Niantic applies interaction distance nerf in Pokémon GO

The pandemic continues, but you’ll still have to get closer to that PokéStop now.

Update 26th August: Niantic have reversed the decision.

Update 6th August: The change to interaction distance has prompted a coordinated public statement by prominent Pokémon GO players asking for a direct response from Niantic. We, the PokéCommunity, agree with and support this statement. #HearUsNiantic.

Wondering why you can’t reach that PokéStop? Niantic has started reverting changes that began with the Covid pandemic; these quality of life features were introduced to the game last year which greatly improved playability. The most notable of these is halving the interaction distance to PokéStops and Gyms, from 80 metres (supposedly “nearly the length of a football field”) to 40 metres. This comes despite strong disagreement from the playerbase, evident from any public forum discussion, or this petition (120,000+ signatures).

This change is now effective for the nicknamed ‘guinea pigs’ of the game, New Zealand players, as well as players in the USA as of 10 a.m. local time on the 1st of August. Other countries will likely follow, but no clear timeline was provided as yet.

Niantic were quoted in this Polygon article on the matter:

Going outside and spinning PokéStops and Gyms is important to our mission because it encourages exploration of the world. These locations are local points of interest in a community and could be historical landmarks, art installations, local businesses and more. Last year, we increased the interaction distance to nearly the length of a football field. It’s tough to discover new places at this distance. We’re going to revert the expanded interaction distance in countries and regions where it makes sense to help restore the focus of the game on exploration and discovery.

In this writer’s opinion, the decision is a poor one, and confusing to enforce. Increasing the player distance greatly increased enjoyment and ease of play. No longer were players forced to cross the street or verge into private property to access PokéStops and Gyms, and it increased the speed of gameplay, allowing players to have time to interact with more Pokémon and stop less while they walk and play the game. It assisted many stuck at home due to lockdown, which continues to affect many parts of the world to this date, to actually access spawns and stops near them. It also is a boon to players with mobility issues, such as those in wheelchairs, who struggled to ‘go out and explore’ much to begin with.

Raiding benefitted from these increased distances, too. GPS drift has often been a problem where players would be unable to stay within range of a Gym while waiting a needless two minutes to begin a Raid. The greater interaction distance negated this issue for many.

One feels the above outweighs any claim that minimising the interaction will ‘restore the focus on exploration’. Having to go right up to a point of interest will dissuade some players from bothering, and ill-placed PokéStops may no longer be easily accessible in the first place. Furthermore, players stuck at home will continue to be stuck – they will just become less inclined to play the game from home. The pandemic has not magically disappeared, and even in the USA, despite high vaccine rates in many states, Covid cases are rising again and mask mandates are returning. Exploring may not be possible for many, never mind going right up to every PokéStop just to interact with it. New Zealand currently has zero active cases, but two months ago so did neighbouring country Australia, which now has hundreds of daily cases and many parts in strict lockdown. Things can change very quickly.

One can only speculate on the true reason – perhaps less interactions with PokéStops means less items, and hence a higher likelihood players need to purchase items. Perhaps it’s a push from sponsors, to make sure players actually visit their stores to interact with PokéStops or Gyms. Player location data is also probably pretty useful to Niantic. It could also just be a misguided ‘vision’ Niantic has of the game being forced through, despite detriment to the quality of the gameplay itself – but money is also often a safe bet to a confusing decision. Who knows – maybe it’ll become a perk for people who pay for the privilege, like Fire Emblem: Heroes‘ ‘FEH Pass’ which locked quality of life features behind a subscription service. One hopes not.

Pokémon GO has arguably just suffered the biggest nerf since the removal of ‘footsteps’ early in the game’s life, and it’s disappointing to many that this has happened despite the backlash to the initial tone-deaf statement in June, complete with unnecessary formatting, to try to justify this change. One can only hope this trial in the USA and New Zealand will be reversed.

Edited by Aldo and Rivvon.