Pokemon GO’s latest tracking update did not please everyone. Urban and rural players have access to one of two Pokemon tracking features, but neither has both — what players say is the ideal solution. Fans have some theories why.
Players near PokeStops can only track Pokemon around those PokeStops with the “Nearby” feature, which players far from PokeStops cannot access. On a bottom right tab, nine “Nearby” Pokemon are shown alongside the PokeStop closest to them. To track and catch them, players must go to the designated PokeStop and walk around.
But these players are angry they don’t have the “Sightings” feature any more, which is exclusive to far-flung Pokemon GO players. Players can use “Sightings” when they’re more than 200m away from the nearest PokeStop. With “Sightings” Pokemon within a certain radius of the player are shown. These players know what’s directly around them. The downside: With “Sightings”, Pokemon’s specific locations are unclear, prompting the player to wander around radially until the Pokemon pop into view.
So, in PokeStop-rich areas, players with “Nearby” wouldn’t know if a Charizard spawned right behind them on their way to catch a Golbat by McDonald’s over yonder. But players only know what Pokemon are nearby when they’re out in rural areas, over 200m away from the nearest Stop.
This tracker was tested over a four-month period in San Francisco. It’s hard to believe that nobody at Niantic considered that players outside and within San Francisco would be playing entirely different games. Why can’t players have both?
One theory I’ve considered was recently published in Forbes. Drawing Pokemon GO players to specific PokeStops can benefit businesses that sponsor those Stops (Niantic’s Ingress also had sponsored locations). Urban players have no choice but to track Pokemon near PokeStops, which can be public art or businesses that have made sponsorship deals with Niantic. And Pokemon that spawn between those spots are essentially invisible. Forbes reporter Paul Tassi writes:
“This is something that Niantic has also been testing in a few markets, and I think McDonalds was one of the first companies to buy into sponsored PokeStops. Without this system, those PokeStops are just normal PokeStops, but now that specific Pokemon spawns are tied to those PokeStops? The marketing opportunities are endless.”
In a recent video, Pokemon GO YouTuber Nick, whose channel is “TrainerTips”, heads to a far-off local movie theatre to catch a Charizard. While he’s there, his friend spends money on some arcade games. He points to that moment as evidence for the “sponsorship theory”.
But that doesn’t explain the exclusivity of rural players’ “Sightings” feature. When players can’t track Pokemon, it’s helpful to know which are around, so they’re aren’t completely lost. But with the tracker’s first iteration, which had players tracking Pokemon’s distances with “footprints”, players were glued to their phones. Stories of dangerous treks in traffic made semi-aimless Pokemon tracking seem potentially fatal. It was bad press.
Nick alleges that “Sightings” can prevent that. “Niantic didn’t like the idea of people staring at their phones while they try to find Pokemon,” he says. So, as long as “Sightings” is basically useless for actual tracking, players probably won’t wander into traffic.
These are just theories. Months after the hit mobile game’s release, issues with the tracker are still making players throw their hands in the air. There have to be reasons aside from simple incompetence that Niantic hasn’t successfully developed a good Pokemon tracker for their wildly popular game. Monetisation and safety could have something to do with it.