After the Remote Pass nerf, Pokémon Go moves forward with Shadow Raids
"We made a decision that we'd have to grit our teeth and get past."
Two months ago, Pokémon Go developer Niantic told Eurogamer it would launch a blockbuster slate of new features over the course of this summer, following its controversial restructure of the game's popular Remote Raids gameplay.
Today, Niantic has pulled back the curtain on the first of these - the genuinely exciting introduction of Shadow Raids, which Niantic describes as merely the "tip of the iceberg" compared to everything else still in store.
Speaking to Eurogamer in a further interview on what's next for the game, Pokémon Go's development team also discussed in more detail why that Remote Raid nerf was so necessary.
How Shadow Raids work
But first, details of Shadow Raids themselves. As you'd expect, Shadow Raids will let players battle, defeat and capture Shadow Pokémon - the cool-looking versions of creatures that Team Rocket have souped up for themselves. As with regular raids, Shadow Raids will come in a variety of different difficulty levels - Tier 1, Tier 3 and Tier 5, the latter of which will feature Shadow Legendary Pokémon. To kick things off, this means the ultra-powerful Shadow Mewtwo. (And yes, it will also be Shiny-possible.)
Shadow Raids will be playable in-person only, as part of Niantic's push to get people outside, but also as a way to enable some fresh gameplay mechanics. In a bid to make these battles more exciting affairs than the tap-tap-tap routine of regular raiding, Shadow Pokémon have a strong chance of suddenly becoming enraged during battle, making them harder to beat. Players can fight back by using a new item, a Purified Gem, to help bring the battle back under control. And in a bid to reward players for strong teamwork, players who coordinate to use Purified Gems at the same time will see the effects of these items stack. (Purified Gems also add another gameplay loop, as they are obtained by combining four drops of another new item - Shadow Shards - found by defeating Team Rocket throughout the game.)
"We're looking for ways to make raid moments which are climactic, unique and exciting for a team," Pokémon Go senior producer John Funtanilla tells me. "And as it is for local raids only, we want to create that excitement as a real-life experience." Players will need to stay on their toes for Shadow Pokémon in Tier 3 and Tier 5 raids to become enraged at least once per battle, he continues. "It is pretty finely tuned from our game design team, obviously, we're playing it a lot at the office."
The current plan for Shadow Raids is for Shadow Mewtwo to debut in a special weekend event to mark the feature's arrival, before being rotated out for other Shadow Legendaries. Tier 3 and Tier 1 raids will meanwhile feature other desirable Shadow Pokemon, such as Beldum.
"Mewtwo is one of the most highly sought-after Pokémon and we want to make sure we hold it as the ultimate thing for players to want to get," Pokémon Go director Michael Steranka tells me. "Moving forward, we see this as an opportunity to give people a second bite at the apple, so to speak. With previous Shadow Legendary Pokémon, you only had a very small window to get them whenever Giovanni rotated in, and we have many players who might have missed out on Shadow Articuno, Zapdos, Moltres, etc. So the introduction of this feature gives players another opportunity to catch those Shadow Legendary Pokémon, chase the Shiny versions of those for the first time or get multiple of them so you might be able to get the right IV spread you're looking for.
"And as you know, you cannot trade Shadow Pokémon so if you are looking to get that Shadow Shiny Legendary you'll have to test your mettle and honestly be a little bit lucky too."
Why the Remote Raid nerf was necessary
Shadow Raids sound like an exciting moment for Pokémon Go - at a time the game and its community feel like they need a boost. Just over a month on from Niantic's Remote Raid changes going live, the dust has now settled and the demands for a sudden U-turn have quietened down. Now, there's a feeling that Niantic needs to lay out what it has in store for players instead.
Already this week, Niantic announced plans to introduce the Pokémon series' coveted Master Ball item, which created a buzz. But elements of the community remain suspicious of Niantic's motives - particularly as the announcement coincided with the developer making catch rates opaque to dataminers who snoop the app's code. Eurogamer understands the timing of these two things is unrelated.
"We knew the Remote Raids change was going to be an incredibly difficult one to make," Steranka tells Eurogamer. "And for me personally - I can say I probably would Remote Raid more than 99 percent of your readers. That's something that was a core feature I engaged with on a regular basis, so that was a tough pill for me to swallow as well. But ultimately, the way Remote Raids have evolved over the years has led to what we consider a pretty unhealthy way to engage with Pokémon Go. We saw a lot of players hopping in and doing dozens of remote raids for Legendary Pokémon every day, sometimes hundreds. And that's kind of antithetical to what we envisioned this game to be.
"So yes, unfortunately, we did have to make a change there in a way that was true to our mission. And yes, the response and the negative sentiment I would say we've received on that is something we expected, but it's something we made a decision that we'd have to grit our teeth and get past for the sake of the long term health of the game. Now with that, you know, the reason why we made that decision is because we also have a number of really incredible features we're building for Pokémon Go right now, that we're looking to launch over the course of this year. And Shadow Raids is the tip of the iceberg there. But all of these features are looking to introduce new ways to engage with Pokémon Go to evolve the game in completely different ways that personally I've been hoping we would take the game for a long time. And we wouldn't really be able to meaningfully introduce those things if we were constantly anchored to the '100 Pokécoin, do dozens, sometimes hundreds of Remote Raids in a single day' experience we'd created."
Not only had Remote Raiding dominated people's play experience and usage of Pokémon Go, but it was making access to the franchise's rarest and most powerful creatures too easy, Steranka says.
"Legendary Pokémon are the epitome of Pokémon lore, and that's not something Niantic has any control over, that's something that's well established in the main series games. And if that's something players can get simply without leaving home for 100 Pokécoins, then that really reduces our design space for future features quite considerably. So we had to balance that for the overall health of the game, but then also the overall relative value that item offers."
As with other major decisions around the game's features and balance, the remote raid nerf was something Niantic decided upon in partnership with the brand's ultimate owner, The Pokémon Company.
"Any decision we make in Pokémon Go is a shared conversation with our partners at the Pokémon Company," Steranka adds. "We really value the partnership and the trust we've built with each other. And they're the experts of the brand, right? So we always consult them with any decision, especially major decisions like that. And they have a lot of input into what the final nuts and bolts look like for any of those things."
Giovanni quests will remain a way to debut new Shadow Legendary Pokémon
"The Giovanni Team Go Rocket rotations are still a great way to introduce new Shadow Pokémon," Steranka says. "And then long term, Shadow Raids are an opportunity to give you more chances to get those Shadow Legendaries in the future. We're always looking to assess how we introduce content into Pokemon Go so that may change over time, but at least for now, that's the design philosophy we're looking at."
No plans for more Apex Shadow Pokémon in Shadow Raids
"Those have typically been tied to our premiere experiences like Pokemon Go Fest, Pokemon Go tour and are intended to be one-offs for the most part," Steranka notes. "As of right now those are things we would likely not move into Shadow Raids. There are no current plans to do so."
On the ethical nature of keeping Shadow Pokémon
"There's an inherent coolness factor some people might associate with the Shadow effects and whatnot, but in the games' lore, Shadow Pokemon are suffering and in pain and so we want players to Purify them and save them from that," Steranka states. "We've tried to add some incentives around the Purification process - you get access to an incredibly powerful move in Return as opposed to Frustration, which is a very weak move, but yes, especially in PVP, you make a trade-off in terms of damage output versus damage received because you get a damage modifier there for being Shadow boosted. We want to put those decisions in players' hands and if you're the type of player that is okay with your Pokémon suffering a little bit to get a little bit more power, then that's your choice to make. I do know there are a lot of players who, because of that, refuse to keep any Shadow Pokémon and will purify everything that they catch."
And finally, a request from my Pokémon Go community - to increase the number of gyms tracked to more than 1000
"Thanks to the folks in your community who have gone to 1000 different places with Pokemon Go!" Steranka says. "I think that's really incredible and special. When we introduced that limit at the start, when gym badges were first introduced, it was mostly a sort of failsafe for us to ensure spoofers or other people playing the game nefariously weren't going to be tanking our servers by making a store of these countless bits of data. But at this point, a lot of our server code has definitely evolved quite a bit and gotten a lot more efficient. I can't tell you that we will increase it, but what I can tell you is I'll take that feedback back to the team and see if there's something we can do there, because I've heard that a couple times now. And that feature has now been out for long enough where people will naturally be hitting that limit and I can totally understand the desire to want to continue keeping track beyond 1000."