Of all the many excellent changes Niantic made to Pokémon GO in the face of the global Covid-19 pandemic, remote raiding seemed to be the one that was most likely to survive long-term. So of course, every new move the developer makes seems to be threatening its future.
Time was, when you wanted to take part in a raid in Pokémon GO, you would have to gather with other real-life players and all stand within just a few meters of the imaginary gym. For a five-star raid, meaning the most powerful–often legendary–Pokémon, you’d need at least five or six people working together to successfully battle it down. When the game was new, and gyms were few, this was actually possible.
Come the pandemic, and the complete impossibility of such actions for much of the world, Niantic introduced the Remote Raid Pass. This allowed you to participate in a raid from any distance, teaming up with friends from anywhere in the world, to tackle the Pokémon. Or you could even just click on a relatively nearby raid and remotely fight it yourself.
Quickly, canny people recognised an opportunity here, and created various apps to allow complete strangers around the world to team up to tackle specific raids. All it takes is one local person to host, then apps like PokeRaid and Poke Genie will automatically assign players into teams. All befriend one another with codes shared via the apps, and then the host invites everyone to the raid.
Now, if that were it, you could maybe see how Niantic might get miffed that third-party app makers were making money instead of them. (Although I strongly recommend Poke Genie over the more popular PokeRaid — it never asks for a penny.) However, Niantic also charges for the required Remote Raid Passes, meaning the more people are encouraged to take part in such raids, the more they’re likely to be spending in the game to do so. And, rather importantly, Niantic made no moves at all to create its own version of similar technology.
Remote raiding just makes far more sense, everyone loves it, and Niantic gained a new in-app revenue stream. It couldn’t have worked out better, right? Well, of course we can’t have nice things, and Niantic is now making moves that look set to threaten this new normal.
The first concerning sign was the simultaneous removal of a weekly 1-coin Remote Raid Pass, that was previously given to all players on a Monday. Then, at the same time, it increased the price three Remote Raid Passes in the in-game store from 250 PokéCoins to 300. (Individual passes remain at 100 coins, or $US0.99 ($1.43), each.) That felt like a spectacularly dick move, timing-wise. (That said, the weekly 1-coin boxes remain available, and offer some genuinely good bundles of differing in-game items.)
Then Niantic made a new announcement regarding June’s Community Day, that managed to rub salt in two wounds at once. Players are already rightly pissed off at the inexplicable (and never rationalized) decision to halve the length of Community Days from six to three hours, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. only. Now, Niantic’s announced another “new” feature: Players will be able to “extend” the day past 2 p.m. by taking part in a new type of gym raid. They’re “new” in the sense that you can only take part in them if you’re physically at the raid location. Yes indeed, you can have the longer Community Day you wanted, but only if you take part in a really obvious move to make remote raiding feel less reliable.
Eurogamer spoke to Niantic about this, to ask if this was the beginning of the end of remote raiding, and was told, “We’ve no intention right now of removing remote raiding for the regular tiers of raiding…But we haven’t been shy about the fact we’re looking at opportunities for players to get playing in person again.”
That “right now” reads so very ominously to me, especially given the extended couching in the rest of that reply. And, as you’d expect, we got the “get playing in person again” line yet again.
We reached out to Niantic to press further on this, but after waiting a day we haven’t received a response.
Here’s what’s wrong with their “get playing in person” line: It doesn’t work. Sure, if you’re in a major city, taking part in a major event, you’ve got a chance of stumbling upon the six or seven other people you’d need to take down a Mewtwo raid right now. But for absolutely everyone else in the whole world? No! It’s not a thing. Unless you’re lucky enough to have at least five other friends who are still playing the game, and are all astonishingly free at the same time, and then all able to gather in the same place at that time, how is anyone supposed to be raiding by “playing in person again”?
This isn’t hypothetical. Here’s a photograph I took during the peak of the game’s biggest event, GO Fest 2022, of a central spot in the large park near where I live, where four gyms can be reached at once, the only place I’ve ever previously encountered other Pokémon GO players in the wild.
That lone figure sat on the dilapidated bandstand is my son. This wasn’t the tail-end, the dregs of the event. This was peak time, at the very best place to play for miles around. Yay in-person play!
It just feels unfathomable at this point, let alone while the pandemic absolutely isn’t over, that Niantic is working under this delusion that it’s 2016 and crowds of players are about to be stood around every town’s scant few gyms. If only they’d all just get the message and start playing in person again!
Taking away every feature that has dramatically improved the game in the last two years isn’t going to magically make this happen, and it’s bewilderingly infuriating that Niantic appears to believe it can penalise the game’s players until it does.
It’s so very, very obvious that it intends to phase out Remote Raid Passes. “For now,” followed up by its deluded mantra, says all we need to know. And yet, like halving Community Days to the advantage of absolutely no one, it seems inevitable it’ll press ahead with it anyway. (Because of course halving Community Day was also an attempt to punish players into gathering, believing that it would concentrate people into one space at the same time, against all visible reality.)
Niantic continues to push in-person city-based events at its entire audience, as if this will fix it too. Play the game this week and you’ll be notified about a very exciting in-person extension of GO Fest, with brand-new legendaries available! If you live in…one of three cities on the entire planet. Those in Berlin, Seattle, and Sapporo will be able to catch Pheromosa, Buzzwole or Xurkitree, respectively. Everyone else? You’re shit out of luck.
While the planned in-person events in various cities around the world for next weekend’s Community Day are somewhat more reachable (you can find your nearest on a map here), just look how screwed you are if you live anywhere without a coast.
But all of this does naff-all to help someone when they want to do a raid on a given day. Right now Mewtwo and Snorlax are in raids, along with classics like Venasaur, Blastoise and Charizards X and Y. They’re all four or five-star raids, and as such impossible for a person to complete on their own. Indeed, vanishingly unlikely without at least five people.
And how am I, me, supposed to do any of those today? I’m 44. I was lucky enough to have one adult friend I was able to do a bunch of trades with today for the current TCG Crossover event, while we were waiting for our kids’ school sports day to start. Literally my only available method to take part in most events these days is booting up Poke Genie and spending a Remote Raid Pass, teaming up with people from anywhere in the world.
Taking that away isn’t going to “Get me out and playing in person again!” Niantic. It’s going to make me stop throwing my money at your game, and let me know I’m really not wanted as a player at all. And I’m pretty sure I’m not alone.