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Pokémon Go players are running out of Poké Balls while stuck at home

A game meant to be played outdoors is trying to adapt

photo of a person holding an iPhone showing a Buneary in Pokemon Go Photo: James Bareham/Polygon

Pokémon Go players — and the people who make Pokémon Go — are adjusting to new social distancing and self-isolation rules that run counter to the sharing, outdoor nature of the game. Developer Niantic is tweaking game rules and postponing events in Pokémon Go to adapt to the coronavirus pandemic, but some of the game’s systems are incompatible with the daily reality players find themselves in right now.

One example of that is a scarcity of Poké Balls. Many Pokémon Go players are running out because they’re not able to walk, bike, or drive to nearby Pokéstops. And without Poké Balls, players can’t catch monsters in the gotta-catch-’em-all game right now.

Niantic extended Pokémon Go players a bit of generosity earlier this month, when it added a 30-pack of Incense to the in-game shop that costs just one PokéCoin. The goal was to let players continue catching Pokémon from the comfort of their homes, luring monsters to their location with cheap, longer-lasting Incense. But with limited outside time, and therefore limited access to Pokéstops, players are now starved for balls to catch anything.

“Sure, we can’t walk around to catch pokemon so luring them to us is super useful,” a Reddit user posted in the Pokémon Go subreddit. “But for those of us who don’t live anywhere close to a pokestop, we can’t spin for more pokeballs. ... I have no way to spin stops right now. ... I’m lucky if get 30 pokeballs a day from opening gifts. The catch rate hasn’t been altered, so I might catch 15 pokemon with 30 balls if I have a really good day. In reality, if I want to actually continue playing pokemon go during this pandemic, I’ll have to start dropping $10 to get 200 pokeballs every few days.”

Some players have proposed daily rewards of Poké Balls simply for logging in, while others have complained that Niantic and The Pokémon Company are profiting from players while many are in self-isolation. Niantic founder and CEO John Hanke said on Twitter that the company is “working on more adjustments” to the game, even as other players note that Pokémon Go’s core game design is antithetical to stay-at-home play.

“I keep seeing all these posts complaining about free incense but no balls, and how greedy Niantic is, and all these features they could add to make it better for quarantined people,” another Reddit user wrote. “But the truth is that this game is fundamentally based on walking to achieve goals. Eggs, balls, Pokemon, items, are all acquired by walking. Even the gifts that you give each other come from walking around and spinning pokestops. ... In order to fix that, Niantic would have to change the game entirely, and we probably wouldn’t like it all that much.”

I’m feeling the Poké Ball pinch myself as I work through the recently launched Genesect special research quest, which requires catching more than 125 Pokémon this week. And since I’m on lockdown, getting out of the house in order to stock up on in-game materials hasn’t been easy — and I live in Brooklyn, with preetty easy access to more than a dozen PokéStops.

It’s a comparatively minor problem to have with everything else folks are having to contend with during the coronavirus pandemic. But as many of us look to games for comfort and respite, Pokémon Go players likewise look to Niantic to make the game they love easier to play — and for the developer to encourage good quarantine and social distancing behaviors by adapting the game to suit our changing world.

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