After three weeks of Pokémon Go players boycotting and petitioning, Niantic surprised everyone by restoring the extended radius to PokéStops and Gyms in the U.S. Some players were quick to count this as a win for the community, but there is a much bigger issue Niantic needs to fix to even begin repairing the damage. A company shouldn't be praised for reversing a harmful decision that it shouldn't have made in the first place, and Niantic handled the decision to restore the 80-meter PokéStop and Gym radius in much the same way as previous decisions: without transparency or honesty.
Still, there is reason to have hope that Niantic is making bigger changes to how it communicates with the playerbase, and how it takes feedback from players. If it can make these changes, I am confident Pokémon Go will remain one of the best games for iPhone.
Niantic restores extended PokéStop and Gym distance
Niantic tweeted about the change and pushed a notification in game as well, adding, "thank you to everyone who made your voices heard. We've heard you and understand that this has been a welcome benefit to many players." The in-app notification was a step in the right direction since, as many players were quick to point out, the players on Twitter represent only a fraction of the playerbase as a whole. Many players either aren't on Twitter or aren't engaged with Niantic's social media accounts, so by making this announcement in-game, players who otherwise missed the boycotts and unrest this month were made aware of the changes.
A handful of content creators is not a substitute for the whole playerbase.
This change is certainly a positive one that will benefit countless players, in particular disabled players, but the way this decision was made and announced is more of the same. Niantic took the feedback of a handful of content creators and prominent players, many of whom have confirmed they had to sign NDAs and couldn't discuss what was said in those meetings. Then, without even posting on its official blog, the distance was restored without an apology or even admitting it was the wrong decision from the start.
This poor communication and lack of transparency is the real problem Niantic needs to address. Niantic has continued to ignore most of the players. A handful of content creators is not a substitute for the whole playerbase. If Niantic really wants to repair the damage it has done, every single player should have a voice.
Niantic owes the community an apology
Beyond its failure to effectively communicate, Niantic's decision to rollback COVID bonuses in the U.S. was an inexcusable and irresponsible decision. Although restoring the distance was the right thing to do, Niantic should not be praised or even thanked for making this decision. Instead, Niantic owes the community an apology, especially given Niantic's push for #MeetYouOutThere and #TogetherWeRaid.
In the first eight days of August, there were almost five million new COVID cases around the world, nearly 800,000 of which were in the U.S.. More than 19,000 people died from COVID in this same time period with 19.2% in the U.S. Despite accounting for only 4.25% of the world's population, the U.S. has more COVID cases and more COVID deaths than any other country on the planet.
Of course, Pokémon Go isn't responsible for those numbers, but when Niantic announced the rollback, it claimed to only be doing so in areas where it was safe for people to resume normal activities. Niantic has repeated on numerous occasions that player safety is a top priority. There is absolutely no way to look at the data and come to the conclusion that the U.S. is ready to resume normal social activities.
Niantic owes the community so much more than simply restoring the distance for PokéStops and Gyms. I won't be holding my breath for an apology, but I am hopeful that Sept. 1 will bring some of the necessary changes to how Niantic engages with the community.
In addition to the in-app notification of the restored distance, Niantic very publicly acknowledged a mistake made during the first week of August. Some players felt the apology box, which included three Remote Raid Passes, a Starpiece, and a Lucky Egg, didn't make up for the missed opportunity, although it is a step in the right direction. Niantic rarely admits to this sort of thing without significant backlash from the community and rarely are the apologies substantial.
What really gives me hope that change is coming, however, isn't something Niantic has done. A prominent YouTuber and content creator, ZoëTwoDots has been the face of the community during this debacle. She penned the letter many players were tweeting on the initial "Pokémon No Day" and was one of the community members invited to meet with Niantic to discuss changes.
In her latest video, Zoë confirmed that a handful of creators have provided Niantic with feedback over the years, and that she had provided Niantic everything in her letter a month before Go Fest. She, like many of us, wonders why it took massive community backlash to get Niantic to hear the community.
Why did it take massive community backlash to get Niantic to hear the community?
However, in her talks with Niantic, she has left with the impression that restoring the PokéStop and Gym distance is just the first step. She encourages players to keep providing feedback, but remains cautiously optimistic that Niantic is heading in the right direction.
Personally, I think this is the best take on the whole mess Niantic has made. Enjoy the small win, but keep pushing for the fundamental change we need.