Recent issues and changes hamper the GO experience – but soon that may not even matter

From pausing the Battle League due to cheaters, false violation strikes, and Wayfarer rating issues, the biggest threat to many players is the move away from 32-bit Android devices. A lot of the good work by Niantic being undone is highlighted here.

Update: Since the article, the Niantic Support Twitter account acknowledged the issue with the recent ban wave. Reports of bans being overturned have started late 16th of June. Meanwhile, Niantic Support also declared that they will postpone the deprecating of 32-bit Android devices to a ‘(TBD) future date’.

To be fair, there has been a lot of good things done for Pokémon GO this year, despite the challenging times affecting us worldwide. Several improvements rolled out have enhanced the player experience, especially for players stuck in lockdown. These include increased spawns, a buff to Incense, increased interaction distance for PokéStops and Gyms, and for the most part events tailored for playing from home. Niantic can even be applauded for their pledge to donate a whopping $5 million from Pokémon GO Fest 2020 in support of #BlackLivesMatter, and changes to the way they operate such as developing Diversity and Inclusion training programs.

Unfortunately, it is not all sunshine and roses, with several issues cropping up lately summarised below, ranging from false positive bans to negative changes to the in-game currency system. What’s more, a recent announcement on their website will remove a significant chunk of the Android player base come August 2020 – unless they buy a new device that’s compatible, despite perhaps already owning a device from as recent as last year.

iOS Violation Strikes

A user’s ban message for using an older version of iOS. The Silph Road Reddit.

Android players aren’t the only ones with things to fear, however. In the past week several 7-day bans have been applied to primarily iOS users, despite many claiming they have not broken any rules. False positive bans are sadly nothing new with one user on The Silph Road citing they are on their fifth such ban and highlighting several other repeat cases. However, the recent ban seems to have affected even more players than before, apparent from the number of posts and comments. Many have cited getting no useful response from Niantic Support, effectively having to wait out the ban for infringements they did not commit.

In this case, it appears in most cases older iPhones (before iOS 13) are being affected. Running an older version of iOS in itself is not a ban-worthy reason – it likely is an issue with an algorithm or software used by Niantic triggering something unexpected from older iOS versions, and mistaking it for ‘unauthorised third-party software’. To add to that, some iOS players are unable to purchase items from the in-game shop, even when using the in-game currency, PokéCoins – sometimes for over multiple months at a time.

What is the source of recourse for such players, however? It amounts to appealing to large sites such as Eurogamer, who have a track record of spurring Niantic into action following publication of an article which garnered media attention when, for example, an entire island in Greece went without spawns for months. Users there had contacted Niantic Support long before that article on the issue, but only after did it get into the public sphere of awareness was it addressed. Now the same has been happening for these false strikes. This is, frankly, a disappointing reality Pokémon GO players have had to contend with.

It isn’t the first time incorrectly applied ban waves occurred either. The GameTurbo feature on Xiaomi phones triggered a mass ban wave late last year. Despite reports over the course of weeks about the false positive strikes, it was only after sites such as AndroidCentral reported on the issue did Niantic Support acknowledge the problem.

GO Battle League Woes

The second season for the GO Battle League started last month. Some issues have persisted for players, and for many players the removal of Legendary Pokémon from the reward pool has been a bummer. However, it had also improved from the decision to (at least for now) remove the walking distance requirement to access more battles, and was for many decently playable. That is, until the last couple days, where Niantic have been forced to disable the system until they fix a ‘serious exploit’.

The gist of the issue is that players were able to fire quick moves during charge move animations, giving them a clear unfair advantage. Part of this appears to be tied to an unusual glitch involving Pokémon like Melmetal in the GO Battle League. The league had only been pulled down when one player shot to the top of the leaderboard, in perhaps the only instance in GO that Leafeon was legitimately used to great success.

Like with the iOS strikes, people have complained quite vocally about issues, but it took something this blatant for a mode which accepts the use of paid items to be taken down to address the issue. And sadly for those who enjoy the mode, they will have to wait until it’s returned, and hope the issues above have been fixed.

New PokéCoin System beta in Australia proving unpopular

PokéCoins are set to become harder to earn for many, rather than easier.

A revamp to the PokéCoin system has started a trial in Australia in the last month. The idea itself sounded promising, with daily tasks allowing players to earn coins, rather than them having to rely on the Gym system. More ways to earn in-game currency can in general be only a good thing, especially for players who either do not live nor work near Gyms, or live in places with such high turnover that what they earn is minimal.

Then it turned out that the daily tasks could include tasks such as winning a Raid – a task not possible to all players (including those not near Gyms!) or all the time, and can require the use of paid items to participate in. To earn coins from tasks, you had to do all the tasks as well. This was on top to a nerf to the amount and rate of coins you could earn from Gyms. Oh dear.

Originally these Daily tasks rewarded players a measly 5 PokéCoin. This has recently been updated to 20, but the system still applies a restriction of a maximum of 30 PokéCoin to those earned from Gyms a day, down from 50 (or 100 in the very early days of Pokémon GO).

What has the effect been to the player base in Australia? Several have reported that it has made things rather toxic; here’s a selection of recounts.

It’s certainly not been positive. But look on the bright side – maybe the recent Eurogamer article on the same issue will prompt further changes?

Wayfarer Ratings plummeting

Niantic Wayfarer, the system for reviewing and approval of new PokéStops, was recently opened up to players level 38 and up (previously only for players at level 40, who are the only players able to make new submissions for PokéStops as well). Sounds good, right? The more reviewing, the more you could expect to see new stops added in your neighbourhood. However, it has been apparent that reviewer ratings, based on how much agreement your assessment gets, has rapidly diminished for active reviewers. This particularly hurts people contributing, as their agreements only ‘count’ if their user rating is high to begin with. This alone may discourage new reviewers, or diminish their impact when they too will have their rating quickly drop.

The timeframe is also not good. In my own experience, I’ve had stops approved (or falsely rejected) within a couple weeks, while stop submissions made since January, over five months ago, are still in the queue. That’s a heck of a while to wait. There’s something evidently wrong with the algorithms used here, and feedback from reports and concerns raised with Wayfarer has been minimal at best. The last news heard back from Niantic was little more than a ‘more being discussed’ and was made over a month ago. The same Wayfarer complaint thread remains active with new reports to this day.

Wayfarer is also all up to volunteers, as will the “PokéStops Scanning” function being trialed at the moment in some areas. There is no incentive such as a usable reward (e.g. Stardust) in-game for helping out with Wayfarer, just the hope that you might be improving the area for another player. Ultimately all this work is being done for free by the players. Instead, a few bad users, including those in games separate to Pokémon GO, are contributing to the issues, with no way for others to track their input or report people giving 1-star reviews to submissions for false reasons. Recounts such as the following highlight the issues in the system:

Oh my god so I just found out that someone in my local groups has been staying at green rank because

  • he has been 1 starring all gazebos and has never given any playground or mural 5 stars (at almost 3 or 4)
  • he immediately 1 stars any submission that, according to him, “is begging for a pokestop” in the supporting information
  • as long as anything has to do with what he thinks is “begging” it’s an immediate 1 star to him. Even if eligibility/photo/title/description are correct
  • there are others, long time ingress players, who simply reject all submissions in their area because they don’t want more portals around their areas because “they’ll have more trouble”. These people keep their rankings high and clean. Which means there tons of people out there doing all these things.
  • when called out, he said that “rules are meant to be broken”, and “it may matter for voting but its my opinion so I will 1 star whatever I want”

Is this not basically abuse?

It’s hard to disagree here.

Forced username changes

This is admittedly the least significant of all these recent issues, but one worth mentioning nonetheless. Many people have a strong tie to their username identity, and even players who do not would be surprised if their username changed overnight, especially without warning if they didn’t check their email first after said change. But that’s exactly what happened to several players around the world, due to duplicate names existing.

Oddly, Niantic Support have refused in any case to change the names back, even if the supposed issue of a duplicate username (which frankly suggests at a poor oversight in database management to both allow to happen in the first place, and be unable to resolve in another way afterward) was fixed by changing all duplicate usernames in question. This applies to people who do not have more than one account of their own in the first place, and those who made a second one early on when Pokémon Trainer Club accounts were not yet known to suffer many downtime issues around launch. Alas, the username ‘bobandbill’, for instance, is now bobandbill3, with no recourse for changing it back.

32-bit Android devices support ending

This last issue though will affect a whole new amount of players. Niantic announced on the 11th of June (despite dating the news post as on the 9th) that they will end support for 32-bit Android devices at the beginning of August. They cite that it will allow them to streamline their development process and focus resources on newer systems.

Simply put, if you have a device running on a 32-bit Android operating system, you will have to get a new compatible device to be able to play Pokémon GO. Unfortunately, this affects some phones released as recently as last year, with one fan-made list at 58 phone models and counting. It also affects phones that have 64-bit hardware and processor, but have a 32-bit OS implemented instead, such as for Motorola phones. For these phones, there is no official way to upgrade to 64-bit without jailbreaking your phone, and that’s also not allowed by Niantic.

This will undoubtedly affect many players and will likely catch some by surprise when implemented, especially as the news is not yet available in-game. A reddit poll estimated over half of players will simply quit playing the game. Given the current financial situation for many people too, many won’t even be able to just buy a new phone straightaway.

Additionally, some Android users are already unable to access the game, since version 0.177 (an acknowledged issue with a status of ‘Investigating’). There are reports of several phones with Android versions 5 and 6 unable to make it to the loading screen. These reportedly affects both phones with 32-bit and 64-bit OSes, with 2 GB or less of memory. On the other end of the spectrum, Android 10 users have experienced heavy lag.

This issue isn’t entirely Niantic’s doing. In August 2021, Google Play will stop serving apps without 64-bit versions. Another app, Pokémon Masters, launched without support for 32-bit devices and continues to not support those phones. Phones capable of running 64-bit Android OSs that do not have 64-bit OSs implemented is the fault of the phone manufacturers, not Niantic. Nonetheless, this doesn’t mean that Niantic has to drop support for 32-bit devices now, or even anytime soon. All that Google Play is requiring is a 64-bit version of each app to be supported by August next year – it doesn’t mean an app can’t keep supporting older devices. It may come down to resource and money saving in ditching 32-bit devices, but given the huge heft of money Niantic has that even a $5 million donation is likely a drop in the ocean to their profits, sympathy is hard to spare. Sensor Tower estimates $32 million in revenue made in May 2020 alone.

Have you been affected by any of these issues, or face being unable to play the game at all in a couple months time? Let us know in the comments, and try highlighting the article through social media. It seems to be the most effective way of spurring action from Niantic.

Edited by Sheep and Siddhar.
Thanks to u/deenahji89, u/EmiAndTheDesertCrow, u/pyrephoenix, u/Qualimiox, u/spitfiur, u/suppybee, and u/WWLinkMasterX for input toward the article after publication.