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Pokémon Go's most prominent players call for Niantic to reconsider removal of pandemic changes

UPDATE: Niantic responds, promises final decision by September.

UPDATE 6/8/21: Pokémon Go developer Niantic has responded to yesterday's community-wide outcry over its removal of the game's extended interaction distance in the US and New Zealand.

Niantic's lengthy blog acknowledges the community's concerns, but again underlines just how important the removal of extended interaction distance seems to be to the company. Even in the face of enormous community pressure, there is no quick U-turn here.

However, Niantic has said it will, with a bit of time, look further into the matter with an internal team and community leaders - with findings to be shared by the game's next season change on 1st September.

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"We have heard your input loud and clear and so to address the concerns you have raised, we are taking the following actions," Niantic wrote. "We are assembling an internal cross-functional team to develop proposals designed to preserve our mission of inspiring people to explore the world together, while also addressing specific concerns that have been raised regarding interaction distance."

And so, the community waits. In the meantime, Niantic will likely be keeping a close eye on player engagement and spending while the US and New Zealand continue on with a reduced interaction distance for the rest of August. After yesterday's protests fade into memory, will a meaningful percentage of players change their habits? Or will they raid Palkia, the game's latest must-have Legendary Shiny?

As for Niantic, the company now has three weeks to investigate whether a compromise can be found on extended distance - to give fans something of what they want while also staying true to the company's long-term goals.

ORIGINAL STORY 5/8/21: Pokémon Go's most high profile players have called upon developer Niantic to reconsider its decision to remove the game's extended interaction range, which was implemented last year as the pandemic hit.

Influencers, YouTubers and community leaders have today used their sizable social media footprints to all share an open letter to Niantic setting out the reasons why they believe the game's extended interaction distance should remain, several days after it was reverted in the US and New Zealand.

The list of reasons includes being able to play while further socially distanced, and keeping the game extra accessible for less able players. Other reasons listed include being able to play further away from the general public for personal safety reasons, and further away from businesses or landmarks to avoid congestion.

In short, players have gotten used to playing with the game's extended interaction range - and really do not want to give it up.

For its part, Niantic has said it wants Pokémon Go to return to a stage where it encourages safe in-person gatherings which spark interaction between players, as well as encourage greater exploration and more outside play.

Here's that letter in full:

In June, Niantic laid out a roadmap for how its many pandemic-era bonuses would end, change or be made permanent, with some new short-term "exploration bonuses" for the regions which would lose their pandemic bonuses first. It also warned players it would move New Zealand and the US to this category first, at the end of July, with other areas to follow "in a staggered way, when it makes sense for each place in the world".

But the change in interaction radius has become a sticking point, with a negative response that has only grown louder this week as the US and New Zealand saw the changes live in-game for the first time (and, as some players have pointed out, COVID cases in the US continued to rise). Throughout this, Niantic has not addressed the issue further.

ZoëTwoDots, a popular Australian Pokémon Go YouTuber, is one of several high profile players to say they have ceased spending money on the game until Niantic acknowledges fan sentiment and reconsiders the issue. Fellow streamer PkmnMasterHolly and Brandon Tan, the world's most famous Pokémon Go XP grinder, have said the same.

Today, the issue is now beginning to get mainstream coverage in places like The Guardian, while the hashtag #BoycottNiantic gathers steam among largely US-based Pokémon Go players on Twitter. Many players are sharing images with slogans such as "Pokémon No", and are encouraging others not to play or spend money today in protest.

But not everyone has been so critical - and indeed, there has been criticism of the response from some fans aimed at individual Niantic developers. "This community is getting SUPER toxic in the name of an apparent good cause," wrote the hugely popular player Mystic7, who has 2.11 million subscribers on YouTube. "Shoutout to my community for staying cool and good vibes."

Will these calls to action make a difference? It's hard to remember a time when so many of the game's popular players have been so vocal on a particular issue. That said, the game's often-guarded developer seems particularly set on its decision to reduce interaction radius, and has continued to press on with its busy summer schedule while not commenting further up until now.

It feels likely Niantic will want to wait and see exactly how meaningful any reaction to this week's changes might be among overall player engagement and spending before deciding its response. In the meantime, it's also difficult to imagine today's "boycott" - on a quiet Thursday in-between major in-game events with little to currently spend money on anyway - having a sizable impact on Niantic's long-term and highly lucrative bottom line.

"As we announced in June, we're introducing new exploration bonuses for players in the US and New Zealand and are removing or changing some of the bonuses introduced last year," a Niantic spokesperson told Eurogamer today when asked for comment. "People can check the Today View in game to see which specific bonuses are available to them. We'll continue to monitor health and safety guidance related to outdoor activities."

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