Niantic raised prices and added caps to Remote Raid Passes in Pokémon Go, in an effort to stop compulsive spenders; colloquially known as whales.
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Remote Raid Passes were introduced mid-April 2020, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, initially costing 100 PokéCoins ($0.99) for a single Pass, and three for 250 (550 Coins can be bought for $4.99). PokéCoins can also be earned if a player leaves a Pokémon at a Gym owned by their Team.
In late April 2020, three passes were added to the weekly 1 PokéCoin Event Box. However, these were dropped in late May 2022. A the same time, but not noted by Niantic, the price of the three Passes were raised to 300 PokéCoins.
In March of this year, Niantic announced changes to Remote Raid Passes to help rebalance Pokémon Go. Remote Raid Pass three-pack prices were raised to 525 PokéCoins, while a single Remote Raid Pass was raised to 195 PokéCoins. The two smallest PokéCoin bundles are 100 and 550.
Players were also limited to five Remote Raids per-day (which may be increased for special events), but the Remote Raid Passes were added as potential rewards for Research Breakthroughs. Should players earn while holding the maximum of three, they are given a Premium Battle Pass instead (used to enter raid battles locally and earn premium rewards in PvP).
A three-pack of Premium Battle Passes, was also added to the shop for 250 PokéCoins. Those who attend 5-Star Raids in person will also get more Candy XL.
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“Since their introduction in 2020, Remote Raid Passes have come to dominate the experience of playing Pokémon GO in a way we never intended,” Niantic admitted. “Rewarding Trainers with additional Candy XL and adding other new features are two of the ways we hope to further incentivize playing Pokémon GO in person with your friends, family, and community.”
“We plan to keep Remote Raid Passes as part of Pokémon GO. However, we believe this change is necessary for the long-term health of the game, and we do not make it lightly. We feel this is a necessary step toward our goal of preserving and improving the unique experience of playing Pokémon GO—a game we hope you continue to enjoy long into the future,” Niantic closed.
The changes led to outcry from some of the player-base, sparking the “#HearUsNiantic” movement — a boycott of sorts that demanded, among other things, reversing their changes to Remote Raid Passes. Previously, players had their voices heard after demanding Niantic reintroduce the increased PokéStop interaction distance implemented during the pandemic.
We cannot know how successful the current boycott is but MobileGamer.biz reports that April was Pokémon Go‘s worst month in five years, noting that said information had been collected by mobile market intelligent tool AppMagic.
“We generally don’t comment on third-party estimates of our revenue as they are often incorrect, which is the case here. Our revenue so far in 2023 is up on last year,”Niantic told Eurogamer.
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An AppMagic spokesperson defended their findings as being based on public data, even with a 5% discrepancy, admitting to Eurogamer, “What else can matter is that Pokémon Go can generate some revenue aside from mobile app stores in-app purchases, and we can’t see it.”
On May 18th, Niantic announced Shadow Raids for the Rising Shadows event, stipulating that “Trainers cannot join Shadow Raids using Remote Raid Passes, and Shadow Raids do not reward a team bonus for Premier Balls.”
Director Michael Steranka spoke to Dot Esports about Shadow Raids and changes to Remote Raid Passes. “It’s always an incredibly difficult game-balancing decision for us to make and Pokémon Go, right?”
“We want to make the game as accessible and open to as many people as possible, but also the sort of origins of Pokémon Go and the entire mission of Niantic is to encourage and motivate people all around the world to actually leave their houses and, you know, see the world around them,” Steranka explained.
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“We realized over time that if given the option, you know, a lot of players will default to you know, just playing from home, even if they are able to get out and leave,” Steranka admitted. “And so sometimes you really do need to build in these experiences that can truly only be experienced from outside, together with other people.
“And we think that we’ve created a lot of, you know, really beautiful moments through the years with Pokémon Go by leaning on what sets us apart from any other game out there.” Steranka added that it was “a very, very painful decision to make even for me. But when we look at sort of the overall health of the game, and the type of behaviors that remote raid passes were introducing, it just really didn’t align with the kind of experience we were trying to create.”
Alongside Senior Producer John Funtanilla, Steranka spoke further on the matter to Dot Esports, IGN, and EuroGamer — specifically addressing the #HearUsNiantic backlash. “Yeah, we’ve definitely taken note. It’s hard to ignore, right? I’m personally being tagged a lot in a lot of these tweets,” Steranka said. “So we read everything, and we see everything.”
“It’s one of those things where we never want to go out and respond to two calls like that, unless we have something to actually show for it. And for us, for the rest of this year, we really feel like actions will speak louder than words,” he continued.
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“And we’ve been working really hard as a development team to put together a huge slate of new features that players we hope will enjoy over the course of this year. So, personally speaking, I’m pretty sure I used to do more remote raids than 99 percent of your readers. That was a very, very painful decision to make even for me,” Steranka claimed.
“But when we look at sort of the overall health of the game, and the type of behaviors that remote raid passes were introducing, it just really didn’t align with the kind of experience we were trying to create. And I can honestly say even for me personally, it became sort of an unhealthy way to engage with the game,” Steranka admitted.
“I would just sort of throw money at Poké Coins so that I can spam legendary raids as much as possible. And we’re talking about legendary Pokémon; they’re supposed to be the epic epitome of all Pokémon content. And this is something that players including myself are doing over a dozen times a day, for some people over 100 times a day,” Steranka revealed.
“And so that’s something that we really honestly let go on a little bit too long and ultimately needed to course correct.”
“So again, super, super painful decision that is not something we took lightly. But it’s something that we felt is necessary for the longevity of the game and to also ensure that we’re not really compromising on our mission,” Steranka justified.
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“And so yeah, we have no plans to directly address any of the HearUsNiantic things recently, because we’ll be sticking with the decision that was made. But instead, we’re hopeful that players will see a lot of the hard work that the team has been putting into this game for the past year because I think what we have coming out in 2023 is gonna really blow people away,” Steranka promised.
Funtanilla tail-ended the interview. “I would want to add one thing… just to echo Michael’s sentiment of coming onto this team, everyone is incredibly passionate about the game. And I feel like sometimes that’s lost, that we’re confident in our decision.”
“And basically what we want to do is what Michael is saying, is that we really want our actions to speak louder than words,” he went on. “But everyone liked it. There’s a lot of Michaels on this team, everyone’s playing the game, everyone wants to do remote raids, but we kind of have to understand what we feel is best for the player experience.”
“I really want that. I’m passionate, it’s like leveling up super fast of everyone on the team. So that’s something that we see every day. Everyone lives and breathes this game,” Funtanilla assured.
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Despite this, at least one supposed fan took to social media to harass Steranka, prompting a response from the Pokémon GO Live Game Director.
“I decided to block an account for the first time today,” Steranka revealed on Twitter. “I usually pride myself on never blocking anybody, even though some people say some pretty hurtful things about me. I genuinely think it’s important to read contradicting view points and not get trapped in an echo chamber.”
Steranka then showed screenshots of Twitter user @NickHerrInParis crudely mocking his wife and baby. One of the alleged messages left by the user said, “Maybe if @MichaelSteranka ‘a newborn developed cerebral palsy he would change his tune on remote raids… #HearUsNiantic.” The account is deleted or banned at this time of writing.
“But this account, which was created just this month, seems to have been made with the sole intent of harassing me and insulting my family. I hope we can all agree that this is not okay and something we should wholly reject from the community,” Steranka implored.
“I know that many of you are frustrated with some of our recent decisions, but just know that we see the feedback and are thinking of ways to address many of the valid concerns without sacrificing on our mission and vision for Pokémon GO,” Steranka defied.
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