Pokémon Go creators say COVID is ‘existential to our game’

Pokémon Go ready to launch a major new event in March. Battle League – which requires players to walk in to get in – was similar in spirit to many of the Niantic campaigns within its game, one that encourages players to leave home and join together. socially. But outside, COVID-19 was starting to catch on. “I remember being like there’s no way this could be, there’s no way this is anything,” said Veronica Saron, Niantic’s product marketing manager. “I was so silly. I had no idea. None of us had an idea. ”

By March, companies were starting to lay off their employees from home. For Saron, her last day in office included a meeting with the CEO of the company and a series of talking heads via video call. She has not been back in the office since.

Video games have thrived in the pandemic, with sales hitting record highs in about a decade. Development, like many other jobs, has continued from home. Even with a slight delay, studios like Naughty Dog, Insomniac, Sucker Punch, and more have been successful in releasing their big budget games this year. Stuck at home, listeners have become even more eager for experiences beyond the long hours.

Pokémon Go unlike most games. Where titles are very popular this year, like Across animals no Among them, very suitable for sitting on the couch, Pokémon Go it’s about getting up, going outside, and communicating socially in real life; look beyond Niatnic’s focus on personal events each year. That won’t work in a pandemic. Even outdoors, large accumulations can still pose a health risk. And while its development is now going through ongoing updates on existing output, compared to the work required for a large, start-up publication, Pokémon Go there is a special point of emphasis: a moral duty to their players to keep them safe. This has always been the case, as the game has a list of crashes and crashes associated with the name. The pandemic only makes the stakes higher. It is morally suspicious to encourage any of your players to get outside, when medical professionals have asked them not to.

“The current issue [of COVID] it’s essential to our game, ”says chief production manager Matt Slemon The edge. “And if we continue as we have continued to build and build features and sit on them until COVID is over, that would not be right for our players. ”

In the early days of COVID, Niantic – a global company with offices throughout the U.S. and overseas in places like Japan and Germany – had a better picture of how the virus was spreading than most. At the end of January, Slemon recalls, the team began talking about how COVID was affecting places like South Korea, Japan and Italy, and the last of them had already been locking. By drawing data from resources like Apple’s motion maps, Niantic was able to track the decline in player walkthroughs and get a clearer picture of just how few of its players are moving. “For us, walking is the basic thing,” Slemon says. “Following just to see how the world has dealt with COVID in general is a good line of action, because that app doesn’t inspire people to do things. It’s just the kind that helps them do what they’re already doing. It’s great to read about how culture is changing around walking. ”

First, Niantic lowered its walking requirements and changed its rules about mythical pokémon and predation. “That lasted us maybe two and a half hours, three weeks,” Slemon says. More countries were experiencing an increase in issues or even locking down. “We realized we didn’t have the knowledge or the staff to keep up with the levels of change happening across the country around the world. ”Niantic, which had previously been releasing local updates to replace COVID, moved its focus on changes around the world.

As our understanding of the virus, its effects, and how best to deal with it has changed rapidly this year, so have protective measures as well. States close as hospitals go up. Things rise and fall, making different places in different places. The state of the world has changed at a rapid pace, making everything more difficult. Niantic’s work was very special. The developer created what Slemon calls strike teams, groups to quickly submit ideas and implement new ideas that they could put into sprints. It can take up to nine months to implement some features. During COVID, that latter does not work.

“When COVID first happened, one of the things it needed – it was definitely not a change in day – to – day work, it was more of a strategy style change,” Slemon says. “Given the changing nature of the situation, we have found that the best way to manage things at the moment is to be as flexible as possible. ”

Part of that involved eliminating the game’s community events and adopting remote play. “We were initially at a small loss … this is a big part of what we do Pokémon Go unparalleled, ”said Saron. “While it will not always be the same as a personal event where we operate a park, we were able to capture many of these best elements and encourage communities to come together and have their Go Fest. to have their own, whether they had to live socially. distance or stay in quarantine. ”

A personal event usually takes months to design. Saron says the team now has weeks to put their ideas into action. Niantic has relied on features like remote attacks and Team Go Rocket Balloons – air balloons that give players fights, rather than forcing them to travel – to make things feel a little more normal. “Over time we have had to move from that local approach to the global approach, allowing a handful of universal changes to allow people to play whatever their situation, ‘”She says. “And of course if they can go out, go on tour, social distance, that’s great – but if they’re in a situation where they have to quarantine, we also want the game to be accessible. them too. ”

These updates were not without pain or even without fair criticism. Proponents like AbleGamers COO Steven Spohn have been demanding access options since 2016. In March, in response to Niantic feature changes, Spohn tweet, “The reality of the fringe is that‘ just a few players ’(46 mil, btw) is suddenly everyone. Now, people are finally realizing what disabled gamers have been saying for years: Being Socially Remote SUCKS. It was an honor to leave your home whenever you wanted. ” In continuation tweetSpohn said, “I am sorry that he contracted a global pandemic to bring these access options to life and teach this lesson.” When asked exactly why he contracted a pandemic that added these features, Slemon said that was not “really how we look at some of these changes.”

“We know that cultural norms have changed around the world,” Slemon says. “So what it means to do things like go out, exercise, communicate socially, has changed. Zoom chat is now a common replacement for face-to-face conversations, even with friends or family. We wanted to stay aware of those times. Slemon said that Niantic is “taking real accessibility problems,” citing issues such as motion and color blindness. “There are accessibility challenges that we really embrace and want to address. But this set of changes is very much about targeting the changes to the cultural norms of the world as a whole.Over time, I think we want to have specific changes that will focus on the kinds of accessibility problems. ”

Niantic plans to keep many of the changes it has made to the game this year, such as remote attacks, permanent. This year it celebrated the biggest Go Fest yet, despite being online only. “We built all the feature changes we made and knew we would be in a world with the pandemic for a while,” Slemon says. The game means a lot of things to different people, whether it’s as a gathering tool, exercising, or staying connected to friends. “We tried to find the path that was … whatever we meant to our players, we could be like that to them. At the end of the day, we hope, no matter how you use it Pokémon Go you can still find that you can do the things that you wanted to do, no matter what situation you are in. “