Pokémon Go creators remove a key feature, risking users' wrath

The enormous popularity of Pokémon Go has created multiple challenges for the game's creator. Are fans starting to turn on the company?

Mark Kauzlarich/Reuters/File
A Pokemon appears on the screen next to a woman as a man plays the augmented reality mobile game 'Pokémon Go' by Nintendo in Bryant Park in New York City, July 11.

Pokémon Go's ratings fell to one-and-a-half stars on the App Store as players flooded the app with negative reviews in frustration over the most recent updates to the game, which failed to fix the game's bugs.

Niantic Labs, the game's developer, completely eliminated the broken tool used to track nearby Pokémon and shut down the third party map apps that facilitated tracking the virtual critters roaming city streets. Using your phone’s GPS and clock, the game makes Pokémon pop up on your phone's screen depending on where you walk and when. But without tools to indicate nearby Pokémon, users are left wandering more than many of them bargained for.

Still, the app hit 100 million installs worldwide over the weekend, according to App Store analytics firm App Annie. But the ever-growing online community is not too pleased with the app's developers, and their lack of responsiveness about the server issues and glitches that have dogged the game.

Defending its choice to remove the "footprints" feature from the app, which denoted approximately how far away monsters were located, Pokémon Go creator Niantic said it was "confusing and did not meet our underlying product goals" in a Facebook post Tuesday.

For weeks, the "footprints" feature had all monsters appearing at "three footprints," or the maximum distance away, and Niantic avoided talking about it, even when asked by the press, Kotaku reported. Then this feature disappeared altogether on the July 30 update.

Amid the trouble with the "footprints" radar, users became dependent on third-party map apps to locate nearby Pokémon, but those, too, including the most popular one, Pokevision, came down over the weekend.

Niantic chief executive officer John Hanke expressed displeasure with the third-party maps in July, telling Forbes that using them not only "takes the fun out of the game," but violates the app's terms of service. As Pokémon Go looks to expand to more countries around the world, it claims it's necessary to limit access to third-party services that interfere with its service provision.

But for some players, the removal of the maps is a dealbreaker. These former fans have been reported to be asking for – and receiving – full refunds of in-app purchases, since they can no longer play the game as they want.

Still, glitches and all, Pokémon Go remains a phenomenal success. It is also a shaky but sure way to introduce app users to a technology that is likely to play a large role in daily life within the next decade, Anna Mulrine reported for The Christian Science Monitor.

Utilizing augmented reality, or the ability to make video game characters appear to be in your physical surroundings, and geolocation, to track players, has implications far beyond catching Pokémon, writes Ms. Mulrine. The tech behind the game may soon be doing everything from giving businesses new ways to attract customers to allowing firefighters to “see” structural vulnerabilities in burning buildings to find an exit route.

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