Commentary: Is the Pokemon GO Phenomenon Over?

Written by Feldon on . Posted in Commentary

No EverQuest II content whatsoever!

pokemongo

Talk about being in the right place at the right time. After a single month on the app store of iOS and Android devices, Niantic‘s Pokemon GO (Pokemon being short for Pocket Monster) has obliterated even the loftiest expectations and entered the national consciousness. Some 80 million people have downloaded and played this new augmented reality game. Despite a few early hiccups, including a spying fear when the initial iOS release requested FULL access to your Google profile before a patch fixed it, the game has been a staggering success. The Pokemon GO juggernaut was strong enough to buoy Nintendo’s own stock from a low of 13,500¥ six weeks ago to a high of 31,770¥, a 135% leap, despite the fact that Nintendo actually has no role in and gains no financial benefit from its development. This realization has caused the stock to return to year-over-year averages.

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So why do an article about a game I’ve never even played? Because I feel strongly about APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) and public data.

The Pokemon GO app for iPhone and Android provides scant guidance to its players. At first, the app provided a Footsteps feature which provided an exact distance to the nearest monsters. However after one week, this feature was reduced to a misleading estimate that reports all “nearby” Pokemon as being the maximum distance away. With this change, players were obligated to walk (or drive) around aimlessly in search of Pokemon. Nature abhors a vacuum, and, so a cottage industry of third-party websites sprang up including Pokevision, Pokehound, and PokeNotify. These sites harvested game data to pinpoint Pokemon on a convenient Google Maps overlay.

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The existence of these apps and websites has divided the player community, with some angrily labeling them as “cheat” sites providing an unfair advantage against other players who aren’t familiar with them. Niantic CEO John Hanke commented at San Diego Comic-Con that “People are only hurting themselves because it takes some fun out of the game. People are hacking around trying to take data out of our system and that’s against our terms of service.” Hyperbolic critics of third-party websites have painted their proprietors as “criminals” for violating the Terms of Service, nevermind that every time a case is brought regarding a clickwrap “Terms of Service”, they’ve been declared unenforcable.

With yesterday’s update (which Massively has dubbed the “Patch of Doom“) Niantic has taken the surprising step of eliminating the in-game Footsteps feature entirely, leaving no in-game mechanism for locating nearby Pokemon. In a one-two punch, the company has also blocked data access to third-party websites and sent out Cease-and-Desist letters and e-mails to the aforementioned third-party companies. Sites like Pokevision have been hesitant to talk about the legal threats they’re now facing, but PokemonGoDEV posted the e-mails he received. One of the developers of Pokevision did post this Twitter update which perfectly sums up the situation:

When it comes to tool-assisted, bot-assisted, or website-assisted gameplay, I draw a bright red line between competitive and non-competitive games. If Pokemon GO were a competitive or player-vs-player game, I would consider third-party sites a potential unfair advantage. However Pokemon GO is largely a solo game and, outside of Gyms, largely non-competitive. I compare the existence of sites like Pokevision to walkthrough sites like GameFAQs or Wikia. Even if the data were completely blocked off by Niantic, people would still develop their own self-reported Database websites and Wiki pages to track and report the locations of specific ones.

At the first EverQuest Next Q&A panel at Fan Faire 2009, I remember a few players loudly complaining about websites like Allakhazam “taking the mystery away” from the game. As the co-developer of EQ2U, I am obviously in favor of public data and APIs. I believe that more information doesn’t harm the game and instead makes it more accessible to a wider audience. For those who prefer to play their games in a “hardcore” or traditional way, they only need to use a little self-discipline and ignore such sites.

Niantic has a global phenomenon in their hands. They were extremely fortunate to be in the right place at the right time. Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality are red hot right now, with Oculus Rift and Samsung Gear VR dominating the former, while cell phone apps and the forthcoming Microsoft Hololens are set to define the latter. Nostalgia for Pokemon in all its forms is pervasive. Some variation of the game has been available for all of Nintendo’s home and portable consoles for over two decades, as well as featuring in countless television series. Pokemon GO’s popularity has proven so irresistible that a fake news site even put forth the idea of a Harry Potter GO app which caught numerous gaming news websites unawares.

Pokemon GO has transcended the simple mobile app into something much more. It has brought families together, gotten kids outside and meeting new friends. It has supported local businesses that have Pokemon GO stations with appropriate snacks and drinks. This one app has probably done more for child obesity in this country than any program out of the White House in the last 20 years. There is an entire industry of team shirts in yellow, blue, and red. People are organizing activities at National Parks and public places. People are going outdoors again. I suppose it was inevitable that it would take a nostalgic mobile app to provide us a meaningful distraction from our cell phone-centric society.

The audience Niantic so quickly built can just as easily be lost, and the last thing they can afford to do right now is make knee-jerk decisions in a vacuum. The company is now three weeks behind on handling support tickets,  has disabled Refund requests, and most extraordinarily eliminated the Support button from the app on the Google Play Store, in violation of Google policy on app support.

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Comments (21)

  • SekretInfoz

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  • Zhaan

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    Like you I haven’t even played it – just doesn’t appeal to me and there’s a free game out there that’s similar and has been out for a while (I forgot the name of it, my husband plays it), it just doesn’t have the popular Pokemon theme.

    That said I agree with you about having options for easy information. I’m very busy. I’ll try a quest in EQ2 on my own but if I get stuck I don’t want to just sit there frustrated trying to figure it out and wasting time. I love that wikia and your site are out there.

    Reply

  • Narsikus

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    Interesting read. I’m totally fine with you posting non-EQ2 articles btw!

    Reply

  • Bloodguts

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    Sounds just like everything that SoE/DBG has done with EQ2!

    Build something fun and awesome for an entire community of players then just remove/complicate the fun things making the game no longer fun.

    And while they’re at it, remove all the Support that was available to the game in order to not have to deal with all the whining and crying from customers that once enjoyed this disaster of a game that was Everquest 2!

    Reply

  • Malade

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    Wait until Zelda Go arrives.

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    • Anaogi

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      Insert “it’s dangerous to go alone” meme here.

      Reply

  • bhagpuss

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    I’m with Niantic. It is cheating if they say it is cheating. The maker of any game gets to set the rules. Also I would question the idea that Pokemon GO isn’t competitive. It’s based on Niantic’s “Ingress”, which is a pure PvP game and presumably the intent is to develop Pokemon GO to become a full PvP experience in the same vein.

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    • Feldon

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      Nintendo declares emulation “piracy” so it is? Interesting logic.

      Reply

    • Eschia

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      By that logic, Every game in existence should be F2P with tons of micro-transactions. Just because they can… Never mind the fact that the gaming community is tired of it. Just because a company can do something doesn’t mean they should. Sometimes it’s a bad decision that could not only cripple them as a business, but also nobody will ever trust or want to do business with them again. There are smart moves, and there are moves with dire consequences.

      Reply

    • GriffonLady

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      Pokemon go has been my way to pass the time when I’m driving for family members (and waiting for them to need a ride home), and it’s been nearly as entertaining watching Niantic shoot themselves in the foot as it was to catch pokemon… when I could actually find any of them… (BTW, even the “nearby” window is broken. Most pokemon never leave the window, so you’re never even sure if what is shown there actually is nearby, despawned, or in the town you left a half hour ago at 60 MPH.)

      Ingress has a map you can log into and view the entire world (just have to DL the app and create an account to get access) , zoom in anywhere you want to look for portals, and see details like who owns what, what level they are, etc. You can scan for XP in the app and it shows you exactly where it is, not waiting till you are within a few feet befroe it pops up. :\ It’s basically Pokevision for Ingress, but run by the company, not by someone who was trying to help fellow players after the tracking was intentionally broken by Niantic. (And call me paranoid if you want, but I bet the sales of incense and lures was a bit higher than it would have been if tracking had not been broken.)
      Hell. Niantic didn’t even TELL anyone they turned it off. An interview revealed it was (allegedly) just to keep the servers from crashing. They actually allowed all their customers to think tracking was working. Pretty damn crooked, IMHO.
      Their contact information was unmonitored. (Basically like emailing strait to the recycle bin.)
      Yes, the sites broke the EULA, but Niantic broke their TOS with google and apple by releasing an app that did not do what it was intended (track down pokemon) and did not respond to customers requests for help.

      IMHO, they should have shut down the sites AFTER fixing their own in-game tracking. Leaving customers blind and angry, ignoring them completely (or in this case, doing the exact opposite of what was requested by nearly the entire playerbase; simply repairing a main feature of the game) is just asinine.

      Reply

      • Fyuri

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        lol ok you made me go look up what incense and lures had to do with a game played on a device i don’t have. yeah i bet they made a lot more sales without tracking. there are so many new articles out, including one that warns against trademark and copyright infringement by businesses using lures and then advertising it.

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        • Feldon

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          Sounds like the Nintendo we know and love. Shutting down the YouTube channels of their biggest fans and just overall being a horrible company.

          Reply

  • Punkt

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    No EQ2, no interest ;)

    Reply

  • Eschia

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    It seems as Niantic has chosen to be Anti-Consumer. Not only are they telling the community what they’re allowed to do with their own websites and tools, but they’ve been Lax like a Snorlax when it comes to fixing any of the bugs in the game. I know there will always be those of us in every game that claim the devs aren’t fixing game breaking bugs, but when it comes to Pokemon Go, MOST of us are saying it. It’s as if the company doesn’t care and just wants to make as much money as possible before the fad ship sinks.

    As for people who complain about other people using “cheats sites” as they call them, I would only be worried if it actually mattered. So a site helps you locate certain pokemon… If you’re like me and live in a rural area 5 miles away from the nearest pokestop, you kinda need tools to help you find ANYTHING. Otherwise you can’t play without wasting gas money. I sure as heck don’t wish to travel by bicycle for 5-10 miles down dirt roads and grassy ditches (no sidewalks) just to find a pikachu… Now if the “cheat sites” were allowing people to be immortal during gym battles, then I would be complaining. But It’s not. What they do with their copy of the game does not effect me in any way. So I say let them have it. It’s not that big a deal. I usually have to spoof my GPS just to get to the nearest pokestop. It’s not like I enjoy it, but for me it’s better than the alternative.

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    • Dandy

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      You could always hack your gps so you never have to leave your house.

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      • Eschia

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        I do believe I mentioned that in my second to last sentence.

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    • GriffonLady

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      The only theory that makes sense to me is that their answer to overloaded servers was to drive away customers. o.0

      Reply

  • Katz

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    Seems like Nintendo should be getting some money from this…seems sort of cheating to take Nintendo’s game characters without giving them anything for them. :/

    Reply

  • Fyuri

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    i think it has something to do with the length of time since nintendo invented the original game. copyrights have limitations and must be renewed every so often and eventually becomes public domain. I am sure the copyrights on their invention is still valid, as is their patent. however, if they choose to, it remains to be seen. after all, they sued a woman for making planters based on their characters.

    Reply

  • Fyuri

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    very good article, btw, i really enjoyed reading it.

    Reply

  • Fyuri

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    after more research, even though nintendo doesn’t profit from pokemon go, it seems it is part owner. the three companies named in a lawsuit concerning trespassing on someone’s property are Nintendo, Niantic Labs and the Pokemon Company

    Reply

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