Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Ghost's Arcade: The Pokemon Go Radar Shitshow

Welcome to a special extra edition of Ghost's Arcade... and boy do we have some garbage to talk about today.

As if you couldn't tell from the title of this post, just a fair warning that the content of this particular article will most likely include some harsher language than normal.

It's been almost a month since the mobile app Pokemon Go was released in the United States.  Since then it has become the most downloaded app ever and has accounted for over half (if not more) of in-app purchases on multiple days.  The game perfectly grabs our nostalgia and love of the pokemon franchise in the way that many of us had wished for years.  Yet despite all of this, the app itself is buggy, unfinished, unpolished, and downright mediocre at best.  As stated in my review of the game, if this game were anything other than pokemon it would have flopped and flopped hard. 

Chief among this app's sins is the malfunctioning of the pokemon radar  When the app first launched we were treated to a radar that showed us what pokemon were nearby and how far away they were as indicated by footprints.  If you were getting closer to the pokemon you were trying to find it would move up the list then the footprints would reduce until you were right on top of it.  It didn't work all that well but, at least, you could sort of figure out if you were heading in the right direction or not and adjust your walk to try to find the pokemon in question... sometimes  However after a week or so, a glitch entered the game permanently and left every pokemon with three footprints beside them even if you were almost on top of the thing.  While this made the radar kind of worthless, our hope came in two different places.   First of which were the various apps and websites that began showing up.  These websites such as PokeVision were allowing people to scan their area and it would populate what pokemon were located where in your physical location and how long before it disappeared since the in-game ability to track pokemon was broken.  Also we had the hope that Niantic would fix the issue at hand making the need for these websites obsolete.

On July 30th, the shitshow began as Niantic did, in fact, issue an update to address some of the problems with the game... and of course...

Players were greeted on this day with a new update for the game.  Among the list of changes were things like being able to re-customize the avatar you use, adjusting battle damage, improved memory usage, bug fixes and display fixes.  All of these things are nice and/or needed.  The game began to boot more quickly.  Some people on iOS experienced their profiles screwing up with this update but I didn't experience that as an android user... I only saw what seemed to be a nice improvement on the app as a whole.  However...hidden in the middle of the update was something that caused concern.  "Removed footprints of nearby pokemon."  .... I'm sorry I must have read that incorrectly.  Let me double check before I report something stupid.   "Removed footprints of... nearby... pokemon."  I..... WHAT??

You mean to tell me that they noticed the three footprint glitch and the way they chose to fix the glitch was to just remove the footprints???  That's like having an engine fault in your vehicle and your fix is to just remove the bulb from the Check Engine light.  The radar went from being something bad and confusing but functional at first, to having a glitch making it almost worthless, to the development team PURPOSELY making it worthless.  Now you can see what's sort of around you but you can't actually track down anything or see if you're actually any closer to your goal.  But that's ok... that's fine because we still have the sites like Pokevision to help us pinpoint those rare or needed pokemon near us since Niantic made the tracker even worse right....right????  Well on the morning of July 31st we got the answer to that in the form of this message.

So, to be clear, at the same time as this update that ruined the pokemon tracker was put out, these assholes went behind everyone's backs and shut down every third party tracking tool that we were using.  May I remind you that these third party tracking sites that were enhancing the game FOR FREE were only being utilized because the product we were given didn't fucking work.  Now thanks to these clowns not only does the tracker not work, but the ability to track anything in any manner is gone.  To top it off, what did the Pokemon Go team have to say about this?  Piss all.... or at least piss all for several days but I'll get to THAT later.

Now I'm not a games developer by any stretch of the imagination.  My single foray into "game development" consisted of attempting to create a custom rom hack of Pokemon Fire Red and due to the confusion, lack of experience, and lack of adequate tools we basically got nowhere with it.  So I understand that developing a game is hard work and I never want to come across as belittling the hard work that has actually been done.  However I also understand something else.  There are certain things you simply don't do when you have a game out there for the public to just don't do them.  Unfortunately these guys started gravitating towards the pile of "don't do."

The first thing you don't do is fundamentally destroy the most important portion of your gaming experience and expect people to not become angry.  With friend battling, trading, or wild pokemon battling not existing in this game at the current time, there are literally two things you can do with this game.  You can go out to find and capture pokemon or you can spend time at a gym.  Since you need to go out and capture pokemon to obtain the stardust and candy necessary to even stand a chance at a gym, this makes gym battles dependent on the location and capture of pokemon.  Whether or not you choose to involve yourself in the digital dick waving contest that is gym battles, you cannot deny that the location and capture of pokemon is the most essential part of the game... and now the location of pokemon has become broken, non-functional, and completely luck based.  That's not how pokemon works; that's not how any of this works.  The radar is essential for this type of game and should have either been fixed or an alternative should have been provided not just removing the cocking thing all together.  As the creator of pokevision said on his twitter account, "You don't create Marco Polo then take away the Polo and expect people to play."  Speaking of Pokevision...

The second thing you don't do is shit on your fanbase.  This is something the gaming industry as a whole needs to learn not to do between the take-down strikes, content id claiming, cease and desist on fan-made projects.... the list could go on.  While most of the gaming industry sees fan-made projects and videos as a harm to their company they should really stop being dickheads and realize that the whole reason fans do this is because the company had made something great and the fans want to share and live in that greatness.  They may even gain some unique perspectives or ideas that they could add to the franchise officially.  However to focus in solely on Pokemon Go, the greatest thing to have happened with this game was the third-party tracking sites.  These wonderful people took time out of their days for free and within a couple weeks had a functional product that would help us locate the pokemon that were alluding us.  Yet when people turned to these necessary websites, the Pokemon Go people decided to show utter disdain and aggression towards their own fans just trying to help them out and shut the sites down.  Let me just repeat that point for the people in the cheap seats...  These non-professionals were able to provide us with a very much needed product for free within 2-3 weeks of the game launching when professional developers who have been working on this game for months/years couldn't get it done.  Then when the professionals learned that a few people had been able to provide a free service to assist them...they didn't reach out with camaraderie or understanding.  Instead, the impression they left was that of a malicious attack on these fans and websites as they forced them to shut down.  That is bullshit

You don't have to be this way, Pokemon Go team; you shouldn't be this way!  It's only natural that if the product you are offering is inferior in a certain way, people will look to outside sources to help fill the gap in any way possible, especially if they enjoy the product.  You don't shut these sites down you absolute imbeciles.  You partner with one of them to take the load off your developers.  Perhaps you offer one or two of them a job with the company to do something like this in-app... you sure have the money to do this based on the amount of micro-transactions alone.  You give a thumbs up or turn a blind eye to these sites until your functionality has actually been fixed.  You don't destroy your own functionality and then remove the only other means that the public has.  By doing this you've taken a loving community who was willing to deal with your broken and incomplete game because of the love and nostalgia behind it, and turned it into a group of very angry people.  Angry people who are only angry because they are passionate about your product and are only resorting to anger, uninstalling, and refusal to engage in micro-transactions because that's the only way most companies will ever actually listen to their fanbase.

Now people can have their own opinions on these tracking sites.  They can believe that they take away the point of the game or they are equivalent to cheating.  John Hanke, CEO of Niantic can be "not a fan of third-party sites" all he damn well pleases.  Fact remains that they are all entitled to their own opinion even though their opinion is 100% wrong... and they ARE wrong.  Tracking sites don't take away the point of the game as the game originally came with a tracker... it just didn't work but these sites did.  There are ways of cheating such as GPS spoofing and installing that Chinese tap and walk mod that allows you to move around even though you aren't physically moving... that is cheating.  Utilizing a tool to tell us where a pokemon is located so that we know which direction to walk in is NOT cheating especially since, again, the game originally had a form of tracker.  What people and the Pokemon Go team seem to be unable to realize is that these sites ENHANCED the gameplay.  They didn't take any revenue or playability away from the actual game, it simply enhanced our playing and made the entire experience much much better.

I know this from personal experience.  In the world before these sites came to be, I was with a group of guys downtown and a Meowth appeared on the radar.  Meowth are fairly uncommon here so we went out in search for the elusive cat.  Thirty minutes later (as we had no idea about the 15 minute spawn time) we hadn't found a single inclination of where Meowth could have been.  We all ended up tired, annoyed, disgusted, and completely disappointed because we had no idea how to locate this pokemon we all wanted.  Later, once pokevision and other sites were active, I was also downtown with a large group of people.  A Kadabra, which are as rare as the holy grail here, appeared on our radar.  Within seconds I and several others went to these tracking sites and found exactly where it had spawned.  We all informed everyone around us where the Kadabra was and a large group of 50+ trainers all marched together laughing, speaking with new people, and enjoying our time.  Everyone who wanted to find Kadabra that night was given the opportunity to find and capture him.  This left everyone with nothing but pure happiness and satisfaction as well as a neat story to tell of the community moment we all shared.  From this story alone, if you don't see the necessity of a working tracker or a third-party tracker then you have serious problems.  Based on Niantic's latest actions... it appears as though a large multitude of people have some serious problems.

The third and most damning thing of all that you simply don't do is remain silent.  The Pokemon Go team has maintained a suspicious amount of silence both in-game and on social media.  The whole reason that the pokemon radar was such a confusing mess at launch was because nobody took the time to include an explanation of how it works in the game...or anywhere for that matter.  We just sort of had to figure everything about the game out for ourselves and even then we couldn't quite figure it all out.  This wouldn't have been a problem if there was some communication going on about the features of the game.  Outside of the game, however, there has been just as much lack of communication.  Since the launch of the game, the Niantic blog has not been updated once, and both the twitter and facebook pages of both Pokemon Go and Niantic have almost exclusively only mentioned when the game is available in a new country.  In fact, before this shitshow went down, the only exception to this was the July 16th total meltdown of the servers.  Past that, there has been silence about the game freezing constantly, the servers being offline non-stop, and the general poor quality of the game at launch.  Of course you don't want to publicly air your dirty laundry despite the fact that the public already knows it...but just some confirmation that things are being worked on would go a long way.  Silence breeds anxiety and contempt.  If we don't know what you're doing we (as human nature always dictates) will assume the worst and that you all really don't care... regardless if you actually do care.  Communication goes along way no matter if you are in a relationship, a partnership, or a producer/consumer relationship.  Lack of communication will always result in confusion.

However, four days after the update went out, the Pokemon Go team finally responded on their official Facebook page.  While I have no idea as to the intentions of this message, I have a certain feeling that it has less to do with keeping an open line of communication and more to do with the extreme amount of fan anger at the company potentially putting their profitability at risk.... which is why they waited four days to say anything.  Let's take a look at what they actually had to say.

*sigh* Just a few things here...

1. To open on something positive, I do legitimately appreciate the Pokemon Go team openly admitting that their radar was confusing and poorly executed.  In a gaming world where even the worst ideas are paraded around as glorious triumphs regardless of consumer opinion this is a wonderful thing.
It's just too bad the rest of the post is well... kind of shit.

2. "We will keep you posted as we strive to improve this feature."  This effectively means nothing to the majority of us.  Now they may actually be genuine here and are intending to keep us informed once a decision is made, however I've grown far too cynical to believe that for a second.  The state of the gaming industry as a whole, especially from big name producers has driven such a level of bullshit and distrust that I can't help but believe this to be yet another vague empty promise from another developer with the wrong priorities.  I genuinely hope that I am incorrect here as Niantic has no real reason to not fix its product, I just can't help shake the last 10+ years of game studios promising things and either not delivering at all, or delivering something even worse.  Also, I work in IT... I know that things don't get rolled out on a whim.  Things are planned out with target dates.  Hell, I've been working on a project with my job due to come out in October.  In June we knew our target dates for deployment.  Let us know a target date or something.  That would instill far more confidence than  "we will keep you posted."

3. "third-party services which were interfering with our ability to maintain quality of service"
I've played this game since launch.  Your "quality of service" was pretty fucking terrible before the third-party sites even came to be.  Have we forgotten the almost constant crashing and freezing that the game had to offer at launch?  Are we just ignoring all of the countless hours that the servers were unavailable before these sites were even around?  In fact, when these sites started popping up, the servers were already leagues more stable and the game was crashing far far less.  The third-party sites didn't hinder anything; it didn't seem to have an effect whatsoever!  One can claim that the servers are staying up and the game isn't crashing anywhere near as badly now but.... they were doing pretty damn fine BEFORE July 30th when this all went down.  I can't remember the last time the server went down or my game froze within the last coupe of weeks.  The quality of service from all indications is completely independent of any third-parties doing anything.

4. 5-10 minutes, guys... that's all it takes.  You mean to tell me that your silence on Facebook and Twitter is because everyone is working heads down?  I honestly don't believe that for a second.  That Facebook post probably took no longer than 10 minutes to write just to make sure everything was "approved by management."  Twitter would take even less time to update.  While I'm sure everyone there is working hard, you can't tell me that everyone is working SO hard that nobody can give us a quick 30 seconds or 5 minutes of their time to update us?   End a meeting early and spend the last 3 minutes giving us insight into what is going on, what is being planned, how are you intending to fix this. COMMUNICATE!

Now there are some people who would say that I'm being too harsh.  Some would say that this is a free to play game so we shouldn't feel as entitled as we should with something we had to purchase.  Others would say this is Niantic's game and they can modify/change whatever they want to whenever they want because it's their game and their investment.  Some would also say that no company owes us transparency with their dealings.  Other hopeful babes in the digital woods would just say to be patient as they are positive this will all sort itself out eventually.  Despite my reluctance to admit this or side with any degree of optimism... these people are technically correct or at least have an iota of truth to their statements.  Yes I regularly treat things too harshly.  Yes this is a free game, though many have participated funds in the micro-transactions.. it's still free to play.  Yes, this is Niantic's game and if they wanted to add or remove any functionality on a whim it's theirs to do whatever with it.  They just have to be prepared to deal with the fallout those decisions make.  There is absolutely no reason for Niantic to not fix this and there very well may be a fix or change being planned...they certainly indicated that they are at least thinking about it.  No, a company does not owe anyone transparency with their dealings.

However, in this day and age of video games, transparency is a saving grace.  Fans have been used to dealing with companies who keep their secrets, make vague comments and then don't deliver or produce inferior products.  By not being transparent, it's only natural that a fan's mind would lump Niantic in with the likes of Ubisoft and Konami who are still commercially profitable but in all honesty are starting to gain a bit of a Public Relations stigma with several people.  By being transparent with the consumers, the fear, rage, and confusion would go away.  What should have happened was a post somewhere to explain what was happening as it was happening.  Something like" Hey trainers, the pokemon radar isn't working so we have removed it's functionality for now.  We are currently planning its replacement and hope to have it out for you by October or November.  I hope you will stick around with us as we go through this adjustment period to ensure a better game for you"  And then you should have just let the third-party sites do their thing until that fix is rolled out. I can almost assure you that people would not be angry at all because we have clear indication of progress and a clear goal in mind.  Even if you still went ahead with the third-party take downs, we wouldn't be anywhere near AS angry because of that clear goal and clear timeline of how long we will possibly be waiting for that functionality to return.

Without this transparency we are left to imply from vague statements and to focus on actions alone.  As always, actions are far more important than words especially when the words are sparse.  In terms of actions alone, Niantic has removed an essential part of their functionality from the game with no clear date as to when this functionality will return.  They have turned on fans simply trying to assist them with supposed/possible legal action against them if they didn't shut down the site's function.  (I do not have proof that a legal cease-and-desist was issued but I highly doubt they just simply emailed the creators and asked them nicely to stop.)  Then they didn't bother to comment on this change until the fans were incredibly upset and threatening to uninstall/stop supporting the game financially.  Now, whether this was the intention or not, the impression given off by these actions is that they don't care what is needed for the game they are just going to do whatever whenever, they have disdain for fans trying to help make the game a better experience, they hoped to sweep this under the rug, and they have a greater emphasis on making sure that Brazil and other countries can play this game in it's still broken and unfinished state than actually finishing the game.  Again that's just the impression I can gain from their actions.

It is this same impression that many people have gotten.  Most of my friends are not really playing the game at all anymore.  If they are playing, they are becoming increasingly frustrated and angry at Niantic when a Dragonite appears on their nearby list with no clear way to find him...just a fleeting hope that will end with disappointment.  With that tracking functionality gone and the ability to use third-party sites gone, the game as just become a random guessing game of "maybe you'll find something over here" and that's no fun at all.  These actions have cause some of my friends and acquaintances to actively seek out the true cheats for the game like GPS spoofing and tap to walk mods just so they can actually have a chance at finding something and enjoying the game once again; they don't want to play "You Probably Won't Find That Pokemon GO."  I and several others who were opening and playing the game multiple times during the day have maybe turned it on once or twice since this debacle happened.  The game that brought me such joy, that made me want to get out and socialize, that made me get out and exercise, that made losing weight fun and enjoyable was ripped apart by two simple actions.  Now, all I want to do is the exact opposite of this game's goals.
Sitting on my ass, not playing the game because it's not worth it currently.

Niantic has almost lost my trust and the trust of hundreds of others.  It hasn't quite lost all of my trust because I haven't dealt with this company in the past... I'm trying to remain hopeful but bracing for disappointment.  The game is far from being in the grave but it's definitely stepped into the cemetery property.  People aren't playing the game because of how royally they fucked up just now.  If they were to come out and be transparent about what they are doing or give us a timeline for a tracker fix that would help ease part of our minds, but to be completely honest even an eased mind wouldn't make me want to play this game until you can track down where pokemon are again.  If something isn't announced or changed within the next month I'll probably just uninstall the whole thing and forget it ever happened.  I'm done.  I started off this post angry but now I can't even muster annoyance anymore.  Something that was my wildest imagination as a child was finally realized but it became a pain on my heart.  Some people may say "it's better than nothing" but I'd honestly rather have nothing than a tainted version of what could be a dream come true.  I'm just... numb and done.

Pokemon GO?  More like
...or at least until this is all sorted out and behind us.

This is Ghost, fading into the darkness.
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