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Niantic ends Pokémon Go pandemic gameplay bonuses as COVID cases rise

Fans are, predictably, not happy with Pokémon Go’s latest change

A trainer wears a white facemask in a photo of Pokémon Go on an iPhone Photo: Michael McWhertor/Polygon

Pokémon Go developer Niantic rolled out planned changes to its mobile game over the weekend, reverting gameplay bonuses that were implemented in 2020 to accommodate social distancing and quarantining as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

But as COVID infections and deaths rise in the U.S., one of the territories where Pokémon Go’s pandemic-related changes are being undone, some players are questioning the timing. Some are vowing to quit the game, or stop spending money, until Niantic goes back to the way things were.

Last year, Niantic made it easier for players to reach Pokéstops and Gyms from farther away. That change made it more convenient for players to spin more stops, sometimes from the comfort of home, in order to earn Poké Balls, gifts, and other items. An update to Pokémon Go in some territories has since cut the distance in half, meaning stops and gyms are less accessible.

One other recent change doubles down on the push for more exploration. A current bonus in Pokémon Go offers 10 times the experience earned for spinning a Pokéstop that players haven’t previously visited. Niantic is incentivizing players to play more Pokémon Go outdoors, and in new places. Another change reduces the number of gifts, which players can send to each other to receive in-game items, brought to players by Buddy Pokémon. It’s one more way Niantic is pushing players to get out and about again.

In June, Niantic said in a statement to Polygon that it planned to revert the expanded interaction distance in the game, and make other changes, “where it makes sense to help restore the focus of the game on exploration and discovery.”

“Going outside and spinning PokéStops and Gyms is important to our mission because it encourages exploration of the world,” Niantic said. “These locations are local points of interest in a community and could be historical landmarks, art installations, local businesses and more.”

But that was in June, when COVID cases were on the decline and a month after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention prematurely said people who were vaccinated could forego wearing masks, even indoors. A lot has changed in a short period of time, but Niantic’s plans haven’t adapted.

As a result, two of the most popular Reddit communities for Pokémon Go, The Silph Road and r/PokemonGo, are full of complaints about Niantic’s decision. Similarly, prominent Pokémon fan Joe Merrick, who runs the website, has criticized recent changes to the game, which he labeled “dangerous.”

Niantic hasn’t responded to players’ complaints about the newly instituted changes through official channels, but the developer already faced blowback to its plans back in June, and seems unlikely to reverse its reversal any time soon.

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