Over the weekend, after heavily hinting at their disapproval of such apps, Niantic sent cease and desist letters and effectively brought down all fan-made radar programs for the company's runaway success Pokemon Go. PokeVision, PokeRadar: just gone. At the same time, they pushed an update to the app that removed the footprints from beneath Pokemon in the Nearby tab, and instead replaced it with nothing. And other than the few interviews Niantic CEO John Hanke has done over the past two weeks, we've heard nothing from the company--no kind of community management, no message, no explanation of how we're supposed to track Pokemon now. It's frustrating, and for some has made Pokemon Go unplayable.
I initially wasn't a fan of Pokemon Go. The game launched while I was staying in a sparsely populated rural area, so with limited access to Pokestops and Pokemon I wasn't motivated to play. Returning home to San Francisco, however, I found myself with a wealth of options: gyms every few blocks, multiple Pokestops on every street, and clusters of creatures, both annoyingly common and tantalizingly rare, available to catch. I started collecting eggs and walking the long way to work, hoping that the deviation from my normal route would bring an extra Clefairy or maybe even a more uncommon creature into my path.
When my coworkers introduced me to PokeVision, however, is when I really took to Pokemon Go. I read stories about a Vaporean spawning in New York's Central Park that brought masses of people to the landmark as they found him on their maps. Friends told me about seeing an Aerodactyl spawn in our Mission district and a Blastoise in Burlingame, and how they called each other and jumped in their cars, racing to grab the monster before it despawned. I frequently checked the PokeVision map throughout the day, which is how I found out about the Porygon that repeatedly spawns on Alcatraz Island along with a horde of Voltorbs and Magnemites; my coworkers and I subsequently made plans to do an Alcatraz tour in hopes of catching these electrical monsters.
PokeVision is also the reason our office found out about a Dragonite spawning, which, of course, caused mass hysteria and flocks of SoMa workers to gather outside our building. PokeVision alerted my coworker to a Venusaur five minutes down the road--and we took an afternoon hiatus to run at breakneck speed through the streets to get him. These moments wouldn't exist without PokeVision, and because my coworkers, friends, and likely most of you reading this don't have the luxury to spend hours on ending wandering the streets, it was the best way for us to locate and capture the Pokemon we needed.
Part of the reason we loved PokeVision and apps like PokeRadar so much is because they filled a void left by the app itself. Pokemon Go's Nearby feature was impossible to decipher and a little broken on launch. Each Pokemon that showed up in the "Nearby" tab would have one, two or three little footprints beneath it, indicating how far away you were from its location. But players worldwide never quite figured out what those footprints meant; I heard from a friend each footprint represented one yard, while another told me it was three footprints per city block, and so on. Without a reliable tracking feature, there was no effective way to play Pokemon hot and cold other than walk in circles and hope you were going in the right direction.
But now Niantic has forced them to be taken down. These radar apps weren't "cheating," nor did they take away from the experience of Pokemon Go. They added to it. People who don't have the time to roam knew when and where to find the Pokemon they wanted--just like in the actual Pokemon games. The radar apps also bolstered the game's social component, just look at what happened above with my coworkers and friends. We planned outings based on where we knew we could find rare Pokemon. In one instance, a friend took my phone with him down the street to catch a Magmar while I waited in line to pick up our lunch. There was a teamwork aspect that grew from having these tracking resources. We were trainers helping each other, looking out for rarer monsters and planning trips to where we knew we could get a good sweep of critters.
But now that that social component is all but gone--largely because my friends aren't playing anymore. A few have dismissed the app entirely; usually the GameSpot office is punctuated by shouts about Pokemon appearing here or there, and then a mass exodus as we all grab our phones and go for a quick jog. It was an excuse to get out of the office in the middle of the day and get some exercise.
By far the worst thing about all this is Niantic's silence.
By far the worst thing about all this is Niantic's silence. The company should say something, anything, detailing how we're supposed to track Pokemon now that the app no longer displays distance. An explanation on why they shut down radar apps--made by fans who love and want to share their love of Pokemon Go--would be beneficial as well. Is Niantic making their own radar? Adding a better tracker to the game? There's no point in chasing a Scyther that pops up on your radar when you have no idea if it's a one, five, ten, or more minute walk away from your office, especially when you have the rest of your life to attend to.
With their silence and stinginess, Niantic has effectively killed the Pokemon Go hype, at least for my friends and I. How do we know we won't be met with endless Rattatas the next time we head to the park? If we could get an explanation, perhaps that would ease the pain of having our most meaningful tools unexpectedly taken away. Until then, we're all a little less "go" for Pokemon Go.