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Even Niantic thinks Pokémon Go’s gyms need work

The most disappointing part of the game is due for a fix

pokemon go Niantic/The Pokémon Company

Pokémon Go’s gym feature is desperately in need of improvement, according to several top members of Niantic, the game’s developer. While that’s been widely apparent to players of the game, staff behind-the-scenes recently spoke to Polygon and other outlets about how the game’s competitive component currently misses the mark.

The gym portion [of Pokémon Go] needs a lot more work, and we are trying to improve it and make a bigger change to how the system works,” senior product manager Tatsuo Nomura told Polygon during Game Developers Conference 2017. “Overall, I think we need a little bit more time to think through how we do it.”

Now that the game’s been out for nearly a year, Niantic has had plenty of time to reconsider how gym battles work in Pokémon Go. Issuing a revamped version of gym battles is on the to-do list for the developer this year, right alongside implementing a trading feature.

As for why gyms may not be exactly what fans want right now, Nomura cited some inherent differences in the massively multiplayer mobile game versus the handheld role-playing games it’s based on.

“We needed to define [gyms] in a way that works in a mobile game,” he said. “For example, we didn’t have ... there’s no non-playable characters. That’s not how the game works. We’re an MMO, and we expect people to play with other people.”

In the mainline Pokémon games, players typically visit a set of eight gyms per game, each one populated by a series of trainers and a leader. Pokémon Go gives players the chance to be their own gym leaders, but the players-versus-player component of the game isn’t so fleshed out as to make that feel meaningful. Instead, players with strong Pokémon squat on gyms while other trainers try to knock them off their perch. All of this happens in isolation; players aren’t ever in any direct contact.

“We expected more people to play that portion, and a lot of that is game balancing and just mechanics-wise, there’s some part of that that needs refinement,” Nomura explained.

In an interview with Wired’s German outlet, Niantic CEO John Hanke reiterated Nomura’s observations about the lacking nature of gyms.

“There is very limited gameplay in the gyms,” he said. “They simply do not work as well as we would wish. We will revise this aspect of the game, so that there’s more teamwork and people participating have more incentives and rewards.”

Pokémon Go players may have to hold out awhile to see just how Niantic accomplishes this goal. Expect a reworked gym to appear sometime in 2017, along with trading and legendary Pokémon.