Several Pokémon Go players are reporting that they can no longer find anything but the most common monsters in their games. The reason? Niantic has seemingly flagged accounts that use unofficial trackers and other software, resulting in widespread “shadowbans.”
That’s the term that several Pokémon Go communities are using for the action Niantic appears to have taken to curb cheaters and illicit behavior in the mobile game. A player doesn’t know that they’ve been flagged by the developer, as they’re still able to play the game and find Geodude, Pidgey, Ekans and other common Pokémon. But more uncommon finds no longer show up on the in-game tracker, according to players who admit to using bots or third-party tools.
In the past, Niantic has outright banned Pokémon Go users who relied on outside trackers while playing the game. The difference this time around, a Silph Road admin notes, is that this appears to be evidence of a new, automated banning system.
“It is our opinion that we may be witnessing the beginning of a Machine Learning approach to bot detection,” wrote user dronpes on The Silph Road subreddit. “If the parameters for a shadowban are constantly adjusted server-side, as they can now easily be, then Niantic's machine learning engineers can train their detection (classification) algorithms in ever-improving, ever more aggressive ways, and botters will constantly be forced to re-evaluate what factors may be triggering the detection.”
Botting and independent trackers have long been polarizing subjects with Pokémon Go players. While bots used to poach rare Pokémon, level up quickly and camp out at gyms are typically reviled, there are some who find them essential to getting enjoyment out of the game. After Niantic disabled the game’s own tracker last summer, third-party mapping services cropped up, and many players relied upon them to find more Pokémon. The developer cracked down on these tools, however, further angering fans.
Players in less dense areas — or who use botting and scanners to their advantage — are speaking out against the anti-cheat measure on places like the Pokémon Go Dev subreddit.
“I understand that niantic don't like the scanners as they are 3rd party and not ‘as the game was designed,’” wrote user um_noexcuseme_um. “But they're really shooting themselves in the foot. For example — I had intended to spend the whole day yesterday [Pokémon Go]-ing. I spent 3 hours yesterday morning playing for adventure week and enjoyed the hell out of it. Then as soon as our local maps went down I got instantly bored, went home, and didn't play again for 4 hours until they came back up. There's just no fun in it — I tried to keep playing — but I couldn't see where any gyms were that were worth taking.”
The topic remains a heated one for serious Pokémon Go fans, especially as the summer nears and Niantic pledges to find ways to renew lapsed players’ interest.
Update: Niantic didn’t confirm that this method is currently in effect, but the company told Polygon in a statement that it is consistently working on anti-cheat measures.
“Niantic is committed to maintaining the state of Pokémon GO and our community of Trainers,” a representative said. “People who violate the Pokémon GO Terms of Service (including by using third party software and other cheats) may have their gameplay affected and may not be able to see all the Pokémon around them. While we cannot discuss the systems implemented, we can confirm that we are constantly refining new ways to ensure the integrity of the game in order to keep it fun and fair for all players.”