Pokémon Go: Why Fans of the Popular Game Are in an Uproar

Pokémon Go reached peak popularity at the inception of the AR game in 2016. But many players have steadily continued playing since then, revisited the game over the last five years, or started as new players. 

Now, some of the biggest names in the world of Pokémon Go are boycotting the game. What has Niantic, the creators of the game, done to upset players, and how has Niantic responded to the boycotts?

A hand holds a phone playing Pokemon Go. The background clearly shows the player is standing in a graveyard before a row of tombstones.
A Pokemon Go player in Evergreen Cemetery in Portland | Derek Davis/Staff Photographer)

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Niantic removed adjustments to accommodate gameplay during the pandemic

Pokémon Go requires its players to interact with the real world in many ways. Spinning gyms and stops, which are usually located in popular areas such as parks, playgrounds, and businesses, yields valuable items to the players. Most of these items can also be purchased in the game’s shop, but spinning gyms and stops issues them at no cost. 

At the start of global shutdowns in early 2020, Niantic implemented several changes to the game to enhance players’ safety. One of the adjustments was to increase the distance a player had to be from a gym or stop in order to earn the free items. 

This change allowed players to congregate at a safe distance to battle in gyms together. It also kept them a safe distance away from areas like restaurants, playgrounds, and even private homes.

But recently, Niantic decreased the distance range back to its previous length. The move enraged fans who are now calling for boycotts of the game. 

Two Pokemon Go players wearing Pikachu hats look down at their phones and play the game.
Two people with Pokemon sun vizors playing “Pokemon Go” on their mobile phones in the Westfalenpark | Marcel Kusch/Getty Images

Fans wrote an open letter to Niantic protesting the changes

Fans of the game noticed the changes right away and were intensely disappointed. Many big names in the game world are protesting by either quitting the game completely or stopping spending in the game’s store. 

A petition on Change.org has almost 200,000 signatures from players asking Niantic to keep the safer distances. And in an open letter to Niantic, Reddit users urged Niantic to revert back to the previous adjustments. The letter cites many reasons to keep the safety adjustments that have nothing to do with the pandemic.

A large crowd of Pokemon Go players gathers at a popular stop.
A cluster of ‘Pokemon Go’ players crowds a stop in Freiburg, Germany | Patrick Seeger/Getty Images

There are many reasons to keep the adjustments in the game

Players cited several reasons why keeping the longer distances to spin gyms and stops as a permanent feature in the game. The Reddit open letter outlines the reasons under the headlines Safety, Accessibility, and Respect. 

The reasons listed under Safety include: 

-Not needing to cross dangerous roads to reach or interact with a point of interest.

-Not ‘needing’ to trespass on private property to reach or interact with a point of interest.

-Provided the ability to play and interact from a sheltered shared location e.g. under trees, awnings or shelters to avoid hazardous weather conditions.

-Playing from safe locations and not entering areas that would be detrimental to personal safety. This includes preventing a risk to safety via interpersonal crimes, theft, environmental hazards, dangerous locations etc.

-General personal safety for social distancing during the ongoing global pandemic.

Notably, only one of the concerns listed under Safety relates to the pandemic. So, even if Niantic chooses to reinforce the idea that the pandemic is no longer an issue, the safety concerns are still valid. 

Reasons listed under Accessibility include: 

-Any disabled Trainers could now interact with locations that previously excluded them from the Pokémon GO community. This includes interacting with Gyms and Pokéstops that would otherwise be inaccessible due to stairs, steep inclines or other physical barriers. All while being very generously within visual range of the point of interest.

-Trainers with autism and sensory conditions could engage with the community from a more accomodating distance. Allowing them to play with the community but not be overwhelmed by large crowds or triggering locations.

-Trainers with young children or in a position of care could more safely interact with points of interest while maintaining a safe environment for those in their care.

And finally, the reason listed under Respect is:

-Greater courtesy and respect to non-Trainers in the community by way of not crowding or blocking entry to businesses, private property, playgrounds, emergency services, places of worship or memorials.

A dark cartoon hand holds a phone displaying the Pokemon go game on the screen.
The Pokémon GO app displayed on a smartphone with a Pokémon GO logo in the background | Thiago Prudêncio/Getty Images

Niantic has failed to respond appropriately to fans

Niantic issued an open letter of its own in response. The letter Niantic posted on August 5th stated that the company will assemble a team to address the issue and will release their findings on September 1st. 

Many players found Niantic’s response “woefully inadequate.” It’s easy to speculate that the sole reason Niantic didn’t immediately put the changes back into place is that the company wants to make more money by making free items harder to access. Niantic’s greed and disrespect have already cost the company countless players, including several influencers who have stopped reviewing and promoting the game.