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Community Day shortening and Incense nerfs shows Niantic still isn’t listening

Barely half a year on from the interaction distance controversy, players have even more reasons to be disgruntled.

Last year in Pokémon GO was marred by a controversial change by Niantic in reducing the interaction distance for PokéStops and Gyms. Only after a task force was set up and discussions took place with community leaders did Niantic decide to reverse the decision. They promised to improve their communication, such as introducing seasonal developer blogs, and to their credit, this has been kept – it may not be great, but it is better.

Shorter Community “Day” events

However, the playerbase have twice this year seen more controversial decisions by Niantic. The most recent was the news April’s Community Day event is being reduced from six hours (this length first introduced during the ongoing pandemic) to the original three hours. Aside from the fact this further reduces the meaning of the word ‘Day’ from the event, the decision was revealed to be motivated by a lack of players using the full six hours, and a wish to increase player interaction with each other.

We also wanted to take a moment to discuss some changes to the Community Day format we’ll be testing. In 2020, we doubled the length of our Community Day events, extending them from three hours to six. Since then, however, we’ve found that only five percent of our Trainers tend to participate in the event for more than three hours.

One of the biggest pieces of positive feedback that we received after January’s three-hour Community Day Classic was that players and community leaders noticed how much more of the community was out and about during the event. So, for Stufful Community Day, we’re returning to three-hour format. Our hope is that doing so will create even more opportunities for Trainers to play together and connect outside as they’re exploring.

Player response was not all positive. This is evident from over one thousand comments on The Silph Road‘s subreddit thread on the announcement. A report quickly came out on Dot Esports, where the live game director for Pokémon GO, Michael Steranka, repeated much of the above, but adding that this was something players had asked for.

“Actually, one of the things that prompted us to re-evaluate the Community Day format was calls from Trainers to revert it back to three hours,” said Michael Steranka, live game director for Pokémon Go. “After seeing that feedback, we took a look at our data and saw that less than five percent of players played longer than three hours on Community Day.”

Steranka was then, to his credit, responsive to one player on Twitter, as summarised in this following Reddit thread. It is well worth a read, as it presents in-depth arguments on the reasoning put forth by Steranka. But we’ll summarise the main points here.

Flexibility is accessibility

The main issue is not that players are not playing the full six hours, nor are players primarily concerned about this aspect. The issue is about flexibility. Many players work on weekends, have family events, or are up to the whims of the weather. It may not rain from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., but it’s more likely that the three hour period of 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. would be affected than the whole six hours. By limiting the hours one can participate, and not even allowing players to choose the hours for a “Day” event, the game becomes less accessible. This was one of the main reasons people were upset about the interaction distance decision last year.

Is there value in trying to increase community gatherings (aside from pandemic-related issues)? Sure. Does it require shortening the entire event to three hours? No. Niantic could simply take the bonuses they are adding to this event and apply them to three hours. This would encourage people with the freedom to meet anytime in the day to do so in this window, while other players without that privilege could still play earlier in the day.

This has been seen in previous December catch-up Community Days – spawns were in effect for the weekend, as well as the perk of getting a special move when evolving Community Day Pokémon from earlier events that year at any time during the weekend. Shiny rates were only increased during the designated six hours each day.

It’s also a pain for players into PvP. Limited hours means less time to search for a specific Pokémon with the right IVs, as often perfect stats are not optimal for various cups. There’s also more chance of in-game weather affecting the minimum IVs Pokémon can have to the detriment of the player hunting for a specific IV spread, as weather only changes every hour.

A fixed test

As for the quoted 5% of trainers playing more than 3 hours (different to how many people want the option to play during a period of 6 hours), and the claim, it misses the point of why people are upset. To see this repeated in the follow-up response is disappointing and comes off as tone-deaf. But it’s okay, they “hope Trainers will agree that these changes are for the best” in what is described as a test.

A sour taste to all this is the seemingly cherry-picked examples and the basis for this “test”. The Bulbasaur Community Day Classic event run early this year was used as the basis. Bulbasaur is one of the most popular Pokémon, with many more fans than the likes of Spheal or Sandshrew. It also is more powerful in both Raids and PvP, so it was a target for competitive players, not just casual players. Now the next Pokémon, Stufful, is one debuting in the game during the event, and requires a nauseatingly high 400 Candy to evolve.

Players will be forced to play more than usual just to evolve one, compared to any previous Community Day Pokémon they likely already had Candy for. And if you want the special move for Bewear, you’ll need to evolve it on the day, or else (probably) wait until December for your next chance! One feels Niantic could point to the likely consequence of data indicating greater play time by players to justify this change moving forward. Again, the arguments presented in this Reddit thread go into more detail here. And does their 5% claim hold for Community Days last year that had more popular choices, namely Gible and Shinx? Those would be more comparable to the Bulbasaur Community Day revival event.

Alternate survey results

Let’s go back to a specific quote:

Actually, one of the things that prompted us to re-evaluate the Community Day format was calls from Trainers to revert it back to 3 hours.

These Trainers are not named, if they were for example “Community Leaders”. There was no survey sent around on this specific point to the playerbase, or even on Niantic’s social media platforms. And most damning is, while acknowledging that they are not necessarily representative polls of the entire playerbase, several have shown an overwhelming majority favour 6 hour Community Days – if not longer.

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These speak for themselves. So when will Niantic listen this time? Maybe they won’t…

The Incense Nerf

Earlier this year the Incense item was nerfed from spawning one Pokémon a minute to one every five. Niantic framed it as merely changing their bonuses – after all, instead of lasting 60 minutes, they now last for 90! And besides, they still spawn Pokémon regularly provided you were out and about walking.

This is small comfort to people who cannot always be out and about. At work, isolation, sick from COVID, living in rural areas where spawns are low to begin with or otherwise… there are many reasons for a player to want to use an Incense. And if someone does have access to many spawns by walking to them, they don’t really need the Incense anyway, compared to a stationary player.

Take the Community “Day” next month. With only three hours, someone relying only on Incense will get a maximum of 36 encounters. They will have barely enough Candy to evolve one Stufful if they use a Pinap Berry on each one, assuming they encounter and catch every one. As for Shiny chances? Assuming a Shiny rate of about 1 in 25, there’s a ~23% chance no Shiny will be encountered (almost 1/4 people in this situation will go without a Shiny).

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to encourage players to go out more. But this should be encouraged by incentives, not by removing features that allows for accessibility. Furthermore, the announcement of the change and its specifics was made within 24 hours of happening. This is better than no communication, but fairly short notice nonetheless. They had warned they would give advance notice of the change – but they had stated they would “give at least one month’s notice before they change”. And again, the player feedback has been overwhelmingly against this nerf.

What’s next?

Good question. The last time Niantic backpedalled on a major decision like this, it took a worldwide coordinated #HearUsNiantic campaign, led by many significant fans of the franchise, and tellingly after extensive coverage by media outlets on the fallout. While players have been fairly vocal already on the above changes, the most we have heard from Niantic thus far is that they hope we will agree with them after undergoing a dubious test of shortened hours for an event, featuring a brand new Pokémon requiring a lot of Candy for evolution. The test is doomed to succeed, to the detriment of many players. Again – more engagement between players during such events is by and large good. I doubt many will fault the aim there. But, I stress, it is not worth the cost of flexibility, and can easily be achieved with the best of both worlds – bonuses during a few hours, and the base Community Day experience over a longer time period.

Communication on these matters may be improved to before (as low a bar as that may have been), but it doesn’t feel like Niantic are really listening. And were this not a game using the world’s most popular (or at least profitable) franchise, the patience of many players would have been exceeded a long time ago.

TSR subreddit.

Edited by Arcaneum and Sheep.