Pokémon GO, Niantic's smash-hit augmented reality title, is in hot water after the company has decided to roll back quality-of-life improvements added during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
These features were designed to promote social distancing while making it viable to play the game at home, which previously required you to physically walk around outside in order to play. With these changes being rolled back, disappointed fans have organized a boycott in protest.
Before the pandemic gripped the world and forced most countries into some kind of lockdown, Pokémon GO promoted physical activity by tasking players with walking around in the real world and catching Pokémon, fighting at gyms and visiting Pokéstops via the AR game app on their mobile device. Inherently, Pokémon was a social game, and players would frequently meet in real life at hotspots like Pokéstops and gyms.
When social distancing became a necessity to curb the spread of the pandemic, Pokémon GO had to change to adapt to a world where players were mostly stuck at home. Niantic rolled out a set of convenience features making it possible to get the full experience out of the game without leaving your home, and these features struck a cord with the community - 2020 was the most profitable year for Pokémon GO.
However, the USA and some other countries have begun to lift lockdowns and loosen safety measures, which has in turn led Niantic to roll back these stay-at-home features. Many players were disappointed by this, which only threw oil on a fire that's been burning already - the fanbase has often criticized the increasingly pay-to-win model of the game.
A number of players have organized a one-day boycott with the hashtag #PokémonNO in protest, urging other players to not open the game and definitely not buy anything from the in-game store on August 5. The idea is to show Niantic just how many players disapprove of the choice to roll back stay-at-home features.
This is something of a double edged sword. On the one hand, if the COVID-19 pandemic had never forced the world into a lockdown, these changes would never have happened in the first place, and Pokémon GO was always about going outside and walking. Cheaters using third party methods to spoof the GPS while staying home were banned for a breach of TOS, only for similar systems being built into the game due to an unnatural, unforeseen event.
On the other hand, players who live in regions which still observe lockdowns and social distancing would be put at a disadvantage, and others who have joined the Pokémon GO community during the lockdown have known and learned the game in this shape. To revert these significant changes alters the product in a major way, which might not feel fair to those who have spent real money in-game while the stay-at-home features were active.
Nonetheless, it was pretty much to be expected that the changes would be rolled back as the pandemic began to clear up - staying at home while playing Pokémon GO is antithetical to the entire premise and conceptual roots of the title, and the stay-at-home features were never intended to be permanent.
As far as issues in the video game industry go, there are many others much more worthy of attention and outrage.