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. 

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