Pokemon Go has been a huge worldwide sensation since the mobile app launched a few weeks ago, and the millions of users have created unexpected problems for Niantic, the company that created the game. As a result, the company was forced to cripple certain features, including the game’s “nearby” footprint tracking system — the only way to actually find the Pokemon that were in your area.
For those of you unfamiliar, Pokemon Go had a tracking feature when it was first launched that used little footprints to tell you roughly how far away that particular Pokemon was from you, with the footprints ranging from three (a couple blocks away or more) to zero (you are right on top of it and you should be able to catch it). After the huge server loads were causing numerous outages, Niantic rendered the multiple footprints meaningless, so all that was left was a little screen that told you which Pokemon were within 2-6 city blocks of you. That’s all players had to go on, which basically made the game almost completely random.
In response to Niantic disabling the footsteps system, numerous third party developers built their own tracking systems by accessing the app’s source code. In addition to letting you know the exact location of Pokemon near (and not near) you, most of these trackers could also tell you exactly how long the Pokemon would be at that location before disappearing. These third party tracking systems, the most famous of which being PokeVision, quickly became HUGELY popular among players as they were now able to “see” exactly where to find those Pokemon showing up on their “nearby” radar, and also those beyond the radar’s scope.
— Josh Stein (@steinekin) July 31, 2016
As you might have guessed, these Pokemon GO trackers weren’t as popular with Niantic as they were with players. Niantic Labs CEO John Hanke spoke with Forbes last week and offered up his thoughts on the third party sites and programs offering assistance to players with locating Pokemon:
FORBES: How do you feel about Poké Radar and things that tap into the code and show where Pokémon are spawning?
JOHN HANKE: Yeah, I don’t really like that. Not a fan.
We have priorities right now but they might find in the future that those things may not work. People are only hurting themselves because it takes some fun out of the game. People are hacking around trying to take data out of our system and that’s against our terms of service.
That interview with John Hanke was just about all that Niantic said about all of the issues frustrating players — both with the disabled tracking feature and the constant server outages. Most all of the forums dedicated to the game began to fill up with comments from players wanting to know something — ANYTHING — about what Niantic was doing to fix things.
After more silence from Niantic, they released a Pokemon Go update a few days ago that made quite a few changes to the game, including getting rid of footprints altogether. In addition, the update included changes that made it much more difficult for third party developers to provide accurate tracking service. PokeVision has been shut down since the update, as has most every other tracking service. The result is that players are completely blind as far as being able to pin down the location of Pokemon near them.
The change was so dramatic, that the iTunes store began issuing refunds to players who made in-app purchases prior to the update.
Meanwhile, all was still silent from Niantic. Until earlier today.
The company FINALLY issued a statement about the issues they are having and what they are doing to address them on the Pokemon Go Facebook page. Here it is in its entirety:
As many of you know, we recently made some changes to Pokémon GO.
– We have removed the ‘3-step’ display in order to improve upon the underlying design. The original feature, although enjoyed by many, was also confusing and did not meet our underlying product goals. We will keep you posted as we strive to improve this feature.
– We have limited access by third-party services which were interfering with our ability to maintain quality of service for our users and to bring Pokémon GO to users around the world. The large number of users has made the roll-out of Pokémon GO around the world an… interesting… challenge. And we aren’t done yet! Yes, Brazil, we want to bring the game to you (and many other countries where it is not yet available).
We have read your posts and emails and we hear the frustration from folks in places where we haven’t launched yet, and from those of you who miss these features. We want you to know that we have been working crazy hours to keep the game running as we continue to launch globally. If you haven’t heard us Tweeting much it’s because we’ve been heads down working on the game. But we’ll do our best going forward to keep you posted on what’s going on.
Be safe, be nice to your fellow trainers, and keep on exploring.
The Pokémon GO team
It seems a little absurd for a large software development company to say that they haven’t been updating fans via Twitter because they have been “been heads down working on the game.” It’s 140 characters or less! It is not an either/or!
Annnnnnyways, fans appear to be somewhat gratified to hear something from Niantic, but the overwhelming response is still negative — especially when it comes to shutting down tracking services. Here is the comment with the most up votes — right at 4,000 at the time of this post:
If third party services were such an issue, perhaps you could choose one and partner with them to provide a reasonable tracking solution while we wait for you to fix the in game features. The game really is pointless in my area without Pokevision.
Unlike Niantic, PokeVision has been keeping fans updated throughout this whole ordeal, including these two recent tweets:
Hey guys. We wish we had some news for you
At this moment, we are respecting Niantic and Nintendo's wishes.
Will keep you guys posted
— Pokevision (@PokeVisionGo) July 31, 2016
@Inmaniac I promise you 100% we kept it up as long as reasonably possible.
Maybe things will change in the next few days – let's hope.
— Pokevision (@PokeVisionGo) July 31, 2016
@LovrensPocket We hope soon, but we don't know. We didn't want to keep you guys in the dark. We hope that these circumstances change soon.
— Pokevision (@PokeVisionGo) July 31, 2016
How enjoyable are you finding Pokemon Go this week compared to the weeks before? [Please answer seriously guys!]
— Pokevision (@PokeVisionGo) August 2, 2016
I’ll admit I have become addicted to the game, due in large part to the fact that it gets my normally lazy blogger butt out and walking, and I will say that the way the game is now, by itself, it is not nearly as fun. About the only really fun option left is to go to a spot where there are numerous Pokestops REALLY close together and enough people to keep the lures going around the clock, and then just kinda sit there. As you probably realize, that kind of defeats the best reason for me to play: exercise.
As an example, I had a Snorlax appear on my “nearby” screen today, and I got excited for just a moment. But, it was just a moment, because I knew it was not worth my time at all to try to blindly track it down in less than 15 minutes. (15 minutes is how long Pokemon hang around before disappearing.)
I think PokeVision’s co-creator Yang C. Liu said it best:
You don't invent Marco Polo, get 80M players to join, then remove the Polo part and expect people to keep playing.
— Yang (@YangCLiu) July 31, 2016
I understand Niantic’s viewpoint in that these third party trackers take a large part of the game out of there hands, and the ability to see anywhere — not just nearby — can alter the integrity of the game. BUT, I also agree with the Facebook comment above in that Niantic should be working with one or more of these companies at this point to help keep the game enjoyable until a more permanent solution is reached. Perhaps launching a version of PokeVision that ONLY works based on your geolocation, and only works out to a certain radius? In other words, use PokeVision to recreate a working version of the “nearby” radar?
I’m not sure of the feasibility of all that, but regardless, Niantic should be saying more to let players know what they are doing — or trying to do — to fix the problem.
UPDATE – PokeVision co-creator Yang C. Liu penned a lengthy, heartfelt open letter to John Hanke & Niantic that explains his side of things incredibly well, both as a player of Pokemon Go , and as a fan of Pokemon since he was eight years old.