Well, we couldn’t get through a week without another Pokémon GO related controversy, so here we are. Last week, the community was upset that Niantic essentially killed all third party tracking tools for the game, didn’t replace it with anything better, and outright confirmed they had no ETA on the upcoming tracking system that’s been tested in San Francisco. Today the game is facing an equally pressing problem, one that affects how many play GO.
As of this weekend, either a new bug or feature has appeared in the game where when you go above “driving speed” when playing the game, your “Sightings” nearby list shuts off completely, and no Pokémon spawn.
I have generally been seeing less Pokémon spawning while driving at these speeds for a while, but now it seems like they’re totally gone, and the Sightings readout with it, so you’ll never know what on earth is near you as you’re moving, if you wanted to stop and chase it.
On the surface, this seems like a safety concern, as obviously Niantic wants to do whatever they can to avoid players playing the game while driving for potential liability reasons. That’s why I believe this is a feature, not a bug (though Niantic has not responded to my request for clarification as of yet).
The problem with that logic is that while, yes, playing while driving is obviously unsafe, playing while going driving speed covers a lot of perfectly safe situations, including:
- Riding as a passenger in a friend/family member’s car
- Riding as a passenger in an Uber/Taxi
- Riding on a bus or a train
- Riding on a bike above a certain speed
- Having GPS glitch to trick the game into thinking you’re going driving speed, even when you’re not. This issue has caused Sightings and spawns to disappear even from walking players’ games.
I know many players who made playing on the train a daily part of their morning commute in Chicago. I used to have my wife play my game while I drove around, and every Uber ride I took, I had the game out, and was catching lots of things, and seeing intriguing nearby silhouettes. Now, pretty much that entire experience is gone.
The only saving grace for what’s going on is that this could be an unintentional bug. After all, it was not listed on any patch notes as a change to the game. But until Niantic themselves responds, we really won’t know one way or another.
This is an especially important issues as winter approaches, and it will be downright impossible for many players to continue to play the game by simply walking around “as intended.” Playing while not “driving” per se, but being a passenger in a car or on public transit has always been an important part of the game, whether Niantic realizes that or not. Reducing the game to only walking is the wrong move, if this is indeed being done on purpose.
Niantic constantly seems to be shooting themselves in the foot, even as they add in features that definitely are improving the game like buffing capture rates and implementing the buddy system. But going out of their way to erase third party scanners and now intentionally or inadvertently nuking the game’s functionality when you’re going over a certain speed are a pair of ways to get many frustrated players to head for the exits. And adding in new push notifications encouraging players to log in every 45 minutes is not the solution for retention either, I should add.
Hopefully this ends up being a bug that can get resolved, but if not, it’s time for Niantic to listen to their community and revert this change back to the way things used to be. Otherwise, they’re only continuing to hand out excuses for beleaguered players to give up completely.