Pokémon Go creators say COVID is ‘my presence in our game’

Pokémon Go creators say COVID is 'my presence in our game'

Pokemon Go It was ready to kick off a new major event in March. The Battle League – which asks players to walk in order to get in – was similar in spirit to many of Niantic’s initiatives within its game, an initiative that encourages players to leave the house and socialize. Outside, however, COVID-19 was starting to take hold. “I remember there’s no way this can happen, there’s no way that makes this a thing,” says Veronica Saron, Director of Product Marketing at Niantic. “I was so stupid. I had no idea. None of us had any idea.”

By March, companies began sending their employees to work from home. For Saron, her last day in the office included a meeting with the company’s CEO and a series of bosses speaking over a video call. She hasn’t returned to the office since then.

Video games have thrived under the pandemic, with sales reaching all-time highs in nearly a decade. Development, like many other jobs, continued from home. Even with a few delays, studios like Naughty Dog, Insomniac, Sucker Punch and others have managed to successfully release the big-budget games this year. Stuck at home, the audience was more eager to experiment to spend long hours.

Pokemon Go Not like most games. Where the titles that found popularity this year like Animal crossing or Between us, Well suited to sitting on the sofa, Pokemon Go It’s all about getting up, heading out, and socializing in real life; Look no further than Niatnic’s focus on personal events each year. This will not work in a pandemic. Even outdoors, large gatherings still pose health threats. Although it continues to be developed now through continuous updates to an existing product, in contrast to the work required for a major initial launch, Pokemon Go Unique pressure point: a moral obligation to its players to keep them safe. This has always been the case, as the game contains a list of accidents and tragedies associated with its name. The epidemic only makes the stakes higher. It’s morally doubtful to encourage any of your players to go out, when doctors tell them not to.

“The current issue [of COVID] It’s my presence in our game, “says Senior Product Manager Matt Selimon the edge. “And if we just carry on as we keep going, building features and sitting on them until COVID is over, that won’t be right for our players.”

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In the early days of COVID, Niantic – a global company with offices across the United States and abroad in places like Japan and Germany – had a better picture of how the virus was spreading than most companies. In late January, Slimon recalls, the team began discussing how COVID is affecting places like South Korea, Japan and Italy, the last of which was already in lockdown. By pulling data from resources like Apple’s navigation maps, Niantic was able to track the decline in player movement and get a clearer picture of how little player movement is. “For us, walking is kind of a foundation,” says Solomon. “It’s a good trend line that should be followed just to see how the world in general has responded to COVID, because this app actually doesn’t motivate people to do things. It kind of helps them do what they’re already doing. It’s a good read of how the culture has changed around walking.”

Initially, Niantic modified its walking requirements and changed its rules around legendary Pokemon and raids. “It lasted for two and a half or three weeks,” says Suleiman. More countries were seeing an increase in cases or even lockdowns. “We realized that we did not have the expertise or personnel to keep pace with the levels of change that were occurring in every country around the world.” Niantic, which has been rolling out local updates weeks ago to accommodate COVID, has shifted focus to changes around the world.

As our understanding of the virus, its impact, and the best way to fight it changed rapidly this year, so have protection measures. States closed as hospital admissions swelled. Cases go up and down, making different sites hot spots at different times. The state of the world has changed at a rapid pace, making everything more difficult. Niantic’s work was no exception. The developer has created what Slimon calls strike teams, which are groups to quickly brainstorm and activate new ideas that they can bring to life in sprints. It may take up to nine months for some features to take effect. During COVID, this rhythm simply doesn’t work.

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“When COVID first happened, it was one of the things that necessitated it – it wasn’t necessarily a change of day-to-day work, it was a change in strategy approach,” says Slimon. “Due to the unpredictability 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 included canceling in-game community events and adopting remote play. “We were initially at a small loss … This is a huge component of what is being done Pokemon Go Fred, “says Saron.” Although it will never be like a personal event where we revitalize a park, we have managed to take a lot of the best items and encourage communities to come together and get their Go Fest, whether they need to stay social. Away or remained in quarantine. “

Usually a personal event takes months to plan. Saron says the team now has weeks to implement its ideas. Niantic has relied on features like Remote Raid and Team Go Rocket Balloons – air balloons that bring battles to players, rather than having them travel – to make things look more natural. “Over time, we had to move from this local approach to the global approach of” let’s make a set of global changes that will allow people to play regardless of their circumstances, “she says.” And of course if they are able to get out, go for a walk, social distancing. ” , That’s cool – but if they’re in a situation where they have to quarantine, we also want to make the game available to them as well. “

These updates weren’t easy or even without fair criticism. Advocates like AbleGamers COO Steven Spohn have been claiming accessibility options since 2016. In March, in response to changes to the Niantic Advantage, Spohn chirp, “The marginal truth of experiencing“ a few players ”(46 million, btw) is suddenly a reality for everyone. Now, people finally understand what handicapped players have been saying for years: Being socially isolated sucks. Leaving your home whenever you want has been a privilege.” . In follow up tweetSpohn added, “I’m sad that it took a global pandemic to revive these accessibility options and teach this lesson.” When asked directly why the pandemic needed to add these features, Suleiman said that this is not “really how we look at some of these changes.”

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“We know that cultural norms have changed all over the world,” says Solomon. “So what it means to do things like getting out, exercising, and socializing, has all changed. Zoom conversations are now commonplace rather than face-to-face chats, even with friends or family. We wanted to remain responsive to those times.” Slimon added that Niantic is “taking accessibility issues seriously,” citing issues such as navigation and color blindness. “There are accessibility challenges that we take very seriously and want to deal with. But this set of changes is really aimed at focusing on changes in cultural norms for the entire world. Over time, I think we might want to make specific changes that target those kinds of accessibility problems.” “.

Niantic plans to keep many of the changes it made to the game this year, such as remote strikes, permanently. This year it celebrated its biggest Go Fest so far, despite it being only online. “We built all the changes in the features that we did with the knowledge that we will be in a world where there is an epidemic for a while,” says Slimon. The game means a lot of things to different people, whether it’s as a pool, exercise or staying in touch with friends. “We tried to find a path that … whatever we mean to our players, we can continue to do so for them. At the end of the day, we hope so no matter how you use it.” Pokemon Go You can still find that you can do the things you really want to do, no matter what situation you live in. ‘

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