Nobody Actually Knows How Pokemon GO's 'Nearby' Feature Works

Ask 10 different people how to track down monsters in Pokemon GO, and you'll likely get 10 different answers. That's because finding Pokemon is rather convoluted and confusing in Pokemon GO. I've been playing Pokemon GO non-stop over the last week, and the most frustrating feature by far has to be the "Nearby" function. Ostensibly, it is a guide that helps you navigate where to go to find critters. It looks like this:

The game does not tell you how to decipher the "nearby" function, which is funny when you consider that you may spend half your time in Pokemon GO staring at it.

A couple of things are obvious from the get-go of course: The number of steps correlates to distance, and the silhouetted Pokemon are critters that you haven't caught yet. This is not actually enough info to get out there and track a creature, but hey, it's something I guess.

OK so: How much distance do the footsteps actually represent? Everyone agrees that no footsteps means "you're practically on top of it," but from there, things get a little more murky. Anecdotally, the figure I've seen repeated the most is that one pawprint = 50m of distance, but there's actually no consensus on that. Serebii, the web's leading Pokemon resource online, says one pawprint is 20m, two is 100m and three is 1km.

Which is it? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ My scientific understanding of the pawprints is as follows:

One pawprint: Let me walk in every cardinal direction in the hope that I randomly find it.

Two pawprints: Let me walk in every cardinal direction in the hope that I randomly find it.

Three pawprints: Fuck it.

Lets say you see a three pawprint Pokemon on the Nearby tab and you decide that you want it. How do you hunt it down? Players have come up with all sorts of methods, most of them largely based on trial and error, and none so far officially confirmed by the developers themselves.

I've heard, for example, that if your minimised Nearby tab flashes while you walk, that it is telling you that you are walking toward your critter of choice. I've also heard that this method is bullshit.

I've read that the location of the Pokemon on your chart correlates with proximity. So in this example:

You read it from left to right, with Spearow being the closest, and the last Zubat on the bottom right being the farthest. I've heard players say that if you pay attention to how the chart updates as you move, you should be able to tell if you are at least moving closer to the critter. This "method", if you could even call it that, still involves guesswork.

I've seen this chart by Redditor DJToaster pop up a whole lot as well:

Pretty ridiculous, huh? It is also not foolproof. Trying to find a three pawprint Pokemon with this method is still a crapshoot, especially if your Nearby tab says that every single monster "near" you is three pawprints away, something that I personally experience often in Pokemon GO.

Players have even taken to downloading Ingress, Niantic's previous game, in the hopes of getting a firmer grasp on where Pokemon might spawn. Desperate times call for desperate measures, as they say.

I've tried every method listed in this post, and have walked away with mixed results. Methods declared false by the fandom have allowed me to track rare Pokemon; methods sworn to work by others have left me circling over and over again, like an idiot.

Meanwhile, we hear nothing but silence from Niantic, who refuses to explain how one of the biggest feature in their game actually works even after repeated requests for comments. The developer does know that Pokemon GO is confusing though, judging from Niantic founder John Hanke's comments to Game Informer:

We tried to create UI that people could figure out, but if it's so obtuse, you for example were having trouble figuring out what it's supposed to do, then that's just a failure on our part. We got a lot of feedback during the beta, we made a lot of improvements, we fixed a lot of bugs, but I would put it into that category of something we'd love to make that more so that it's more obvious.

Given that Pokemon GO is hoping to update bi-weekly, here's hoping that Niantic reworks Nearby to something more reasonable. Even a simple indicator of distance could work wonders.

Until then, until Niantic gives an official verdict on what you're supposed to do with Nearby, don't blindly trust methods you read online. Nobody is 100 per cent sure of what they're talking about yet.


Comments

    Hunt them down if it's 1 or 2 steps away, you'll see it increase or reduce depending on if you are walking the right way. Ignore 3 step pokemon.

    When you 'focus' on one and the box flashes, it is re ordering the pokemon in the nearby list. It indicates nothing regarding getting hotter or colder.

      This isn't rocket science. It's very easy to use. The only reason he isn't seeing success using a system is because there are variables. Variables such as, buildings in the way, and the fact that Pokemon are not stagnant. They move around. I've tested this and confirmed it. If you just walk in a certain direction, watch the tracker and see if it moving left and up, once it moves down to 2 steps, you know you are on the right track. Happy huntings guys and gals.

        Problem is that there is a pretty big space between the max 3 steps and 2 steps. And unless you are in a big open space, it can be hard to walk a long way in a certain direction. Walking through scrub then come across a moat full of water. Ok seel, you beat me today.

    Just about all I ever see is 3-step Pokemon so I've mostly given up using it and now just walk where I want to walk until I find something. Unless on the 0.0000000001% chance I see something I really want show up with 1 or 2 steps - I think the only time that happened was for my Growlithe, took a while but found the bastard in the end.

      The grass particles are key. Head in that direction of the closest grass, and your footsteps should start changing. "Nearby" is anything in a 2KM radius (depending on particle effects), if you've had the app on while driving from work the 3 step pokémon will still be left over from the last check (which at 60kmh could be 5-10km away). I've had pokémon appear nearby at my house by will need to walk to the park (2-3 blocks) before the footprints change.

      I live in an new housing area devoid of pokéstops, and gyms. As far as I can tell the game has randomly used the google map data keywords "park" and "lake" to flag the area with Pokémon grass. A block away it is roads and no houses (old map data), for which no grass points exist.

      Walking where no grass is, results on next to no pokémon, I've had 1 appear randomly but only after wondering for about 40mins. The closer I get to the grass particles the more appear "nearby" however their footprints don't change until I get closer to a grass point. That said the pokémon could be within a 30m radius of the grass particle.

      From a single night out, I end up finding more pokémon the longer I am hunting, and the longer I spend around a series of grass particles (walking between them).
      My guess is because of the emphasis on going to different places, that distance traveled affects pokémon spawn rates. This is backed up by the different types I spot, the longer I spend in one area, the more of the same type tend to spawn. By walking half a km to the next grass point I end up with a greater variety. This could help explain why people who visit the same locations only find the same pokémon.

      Last night I made the trip to the city centre (for the first time) and my phone went nuts, I was seeing pokémon of all new varieties quicker than I could catch them. At the same time this was also the first time I was surrounded by many other players. This leads to my other theory, that the more time players spend in an area, the more populated the area becomes. This can be backed up by my housing estate where at the beginning of last week there were maybe 2 grass points in the park, 6 days on and there are more grass points (roughly 10-15) dotted around. Tracking them via the footprints has become easier and I'm finding more rare sightings. My best guess is that the game learns from player meta data, and points are created by players exploring. I'm not sure if this eventually results in added pokéstops or gyms?

    I feel for some of these other games out at the moment like Toyko Mirage, INSIDE, Monster Hunter.....these are (apparently) well-crafted and enjoyable titles that once would be the bread and butter of sites like this (hey, this is cult hit check it out).

    I'm not berating Kotaku/the staff for being enthusiastic but holy hell there's a market at the moment for those suffering from PokeGo overload too. I whined the same way when it was nothing but Dark Souls 3 stories. While playing Dark Souls 3 myself.

    BUT, on the topic at hand, I drove around in circles looking for an Eevee about four times. Had no luck. Single paw print and all. I'm not about to make excuses for the game but apparently it was around the time it launched in Germany. Ce la vie.

      I seem to have Eevee spawn in my yard/house every second day, every other day seems to be a pincer

    Got a new phone yesterday and started playing last night. I've gotten a feel for the spawn points in my local area. 2 in my front yard then a few more down the street and around a corner. The nearby list seems to reflect the pokemon in these spots.

    I was hunting a 1 paw Golbat, thought it was on the road behind my house...get there and it goes to 3 paws and disappears.....go back to my house and get the 1 paw again...realise it's across the road from my house, in the yard of the house behind my neighbor.

    Going by that experience the circle method seems appropriate. I did note that the Golbat went from 1 to 2 paws when I was walking down the street and around the corner as I'd moved away from his spawn point in order to get there.

    Also - a bit unrelated. With the 2 spawn points in my yard I've noticed I can get pokemon every 30-45 minutes. Once I also had 3 pokemon there instead of 2.

    Last edited 14/07/16 11:17 am

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