Players – or trainers, as they call themselves – have been continuing to play the mobile AR game throughout the coronavirus pandemic, largely thanks to generous changes from developer Niantic. However, the developer is now reverting those changes, including some changes that were previously stated to be “permanent.”
Trainers, including high-profile streamers and content creators, believe that some of the decisions are impacting the safety and accessibility of the game, and they are making a stand. Gfinity sat down with ‘Reversal,’ a former Pokémon GO streamer who is boycotting the game due to the changes. He explains why the changes to PokéStops are so bad, what Niantic can do to restore players’ trust, and why he has issued the developer with an ultimatum that may see him stop playing Pokémon GO forever.
“Actions Speak Louder Than Words”: Why Pokémon GO Streamer Reversal Is Quitting the Game
“I started playing because of the nostalgia factor that came with Pokémon GO,” Reversal tells Gfinity. “It was just everything that I wanted from a game: being able to go outside with something that I loved growing up felt like I was reliving a childhood memory.”
He started streaming his Pokémon GO adventures as soon as the game was released, and quickly became one of the biggest online personalities in the game’s community. Reversal has taken his community on his travels around the world with the game, and with nearly half a million followers across his YouTube and Twitch channels, he has become a respected figure.
And when the coronavirus pandemic hit, he believes that Niantic did a great initial job to make the Pokémon GO – a game focused on exploration and playing outdoors – as playable as possible from quarantine, isolation, or away from large crowds.
“Initially they did a phenomenal job for people to still enjoy Pokémon Go from home,” he explains. “[Niantic] made changes to the friends list, made it so that you can open more gifts - that was really nice. Remote raids were really massive, and the double spin distance for a PokéStop was really nice. These pandemic bonuses there were really great and very well received within the community.”
As more countries reduce the number of coronavirus cases, however, Niantic is beginning to reverse the bonuses in certain areas, starting with New Zealand and the USA. One bonus in particular, the ability to spin PokéStops from twice as far away, has been a change that made the game more accessible for more people, however, and trainers like Reversal believe it should stay in the game.
“The pandemic bonuses have given Pokémon GO a new audience,” he says. “More people are now actually able to play - people that are disabled, or people who couldn't reach certain PokéStops now have the capability of reaching it. It's mostly an accessibility thing.”
He also points out that many players took up the game during the pandemic and have never known the shorter PokéStop radius. Reversal was one of a number of Pokémon personalities who published a letter to Niantic, eloquently and politely explaining how the larger PokéStop radius benefits all trainers, but especially those who have a disability. The message was accompanied by the #HearUsNiantic hashtag, which trended globally.
“We included a lot of different influencers,” he says. “Not just YouTube content creators or Twitch streamers, but also news sources like GO Hub, Leek Duck, and Serebii; all the people that that have some sort of influence within Pokémon GO.
“We gathered all of us together and we started brainstorming the best way to approach this. We came to the consensus that the best way to go about doing this is to draft a letter to Niantic, that was to be open minded, respectful, tactful, but also direct. It was Zoë Two Dots who actually drafted the letter.”
The letter is likely what prompted a response from Niantic, who until yesterday had not acknowledged the increasing calls to change their decision. The blog post says that the developer is, “assembling an internal cross-functional team” to look into the issue.
However, Reversal believes the response is lacklustre.
“It’s PR damage control,” he says. “Silicon Valley talk. It's very empty.” He believes that Niantic cherry-picks the times it listens to the community: “I feel they're [only] listening to the community when it fits their agenda.”
Reversal believes that Niantic was incredibly vocal about the positive feedback it received regarding the initial pandemic changes but has provided a disappointing response when constructive feedback has been offered. This, along with his belief that “actions speak louder than words,” is why he’s gone one step further and issued an ultimatum to the company.
“I've had enough of Niantic not listening to the community,” he says. “I gave them an ultimatum. This month, I want Niantic to come up with something that is a proper response, and then action. And they didn't give that. So I walked away.”
Niantic says that it will publish its task force’s findings on September 1, a day too late for Reversal’s trust in the company to be rebuilt. If he hears positive, actionable correspondence before then, however, he says he may return to the game. He harkens back to times when Niantic would publish updates, blog posts, and developer insights regarding any major changes in the game, and communicate better with the huge community that has formed around its flagship mobile game. He’s not confident that he’ll hear a satisfactory response, though.
“I'm not the type of person who will go back on my word,” he says. “When I say something, I do it. And I want to be concrete and direct with that.”
He’s not the only person making changes to how he plays the game, either. While not everyone is stepping away completely from the game, streamer Pokémon Master Holly boycotted raid hour this week and later uninstalled the game, and PvP-focused YouTuber Zyonik says he is moving to free-to-play.
“We as a community have, over the years, been trying to talk to Niantic and being very respectful and constructive about issues that are going on and things that can be changed for the better,” Reversal says. “More often than not, that just falls upon deaf ears.”
He maintains that it is time for action, and if he were in Niantic’s position, he would revert the changes to PokéStop distances immediately and then start working on how to maintain things going forwards.
It remains to be seen whether Niantic reverses the PokéStop changes or not, but it will have to improve its communication with trainers if it wants to rebuild the trust it once had with its community. For Reversal, it might be already too late to repair that trust, but he and trainers across the world are hoping for a positive outcome nevertheless.