a competitor that actively merges its goals with game design.

Similarly, Routes were also sadly an issue. They were completely absent from the event venue, but Niantic could have created safe routes specifically for the event. We noted even before the feature was fully released how problematic they are and didn’t need more than a few minor updates once they went live. Even after fully evolving my Zygarde I stand by those statements. My Culver City walk for Spiritomb? Routeless. Oh, there were options, but all the traffic and homelessness situation made it very obvious that I needed to keep my wits about me. Maybe if I’d been there with some other guys, I would have felt more confident, but I was solo. Admittedly, I did spend a lot of Saturday doing routes, but that was at my home locations where I can walk a track, only reinforcing the idea that Global Tours keep people safer and are more convenient.

The other problem with the Routes was that they were inconsistent. On Friday, the featured pokemon, White Stripe Basculin (which could be shiny) appeared only the first time you did a route. They also didn’t get picked up by auto-catchers, so I could easily target and focus on them. On Saturday (and most likely Sunday), this changed: Basculin would appear on repeated visits on the same routes, which made pursuing them safer and less costly in terms of gas money. However, they were also being picked up by auto-catchers.

Now, at least one of these changes is probably a bug, but as it’s Niantic, I can’t be certain. What I can tell as someone who often does routes while doing Daily Adventure Incense runs is that this made things extremely screen-centric. That may seem odd for folks who are used to traditional gaming, but geo-location games, especially MMOs, are nice because they can often be played casually, without having to focus on the screen the whole time. The event Routes felt more like Daily Incense in that I didn’t think I could have my auto-catcher on, and I had to stop for the Basculin spawns or risk losing them if I walked too far, which isn’t normally an issue. I’m hoping these Route changes are a one-time deal and will either get fixed or not appear again, as they’re completely against many of Niantic’s stated design goals.

Finally was the issue of biomes. While Global events have rotating biomes, live events physically set them up: Niantic set up a volcano for that area, there was a lake for the lakeside area, and the desert was in a desert-y area. There were also plenty of signs and inflatable pokemon to help. While Niantic did have some of the same tools in LA, the natural features didn’t help at all. My fellow players and I often used the in-game “Special” tab to figure out which biome we were in. There was zero immersion. It’s a small thing for most people, but I know our readers are pretty big on immersion and can appreciate when a company does this correctly. Niantic wasn’t that company at this event.

A mixed bag

Niantic did make some improvements to the Tour event recipe since Hoenn. While the pokemon available were both limited and sadly less interesting than the previous generation, Niantic did decent work with what it had. The Hisui pokemon carried the event, especially Origin Dialga and Origin Palkia. The new Adventure Effects, which stop some premium timers or increase catch/spin radii, are interesting in theory and got even my casual friends to test them out, but ultimately they are too expensive and were mostly enjoyed owing to their doubled time limits during the event.

Less-demanding event tasks combined with memorable quest rewards, including intangibles like lore and boss battles, seemed like an improvement. Bringing back the Community Day moves for the relevant generation was very appreciated, though it also makes memories of the last event more bitter. Party Play was less annoying than it normally is outside of this event, though few people want to be forced into groups. And the misnamed “city-wide” experience was a really good idea, but like most of Niantic’s problems, it just needed to be communicated better.

Frankly, some positives here – like repeating routes for Basculin on Saturday when this was impossible on Friday – shouldn’t translate to praise for Niantic because I really couldn’t tell you if one day was a bug and another a fix – or if Niantic was just live testing on us. When you’re known for both shoddy products and poor communication, you lose out on potential praise. Everything you do is sadly suspect, and Niantic really needs to find someone to communicate better or (more likely) remove whoever is placing the gag orders on the communicators it already has.

I still don’t think I can recommend traveling for a Niantic event in the future as your main goal, even if this event felt like there were improvements mixed with new problems. Too many unknowns combined with inconsistent quality makes me believe travelers should demote even live POGO events to merely the side feature of their vacations, never the main one.

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!
Pokemon Go studio Niantic is considered a controversial gaming company owing to multiple scandals and deceptions, starting with the Wi-Spy privacy scandal; over the years, it’s repeatedly failed to secure player data, endangered players during the pandemic, and refused to address documented stalking in POGO. It also rolled back popular accessibility features to incentivize data collection, faked data, and lied about event results. Following 2021’s community-driven Pokemon No boycott, Niantic vowed transparency and communication; it has not delivered.
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