Unless you've been living on the moon for the past few weeks, you already know about Pokémon Go, the phenomenally successful mobile game from Niantic, made in partnership with The Pokémon Company. Using a combination of GPS tracking and augmented reality, Pokémon Go allows players to go hunting for Pokémon out in the real world. It's been a breakout success for its makers, but that's almost certainly all about to change, thanks to a very poor decision from Niantic.
When Pokémon Go launched in early July, it had an incredibly simple but functional tracking system in which nearby Pokémon would be displayed in the nearby section with a number of footprints underneath their picture. So if you saw a Charmander with one footprint beneath it, it meant you were within throwing distance of the little blighter; while three footprints meant it was a fair old trek away. The only way to track down a Pokémon was to move in a direction and see if the footprint number dropped, indicating you were getting hotter. It wasn't the most elegant system on Earth and it could be bloody infuriating at times, but it was something at least.
Then came the three footprint bug which completely broke the system, showing three footprints for all Pokémon regardless of how far away they were. Dragonite on your radar? Good luck finding it, buddy. This could easily have been the end of Pokémon Go, especially with the rumours that the "bug" was in fact an intentional move by Niantic to reduce the load on their struggling servers.
But we're an enterprising species and when a hole in the market appears, you can bet your ass someone will fill it. Along came Pokévision, a browser-based system that allowed players to search their surrounding area for nearby Pokémon. None of this three footsteps rubbish was necessary: Pokévision could tell you the exact location of any Pokémon along with the amount of time left before it despawned. The game was saved and Pokémon trainers the world over could rejoice.
Was it cheating? Sure, I guess you could call it that. But in the absence of an official system it was all we had. Understandably, when asked what they thought of Pokévision, Niantic weren't exactly thrilled. Speaking with Forbes, Niantic CEO John Hanke said:
"Yeah, I don't really like that. Not a fan. We have priorities right now but they might find in the future that those things may not work.
"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."
A fair point, if not for the fact that the in-game system for tracking Pokémon was completely fucked. These weren't empty words either, as just three days after this interview was published, on July the 31st, Pokévision was shut down.
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So now Pokémon Go has no viable tracking app and players have to just wander around aimlessly and hope they bump into something worth catching. Fantastic move Niantic, you've blown it. It's perfectly understandable that you don't approve of Pokévision, but at least get your own solution working before you shut them down. We don't even have any sort of time frame as to when the tracking system will be fixed. The latest update actually removed the footprints altogether, presumably to reduce frustration from confused players, a move which suggests that the fix isn't coming any time soon. Without any reliable way to find the Pokémon they're looking for, the majority of high-level players now have very little reason to play. Some are demanding refunds as their plans for in-app purchases have now been altered.
We've all read the stories claiming that Pokémon Go is nothing more than a momentary craze, a flash in the pan destined to burn out after a month or two, so the developers should be doing everything in their power to prove them wrong, surely. By shutting down Pokévision, Niantic have destroyed the game's momentum, something very precious to its ongoing success. It's likely, given the user base of over 75 million players worldwide, that Go will survive this rather significant bump; but it's a stupid move that will do nothing but alienate a large portion of the hardcore fanbase while simultaneously making the game less inviting to newcomers.