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Bemused Pokemon Go players petition Niantic to make pandemic tweaks permanent

UPDATE: Pokemon Go developer Niantic has responded to Gamasutra's inquiries about the petition, which has now being signed by over 90,000 players and fans, in a brief statement.

Pokemon Go players are imploring developer Niantic to make some of the title's pandemic-enforced features permanent fixtures to ensure it remains accessible and safe in the long-term.

A Change.org petition (pictured below) asking the company to keep increased PokeStop and Gym interaction distances has amassed over 77,000 signatures at the time of writing.

Many of those who've signed the petition claim the feature, initially brought in to aid social distancing when playing outdoors, make the game safer, and note that some people still don't feel comfortable gathering in large groups -- and might not for some time. 

Others point out the feature has made the AR title infinitely more accessible. "The increased distance allows me to play with my disabled grandson without having to take him out of the car when the weather is bad," said one signee.

"Please don't take this away. It helps people with disabilities enjoy the game and I won't be able to play as much if you change it back. I started playing during the pandemic, and the adjustments you made to the game during that time made it much more enjoyable and accessible for me, and many many others," commented another.

Pokemon Go creator Niantic made variety of changes to the augmented reality title to ensure fans could play safely as the world grappled with COVID-19, tweaking features over the course of the pandemic as restrictions ebbed and flowed around the globe. 

For instance, the studio made it easier to play in isolation as COVID-19 restrictions tightened, added other measures to ensure players could roam the world in search of pocket monsters while practicing social distancing, and even launched an initaitve to help small businesses affected by the pandemic.

Earlier this week, however, the company outlined plans to add 'exploration bonuses' and revert some of those changes to "make it more rewarding to play outside." The broad idea is to get players moving again and slowly return the title to its pre-pandemic state as some countries begin to ease restrictions, but as the petition shows, some fans believe the decision hasn't been given enough consideration. 

"Today, as some parts of the world are moving toward recovery, we’re announcing new exploration bonuses that make it more rewarding to play outside are coming over the next several months, including bonuses for spinning stops, playing at in-person raids, and getting in those steps," wrote the company on June 21.

"We’re committed to doing this in a staggered way, when it makes sense for each place in the world, to help people play safely. As we return to the outside world again, these changes are aimed at restoring the focus of Pokemon Go on movement and exploration in the real world. These changes will be introduced slowly and carefully to make it more exciting to explore the world around you."

At GDC Summer 2020, Pokemon Go lead Matt Selmon and senior game designer Laura Warner explained how the company's design philosophy shifted from "Play out in the world" to "Play at home" to "Play where you are" throughout the pandemic. 

It was unclear whether that philosophy would continue to inform the studio's decision making once the pandemic began to subside, but disability advocates noted how many of the changes had allowed disabled players to finally engage with the title -- although some also expressed concern that Niantic would begin to backpedal once the pandemic was over.

For its part, Niantic did note that many of its pandemic tweaks would only be "temporary changes," but also expressed a desire to keep around some features, including the increased Gym and PokeStop distances, around "for the foreseeable future."

We've reached out to Niantic for comment on the issue.

Update (06/30/21):  Pokemon Go developer Niantic has responded to Gamasutra's inquiries about the petition and the broader accessibility and safety concerns raised by over 90,000 players and fans with the below statement.

"Thank you for your interest in Pokemon Go," said the studio. "Your valuable feedback is appreciated."

Gamasutra specifically asked the company how it intended to support disabled players moving forward, and whether keeping those increased interaction distances would be something the development team would consider. 

It was also pointed out how those pandemic-enforced features had opened up the game for disabled players, many of whom feel they won't be able to enjoy or engage with the AR title in the same way if the changes are rolled back as planned.

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