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Pokémon Go players push back on Niantic for undoing a positive pandemic change

The game is changing soon, but one gameplay tweak is justifiably angering Trainers

A trainer walks near Pokestops in a photo of Pokémon Go running on an iPhone Photo: Michael McWhertor/Polygon

On Monday, Pokémon Go developer Niantic announced it was changing some in-game bonuses and gameplay adjustments that were added to the mobile game in 2020 to adapt to pandemic conditions. While some gameplay tweaks added over the past year, like Remote Raids and extended Incense duration will remain, Niantic said, one major change to the game will be removed: the ability to interact with Pokéstops and Gyms from further away.

Pokémon Go will return to the pre-pandemic distance — about half the current distance — required to interact with a Pokéstop or Gym later this summer, initially in the United States and New Zealand. That means players will have to get closer to real-world locations in order spin Photo Discs (to earn items) and battle in Gyms.

That particular change was met with overwhelming negativity by Pokémon Go players, many of whom praised the mobile game’s increased distance interactivity as a game-changing quality-of-life update when it was added last year. On the game’s major Reddit communities, The Silph Road and r/PokemonGo, players have been speaking up and calling on Niantic to rethink its planned changed to distance interaction — not just for convenience’s sake, but for accessibility reasons.

One of the most popular responses on Reddit, from user pogo_enthusiast, points out that “increased interaction distances made playing PoGo much safer and enabled disabled individuals in my community to more fully engage in the game.” That player noted that the increased distance added to interact with Gyms and Pokéstops helped players cross streets less, let them raid from safer locations to avoid trespassing, helped them avoid harassment from other players, and helped mitigate drift from the game’s sometimes unreliable GPS detection.

“Even in terms of accessibility, increased interaction distances were a major boon,” user pogo_enthusiast said in a highly upvoted comment. “Several players in my community have mobility or health challenges (i.e. used a wheelchair or were confined to their vehicles), and the increased distances allowed them to raid at gyms they could never previously access.

“Niantic, I hope you reconsider this proposal based on these two factors alone. Promoting how you think the game should be played (i.e. on the go from close distances) undermines player safety and marginalizes a nontrivial fraction of your player base.”

On online petition asking Niantic to keep the increased PokéStop and Gym interaction distance is approaching 75,000 signatures.

Reached for comment, Niantic reiterated the list of new and remaining bonuses that Pokémon Go players will see in the game, and stressed that the interaction distance change will be rolled out (and tested) over time. Regarding the reasons behind the change itself, Niantic offered the following statement:

Going outside and spinning PokéStops and Gyms is important to our mission because it encourages exploration of the world. These locations are local points of interest in a community and could be historical landmarks, art installations, local businesses and more. Last year, we increased the interaction distance to nearly the length of a football field. It’s tough to discover new places at this distance. We’re going to revert the expanded interaction distance in countries and regions where it makes sense to help restore the focus of the game on exploration and discovery.

Personally, I dislike the change. As other players have pointed out, Pokémon Go’s increased interaction distance has made the game not only more convenient, but more fun, making it possible to engage in more raids and more Gym battles, but not at the expense of exploration or exercise.

Niantic plans to start instituting its post-pandemic gameplay alterations sometime after this year’s Pokémon Go Fest, which runs July 17-18.

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