The changes Niantic made to make its location-based AR game Pokémon Go more safely playable during the COVID-19 pandemic are starting to revert back to their original state this week, despite both the continuing impact of COVID-19 and outcry from Pokémon Go players.
In a blog post published this June, Niantic announced the rollback of pandemic-necessary features like increased effectiveness for lure items, increased gameplay item gifts from partner Pokémon, and increased interaction distances for PokéStops and Gyms.
Despite player pleas, those pandemic tweaks have now started vanishing from Pokémon Go in the United States and New Zealand as of this week, prompting complaints from players on social media pointing out that the pandemic is far from over and highlighting how those small tweaks made the game accessible to people that might not be able to play without them.
Those comments range from replies to Pokémon Go tweets sharing how the pandemic is still impacting their ability to safely gather on-location for in-game events like raids to posts on Pokemon Go subreddits describing how the reduced ranges have made it difficult or impossible for players to feel comfortable playing the game.
Joe Merrick, the webmaster of the Pokémon info hub Serebii.net, voiced his complaints in a Twitter thread, calling the change a disregard for Pokémon Go's userbase: "I'm not going to be putting any money into Pokémon Go for the foreseeable future. Niantic have taken a dangerous decision with the PokéStop distance removal during a worsening pandemic, a feature that helped people play safely, or just play," writes Merrick.
"To clarify, this isn't just about removing it in a pandemic," he continues. "It was a good QoL feature and allowed people to play safely, and allowed people who were perhaps unable to play due to a variety of factors to spin stops for items, do raids etc. from a safer distance."
Niantic, it seems, hasn't said much on the issue since the June blog post and the resulting fallout (which included a heavily-signed Change.org petition on the subject). As of that post, the plan was to first launch the aforementioned changes (as well as new "exploration bonuses for playing together in the real world") in the US and New Zealand, and then introduce them elsewhere in the world "in a staggered way, when it makes sense for each place in the world, to help people play safely."
That original blog post did also note some pandemic-era changes that Niantic plans to leave in the game, like remote trainer battles and no walking requirement for its GO Battle League, but largely seems to indicate that Niantic has shifted its focus away from making the game playable during lockdowns and is instead looking to "find the right balance between remote play and in-person play."