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Testing Pokémon GO's New 'Nearby' Tracker That Just Killed The Game For Rural Players

Well, it finally happened. Four months after Niantic deactivated their disastrous tracking system that was online after the game’s launch, I’ve finally gotten my hands on the long-gestating replacement. While “Sightings” has served as a temporary stop-gap, this new system marks the fully-fledged return of “Nearby,” which is a more detailed way to track specific Pokémon by tying them to specific PokeStops.

This feature has been endlessly tested, first in San Francisco where Niantic is based, then in a few other areas in the west coast, then the whole western half of the US a short while ago, now today, the entire US and some big chunks of Europe too. And living in Chicago, that means it’s finally arrived where I live, and I can test the thing out at last.

First off, I was surprised to see that the new Nearby feature has erased Sightings completely. I thought the idea was for them to work in tandem, with Sightings showing the general population of what was nearby in the wild, with Nearby pointing you toward specific Pokémon whose spawns were tied to PokeStops. Perhaps Niantic thought that it was too awkward and confusing to have both systems, and while I can see that argument, the complete erasure of Sightings has some rather unfortunate consequences.

Wild Pokémon still do spawn, ones not tied to PokeStops, but now there’s no way to tell if they’re around. You could have a Lapras or Snorlax spawning next to you, but unless it’s tied to a specific PokeStop, you wouldn’t know, and would just have to stumble upon it randomly. Right now the game may show you nine Pidgeys tied to PokeStops, but it might not show you a wild Dragonite spawn.

It’s even worse for rural players, where if you have even one PokeStop near you, that’s all you’re going to see. No PokeStops? No Sightings, nothing nearby at all. You will have no idea what Pokémon are out in the wild.

This has always been the issue with tying spawns to PokeStops, and once again it feels like this is a change that only make things worse for rural players. Yes, this system might be fine in places like San Francisco and Chicago where I can’t walk a block without hitting three PokeStops, but tying this entire feature to PokeStops when so many areas have none or very few does not seem great. I can’t test out how bad it is myself in these areas, but early reports are that rural players are furious and ready to quit the game entirely, if they’ve managed to stick with it this long.

I understand that it was hard (impossible, it turns out) to give player specific distance notifications with the footstep system to each wild Pokémon that spawned, but this isn’t a good replacement for a significant portion of the GO population. It’s the wrong move for Sightings to have been killed completely, which is the aspect of this that’s making the update essentially brick the game for rural players. It seems like something that needs to be in a scrollable tab next to Nearby, at the very least.

For us lucky city folk, the new Nearby system does have its advantages, and it’s certainly better than only having Sightings, given how specific it is.

The new system allows you to select a specific Pokémon from the Nearby PokeStop list (I’m not sure on the range, but they’re all pretty close to me), and then that PokeStop will be highlighted on the map so you can travel there. Once you’re in spinning distance, or relatively close to it, the Pokémon in question should spawn and be available for capture.

Overlooking the fact that some wild Pokémon seem to be ignored completely in the system, this is probably better than anything the game has had so far, which has been sort of a mess of walking forward and backward and sideways, waiting for 3 footsteps to go down to 1, or for things to appear or disappear on the Sightings list in the latest version. The fact that I can see a Grimer at a PokeStop (one of the only base level Pokémon I’m still missing) and then simply go to that location and grab it is a welcome change from walking around city blocks aimlessly. Yes, this does take away some of the fun of the “hunt,” as this is more of a guided tour to spawns, but at this point, with it starting to get really damn cold out, I don’t care. This is better, and it’s probably more likely to make me actually hunt for stuff since I gave up true tracking a while ago, due to how inconsistent it was. So far, I’m about 9 for 10 in terms of seeing something, walking there, and catching it, which is a better success rate than I ever had with the old tracking systems.

It is, of course, absurdly late to finally come up with something approaching a reasonable fix for Nearby tracking five months after launch, when the game desperately needed this in those first few weeks and months when the game was more popular than it’s probably ever going to be again.

But with that said, even if it’s not quite the global phenom it once was, Pokémon GO is still really damn popular, and it’s always going to need improvements, however late they may come. And with Gen 2 Pokémon on the way (this month at the earliest, Spring at the latest I’d say) tracking will once again be very important because avid players will not own 95% of everything spawning. I’m almost willing to bet that tracking will roll out globally as a lead-up to a Gen 2 launch, as both would work wonders in tandem.

So there’s good and bad here, depending on where you live. This is a practically gamebreaking update for rural players to be certain, but let’s face it, practically nothing is ever good for rural players when it comes to Pokémon GO, this just happens to be the worst offense yet. I think Sightings still has a place in this game too and shouldn’t have been banished, but overall, yes, for someone like me this is certainly an effective way to track down Pokémon, more so than the game has had in its history. Whether it’s the “correct” solution is another debate, and this is a feature that I think will continue to evolve in time. But for now, for certain players, it’s an improvement, and you should head out and check it out for yourself. Or if you’re a rural player, sit inside and do nothing, I guess. I’ve reached out to Niantic to see if they have any light they can shed on this latest rural problem, and will update if I hear back.

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