Niantic have absolutely transformed Pokémon GO over the last few weeks in the wake of COVID-19.
The issue with having an outdoor game in the midst of a pandemic is, well, having to stay indoors. So the question is how do you keep your core fan base invested until all this blows over.
From day one, Niantic have worked diligently to make the GO experience as enjoyable as possible from the comfort of your own home. Of course it helped that the heart-pumping GO battle league dropped just before all this got serious, giving the game something of an indoor foundation to build upon, but Niantic have gone much further than anyone could have imagined.
They’ve sold boxes for a single coin containing a stack of incenses that last an hour and offer increased spawns. They’ve also boosted gifts to give more pokeballs and rewards, while also increasing the amount of rewards you get from stops, double the usual amount. Even Shiny rates have seen a bit of a spike.
They haven’t left it there, though, as they’ve reworked most tasks for major events to be completed indoors and even brought canceled events to people’s homes.
Then, overnight, they announce a slew of amazing new features to come, like being able to track your steps indoors during your exercise regimes, new virtual social features to help people stay in touch, share memories about real-world places, and even do raid battles together.
All of a sudden, an incredibly active game like PoGo that relies on you being outside has been transformed into a game you can play in full, sat on your sofa. Hell, this might even be the perfect time to pick up the game and give it a try if you never have before.
Which brings me to Wizards Unite, a game that, seemingly, is on a rapid decline.
This one hurts because WU is great. The sticker-book like nature of the registry is smart, being able to prestige pages and show off your shiny frames for bragging rights is a neat twist on a familiar formula.
Then there’s the excellent Fortressing aspect which, for me, is the most interesting team-based activity you can do in an outdoor AR game right now.
And the stunning 3D exploration within Portkeys, the unique use of potions, levelling trees, narrative-based missions, and brewing potions. It’s a game that fits perfectly in the Harry Potter Universe and feels ripe with potential.
But what we’ve been seeing over the past few months is, unfortunately, a game in decline. All of that pre-launch hype has practically evaporated, and It’s become increasingly clear the team are not responding appropriately to feedback, and they’re not reacting quickly enough to the dramatic circumstances happening around us.
The reality is that if something doesn’t change fast, the game that supposedly has five years of content planned won’t even make it to the end of its first.
Events are still requiring people to venture outside to complete some tasks – people are being told by WB they cannot change the tasks at this stage, yet PoGo manages just fine – and trace tonics are not providing the foundables people need or want. Instead, we’re still seeing Emergency traces appearing more frequently in the wild, which might encourage those self-isolating to venture outside. Not smart.
It also doesn’t help when everything keeps resisting, from low-level foundables to Brilliants. Sure, there’s more Spell Energy on the map, but we’re burning through it so quickly just trying to stay active in the game that it’s almost not worth it unless it’s something we actually need.
And most bizarrely of all, it appears they’ve ‘accidentally’ nerfed the range in which fortresses can be reached. I used to be able to do Fortress Challenges from my sofa, but since last week, I’ve been kicked out once I get through the front door. Excellent timing.
Oh, and did we tell you about the one where they added Ministry Employee Newt to a page that was already difficult to prestige? This was a foundable that was originally in the beta but removed due to balancing. Now, of all times, they decide to re-add that foundable back into the game and made it extremely difficult to find him.
I know of at least two friends who needed just one more Veil to go Bronze. Then, seemingly from nowhere, Newt was ‘accidentally’ released early before he was even catchable in the game. Gross.
Even the new event that just went live at midnight is a flop. Just take a look at Reddit.
When first announced, the Mischief Managed event sounded interesting, adding a new page of Young Marauders, basing trace tonics around the unique, ever-changing properties of the Marauder’s Map.
Fans were promised they’d see interchangeable high foundables through their trace tonics based on which part of the tasks they’re on. They were expecting to see super rare spawns like Grawp and Swooping Evil. What they got instead was … Adult Sirius Black who wasn’t even advertised?
There’s also suggestion that the Legends of Hogwarts foundables the event is based around aren’t boosted either, yet they’ve been cropping up frequently in the wild prior to the event. Again, this is being described as an ‘accident’. They seem to have a lot of those….
We’re seeing two very different approaches from Niantic driven games. One is very clearly all about supporting and looking after the fan base, doing everything possible to make sure the game can be played, in full, while people try to self isolate and practice social distancing in these increasingly challenging times.
The other feels like a game that’s being put out to pasture. The team have just been adding random pages and events without much rhyme or reason. They ask for feedback, but then don’t seem to do a lot with it. Nothing is ever as advertised and everything seems counterproductive to what people actually want.
Worst of all, nothing is being clearly communicated – a lot of information we receive about WU actually comes from an influencer who doesn’t even work for WB or Portkey Games!
This is a period of conflict for the WU fanbase. People are deflated, dejected, and disappointed. Pretty soon, they’re going to move on – it’s not as if there aren’t other options out there.
We understand that these are extenuating circumstances, but it’s become pretty clear that there are smart and fan-friendly ways to adapt and adjust your game. Ways that could even see your player base increase. Whether it seems like it or not, this is actually an opportunity to shine, and the importance of communication has never been more valuable.