Tuesday, August 2, 2016


Niantic recently disabled the tracking feature on their PokemonGo game app. After a few days of silence, Niantic finally explained why, saying that the feature was “confusing and did not meet our underlying product goals”. They also said that they had “limited access by third-party services which were interfering with our ability to maintain quality of service for our users”. You can read the whole statement here.

A lot of articles have been written about this, and I have a lot to say about a few of them. First, some context.Here is the original PokemonGo game trailer when it was first announced last year.

Notice at the 25 second mark that the video promises that the app tracks distance to a pokemon clearly and accurately. That’s not what we got though. Instead we got the app showing how far pokemon were by how many footprints (called steps) was shown underneath the graphic. The more steps there were, the farther they were, as this article shows.

But then the 3-step glitch happened, which showed all pokemon were three steps away, no matter how far they actually were. People turned to third-party apps that accessed the PokemonGo app and showed where pokemon were relative to your position and what they were. Pokevision was one of these apps. Soon after Niantic CEO John Hanke voiced his displeasure at the existence of these third-party tracking apps, Niantic released the update that not only disabled the PokemonGo tracking feature, but all third-party apps that accessed it. People were angry at this, to the point that many were requesting refunds for any in-app purchases that relied on PokemonGo’s tracking feature (some got their refunds).

Articles started proliferating on the net, some decrying Niantic’s actions, some applauding them. This article talked about how the third-party apps allowed people to track down the most powerful pokemon quicker and use them to defend gyms. This is cheating in the article’s opinion. The article also states that these apps also reduced or eliminated the sense of wonder that comes from exploring a new place and searching for new pokemon. This one had a letter from Yang Lui, the proprietor of Pokevision, one of the 3rd-party apps that was shut down. In this letter, Lui states that using Pokevision was not cheating, but was a band-aid on the bigger problem of PokemonGo’s lack of a workable tracking feature.

Now that all sides have had their say, let me put in my two cents. As for Pokevision being used to find more powerful pokemon easily, that is true. But what is equally true is that in order to evolve these pokemon into more powerful forms, you need to level up your trainer avatar, collect stardust, collect pokemon and trade them in for candies (this is an oversimplification). In other words, people still need to go out and travel in order to get powerful pokemon. It takes a lot of work. I don’t see how work translates into cheating.

As for removing the sense of wonder, wonder is for people who have time to go to new places and find new pokemon. There are PokemonGo fans who work and have other commitments that take time away from playing this game. If these people have limited time to play, they could remove some of the randomness that came with finding pokemon by using Pokevision. And they still have to perform the steps I laid out above to create more powerful pokemon. And at least Pokevision was a tracker app that worked, better than PokemonGo’s tracking feature, which was itself a weaksauce version of the one Niantic promised in their original trailer last year. So Niantic didn’t have the moral high ground here.

Having said all that, let me applaud Niantic for taking steps to address fans’ anger and concerns (finally). They put out a statement saying they’re working on the problem (though it’s mostly corporate speak). They have hired a community manager to speak to fans more directly and quickly.  They have given refunds for in-app purchases that took advantage of the borked tracking feature. But Niantic needs to do more to gain back the fans’ respect. To Niantic, I say this: Fix these problems quickly. Stay in constant contact to let us know what you are doing to address our concerns. And don’t hate on others who created better solutions for your fixes than you have. Learn from them. To the fans, I say this: I understand the anger, and if all this was enough to put you off this game, I don’t blame you. This game has been a dissapointment. For the rest who are hanging on to this game in spite of everything, give Niantic time (but not too much time). They are clearly working to fix their problems, so let’s ease off them so they can concentrate. In the meantime, continue to catch ‘em all.

Thanks go to Kotaku, CapitalFM.com, The Mary Sue and Youtube for providing the works I cited*. 

*All linked work is care of their respective authors, none of them are owned by me, yadda yadda, copyright law, legal phrases, fair use, etc. 

Monday, August 1, 2016

Why Him?

Recently Devin Faraci (columnist and Editor-In-Chief of Birth Movies Death) was invited along with other film critics to the Justice League set, currently filming in London. You can read the article on his visit here. According to him there was a subreddit on his visit, with people wondering why he was invited, despite the fact that he was a hater of the Batman v. Superman movie (hereafter called BvS). Devin says his reason right in the article that it was precisely because he was a hater of BvS that he was invited. It was to show Devin that Warner Bros. was learning the lessons that the last film taught them, and that those lessons were being implemented in Justice League.  
I find this very interesting. Warner Bros. could have invited any of a hundred film critics who didn’t like BvS to the set, but they invited him. Sure, it’s because he’s a hater, but I think there are additional reasons that go beyond him being a film critic. Before looking at the reasons below, read his review of BvS here. Short version: He didn’t like it.
Devin is a knowledgeable nerd. That is, he understands film and how it’s made and the language film uses to entertain people. And in the case of BvS, he has also read the source material from DC comics. He can engage with, and criticize the film with a more complete understanding than other film critics who may not have the comics background he does. So his reviews of these types of movies will be somewhat more insightful. This is proven by the additional articles he’s written that expands on why BvS is a terrible movie. He wrote this one about Superman’s place in popular culture for the last few generations. There’s one about why the death of Jimmy Olsen was stupid. He also wrote one about Wonder Woman’s origins when she shows up in BvS. He even wrote one about the parallels between BvS and the graphic novel Kingdom Come. Because he can engage with the DC Movieverse with this level of knowledge, Warner Bros. would need to convince him, and through him, convince the majority of the movie-going public.
On that note, another reason is that a lot of people read his columns, enough to convince others that any DC Movieverse film he doesn’t like to not go see. Whether or not he has a wide-enough influence to affect ticket sales, the fact that Warner Bros. invited Devin means that Warner Bros. thinks he does. Nerd culture is now popular culture in America. And a big reason why people go to these comic book movies is that nerds are excited for these movies and are convincing the non-nerds to go. Convince Devin that Justice League is a good movie, and he may tell nerds to go. Nerds convince non-nerds to go, and boom! One billion dollars in the bank. Or so Warner Bros. thinks.
So that's why I think they invited Devin to come see the Justice League filming. A lot of this is conjecture though. While I haven't always agreed with him (Star Trek Beyond, for example) I have always respected his opinions. Go read his articles. They're great. And read the rest of Birth Movies Death while you're at it. If you like the site, whitelist it, so the contributors can be paid for their work.