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Why is ‘Pokémon GO’ Determined to Ruin Its Best Pandemic-Era Update?

A remote raid pass from Pokémon GO with the game's logo in the top right corner

Pokémon GO has undergone plenty of changes since it first launched in 2016, most of which have positively impacted the game’s functionality and entertainment value. But Pokémon GO and Niantic’s core tenet has always been the idea of building community and enjoying the great outdoors through the magic of Pokémon. So a recent announcement of a major change has left many vocal fans of the game peeved, if not downright angry.

In 2020, when COVID-19 began to spread across the world at a rapid pace, leaving us all stuck in our homes for the foreseeable future, Pokémon GO encountered a serious problem. How were people supposed to spin Pokéstops, catch Pokémon, complete field research tasks, and participate in raid battles when they weren’t allowed to leave their houses except for groceries and trips to the hospital? Those with increased health risk factors might not have been leaving their homes at all. People were desperate for entertainment, a respite from the bleakness of the news, and in response, Pokémon GO developed one of the best updates the game has ever had.

Remote raid passes were a game changer—literally. Not only could fans of the game continue playing while in lockdown, but audiences who had never had a chance to play Pokémon GO before could suddenly join the fun. Those living in secluded suburban or rural areas could participate in remote raids and begin collecting various (shiny) legendary Pokémon, and Pokémon fans with disabilities and long-term health issues could play the game from the safety of their homes, becoming part of a more diverse and global online Pokémon GO community.

So, what changes is ‘Pokémon GO’ making, exactly?

In an announcement on March 30, Pokémon GO explained that remote raid passes would become more expensive as well as limiting the number of remote raid passes players could use in a single day. These changes will go into effect on April 6.

The cost of one remote raid pass will increase from 100 Pokécoins to 195, and a bundle of three remote passes will increase from 300 Pokécoins to 525. For context, a player can earn a maximum of 50 Pokécoins a day for free by placing Pokémon in Pokémon Gyms. Those who need more can purchase additional Pokécoins through the app, with 100 Pokécoins costing $0.99; 550 coins comes with a price tag of $4.99; 1200 Pokécoins cost $9.99; 2,500 coins cost $19.99; 5,200 coins cost $39.99; and for those hardcore Pokémon GO gamers, 14,500 coins can be purchased for a $99.99.

All in all, the change is rather significant. If a player is fresh out of Pokécoins, they’ll need to fork over a total of $4.99 for a single remote raid pass, the same as it costs to buy a bundle of three.

Additionally, players will only be able to use five remote raid passes in one single day, but this may still be altered for events. Though this may not seem like the most harrowing change, players confined to one location, for whatever reason, be that their homes, or even a hospital, will be severely limited in their gaming options.

Why have ‘Pokémon GO’ and Niantic decided to implement these new rules?

Ed Wu, VP of Pokémon GO at Niantic, spoke to Polygon to attempt to clarify the situation. He reasons that the way the game is played has changed significantly since the remote raid pass was introduced; too many players have dismissed meeting up with friends and exploring their local area in favor of playing from the comfort of their homes. Pokémon GO was created with the idea of community building in mind, and remote raid passes are affecting that ethos.

To keep Pokémon GO viable for the foreseeable future, Wu postulates that the game needs to get back to its roots. Remote raids aren’t being entirely abolished, but hopefully, players will be incentivized to get back to their outdoor journeys.

But many have taken to Twitter to lament how this affects marginalized players; those with disabilities, chronic illnesses, or vulnerable family members who may still be shielding themselves from COVID-19, or staying home for any other number of reasons. And what about those who simply want to keep themselves safe, even without an additional health-related reason? Yes, they can still participate in raids from afar, but they’ll be more expensive and less frequent, hindering player enjoyment during community days and various other Pokémon GO events in a world that is still nowhere near as safe as it was before March 2020.

Personally, I’m not sure Wu’s reasoning holds up. Pokémon GO is all about building community, and remote raid passes have made Pokémon GO a global community. Players have battled alongside other trainers from halfway across the world. And it’s not like the local Pokémon GO community has faltered, either. In-person events have thrived since lockdown restrictions have been lifted.

They may not have made these changes to remote raid passes lightly, but that doesn’t mean players aren’t allowed to be worried, annoyed, or righteously angry.

(featured image: Niantic/Pokémon)

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El (she/her) has been working as a freelance writer for various entertainment websites for over a year, ever since she successfully completed her Ph.D. in Creative Writing. El's primary focus is television and movie coverage for The Mary Sue, including franchises like Marvel and Pokémon, but she is happy to pitch in with gaming content once in a while if it concerns one of the few video games she actually knows anything about. As much as she enjoys analyzing other people's stories, her biggest dream is to one day publish an original fantasy novel of her own.