Pokémon GO makes remote play less accessible

Photo by: Brenden Cowan

On March 30, Pokémon GO developer Niantic announced that it would be taking action to limit the use of the game’s remote raid pass item, leading to pushback from fans.

Raiding is a feature that was added to Pokémon GO in July 2017, where trainers band together to fight a powerful Pokémon. If they successfully defeat this Pokémon, they receive rare items and have a chance to catch a levelled-down version of the Pokémon they defeated. Normally, these raids require players to be in close proximity to where they’re hosted, but this changed with the remote raid pass.

This pass was added in April 2020 shortly after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, allowing players to keep participating in raids while keeping themselves safe from the virus. They’ve quickly grown popular, with raids frequently full of remote players even as pandemic restrictions start to lift. Niantic has seen this and has made an effort to discourage players from using these passes so often.

As of April 6, the price of a remote raid pass has increased from 100 in-game coins (roughly equal to $1 CAD) to 195 coins. Additionally, players were already limited to having three of these passes at a time, and now Niantic has added a rule that players are only able to use five passes a day. 

These downgrades do not come with any benefits either: this is simply making this option worse for players. In an interview with EuroGamer, Pokémon GO vice-president Ed Wu stated that the degrading of remote raid passes is an attempt to incentivize people to start using the premium battle pass — the remote pass’s in-person equivalent.

“The world has largely moved back outdoors and remote raid passes have come to dominate the overall experience of playing in a way we never intended,” he said. “It’s become essentially a shortcut to playing the game. We’ve seen an imbalance because the current price of remote raid passes is matched to the premium battle pass which is distorting the game economy, and making the game unsustainable in the long term.”

This was met incredibly poorly. These changes would not improve things for any players, but there were two groups especially outspoken on this issue: those with physical disabilities preventing them from attending raids in person, and those who live outside of major metropolitan areas. These groups had relied on remote raiding as a way to participate in the game, and this would be hampered by making these raids less accessible.

Television writer Nicolas Falacci replied to Pokémon GO’s tweet announcing the changes, stating that Niantic should have made in-person raids more accessible instead of making remote raids less so.

“Here’s a question @NianticLabs,” he said. “Articulate how the game is being ‘harmed’ by remote raiding. Go ahead. We’ll wait. Players still use the game in [the] real world — to grind, spin stops, defend gyms. It was on YOU to create in-person raiding incentives. And you failed.”

Fan-based Pokémon news outlet PokéJungle replied as well, stating that the game was not designed with more remote players in mind, and this change reflected that.

“Niantic developers have clearly never lived in rural America,” they said. “Disappointing but par for the course. [The] Company has very rarely shown interest in listening to players’ needs or concerns. Great to meet up with [a] community of players, but not possible for everyone.”

Charity organization GameChanger also replied, commenting on how these changes would negatively impact people with disabilities or suffering from COVID-19 related side effects. 

“We don’t like to speak on things like this too much, but… This update will essentially end any accessibility that was left,” they said. “We feel for the thousands of sick children & those physically impaired that will no longer have the ability to experience a large part of this game.”

While Niantic has not responded to fan outcry and have gone through with the proposed changes regardless, many fans feel that this update is a strictly bad decision, with some giving up the game entirely. Whether this outcry will be big enough or continue long enough for Niantic to address it remains to be seen.

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