First Click: Niantic killed my favorite way of playing Pokémon Go


Do you get out of the house enough? I bet you don’t. It's certainly the case for me that when it reaches the evening, I find myself still sitting at my laptop: watching Netflix, mindlessly browsing Twitter, or (worst of all) working. But until recently, I had a solid — if somewhat silly — reason for leaving the house: playing Pokémon Go. A gentle stroll at night, a few pokémon in the bag, and hey, I suddenly felt a lot less stressed. But all that changed for me this weekend when Pokémon Go's developers, Niantic Labs, pushed out a new update for the game — and I'll bet I'm not the only player feeling suddenly cooped up.

Now, before I explain exactly how Niantic has tyrannically (and with obvious relish) destroyed my enjoyment of a free smartphone game for children, I should say that I’m by no means a Pokémon Go fanatic. I’ve been playing since the app's UK release, and this week hit level 17 — a respectable but essentially mediocre achievement. I’ve got a trio of incubators, a handful of 1,000+ CP pokémon, and a horde of tubby, custard-faced Drowzees that I love dearly and name after puddings. It’s the Pokémon Go equivalent of the suburban dream, but at least it got me out of the house.

my preferred way of playing 'pokémon go' was lazy, but enjoyable

This was my preferred way of playing: I’d put the app on battery-saving mode (which dimmed the screen and vibrated whenever pokémon were nearby), download a couple of podcasts, then slip my phone into a baggy jacket pocket and just go for a wander. It was lazy, but enjoyable; unchallenging, but rewarding, giving me time to unwind in the evening and think about nothing. I’d listen to some podcasts, kick some leaves, and pick up a Pidgey or 10. The simple life.

Until, that is, I unwittingly downloaded Niantic's latest update to the app, which inexplicably killed the apps' battery-saving mode on iOS, along with a number of other popular features. This morning, the company explained in a Facebook post that it had made these changes in order to improve the quality of the game. A pokémon-tracking feature was removed because it was "confusing" and "did not meet […] underlying product goals," while the decision to shut out third-party mapping apps was done because they were affecting the "quality of service." (Presumably by taxing the servers.)

These are reasonable complaints, and although the Facebook post didn't mention the removal of the battery-saving mode, my guess is that it too failed to meet "product goals." It was a buggy feature, occasionally killing the app when you switched to another app, and it’s not essential to the game.

Niantic is ironing out the game's kinks, but making it one-dimensional in the process

But, like the removal of the third-party mapping apps (and I'm sure this is the bigger gripe for most players), killing the battery-saving mode stops people playing Pokémon Go the way they want to. People used third-party apps to track down specific pokémon for their collection, and I used the battery-saving mode to go for long walks without having to worry about my smartphone dying.

Now, though, I have to play the way Niantic thinks is best. There are less bugs, sure, and the app freezes less frequently, but I no longer feel inclined to go a'roving in the tall grass. The game increasingly feels like a grind, with gyms kept on lock by higher-level players, and rare and interesting pokémon impossible to track down without (now defunct) third-party apps. There may be more pokémon and more features coming to the game in the future, but Niantic has lost my interest for the present.

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Pokémon Go player of the day

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