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Is Pokémon GO's New Nearby Tracker The Result Of Marketing Deals Or Legal Issues?

Players in the US and Europe are scratching their heads about Pokémon GO’s new Nearby tracking system, which has expanded from early tests to entire regions now.

The central issue is that while the new system allows players to trek to specific PokeStops to find specific Pokémon, the new system has all but eliminated “Sightings,” which told players which wild Pokémon were around them. Now, in a city environment, you will never see Sightings because there are too many PokeStops in range, so you might miss stuff that’s right next to you. And in rural areas, players will only have one or two PokeStops in Nearby and nothing else. You have to be way outside the range of any PokeStops for the Sightings feature to reappear.

This has many players asking why, after months of testing time, has the system rolled out in this current state? There are two major theories as to why this might be the case other than just “Niantic made a bad tracker by accident,” and I want to explore them a little bit.

The first one I find the most valid. I believe that the entire PokeStop-based tracking system was built not just to solve problems with tracking, but in order to pave the way for future “sponsored” PokeStop opportunities.

This is something that Niantic has also been testing in a few markets, and I think McDonalds was one of the first companies to buy into sponsored PokeStops. Without this system, those PokeStops are just normal PokeStops, but now that specific Pokémon spawns are tied to those PokeStops? The marketing opportunities are endless.

There are lots of ads that encourage you to buy things at stores or eat at restaurants, but how many actually encourage you to physically go there at that exact moment? Very few, and that’s why Pokémon GO has an incredibly unique marketing opportunity with this new tracking system.

Imagine, if you will, a sponsored Chipotle PokeStop that permanently has a Charmander spawn attached to it. Would you walk there to get it, in order to collect candy to build a Charizard? I certainly would. And hey, while you’re there, you might as well grab some lunch right? Oh, and what’s that? There’s a Dratini spawn at that Starbucks? Well, it’s just a block away, and I could use a coffee.

I cannot understate how masterful of a marketing move this would be for both Niantic and the companies signing up to be sponsored PokeStops. However, this entire thing wouldn’t be possible unless this PokeStop-based Nearby tracker was in place, so here we are. Yes, I believe that some of these changes were trying to fix the old issues with three-step tracking and Sightings, but I absolutely believe a driving force behind this idea is the potential marketing opportunity attached to it.

No, we have never seen specific Pokémon tied to specific stores/PokeStops yet, but I am almost certain this is coming, and PokeStop-based spawns are the first step in making that a reality. A stop with extra items just wouldn’t be enough. But a rare spawn attached to a store? That’s gold, Jerry.

Now, we move on to the second reason that the Sightings/Nearby is the way it is, Niantic’s ever-present fear of legal trouble. The idea here is that by tying specific spawns to PokeStops, and Sightings no longer directing people to wild Pokémon, that Niantic is no longer specifically telling people to go into areas they shouldn’t. “Bad” PokeStops are being removed all the time, so the ones that remains should be the “safe” ones, which is why it’s okay to tell people to go there.

I am less inclined to believe this theory. While I do think that Niantic clamped down on playing while moving at higher speeds to avoid playing-while-driving lawsuits, I don’t think the new Nearby tracker is another way to avoid legal trouble.

First of all, wild spawns still exist. Pokémon can still spawn in roads or in bad areas or in dangerous places you or children or anyone shouldn’t go. Just because Sightings is no longer there (and it is there, sometimes, when you’re by zero PokeStops) doesn’t mean that the game isn’t “telling you” to go somewhere when a wild Pokémon spawns on the map. Technically, it still is.

I’m not an expert, but I can’t imagine that just removing Sightings for many players frees Niantic from legal responsibility, not that it’s even clear who is at fault if someone is hit by a car trying to catch something or if they trespass to find a Pokémon. It’s a murky area because there frankly hasn’t really ever been anything like this before. But out of all the actions Niantic has taken to cover their behinds on these issues, this does not seem like an obvious move in that realm. I genuinely believe it’s just more about fixing the tracker/paving the way for more involved sponsorships.

The concept of fixes for the current, terrible tracker are easy. The implementation of those fixes might be difficult, hence why we’re seeing the tracker in its awful state presently. Rare Pokémon need to be given priority in PokeStop spawns, so everyone’s Nearby isn’t five Pidgeys and four Rattatas tied to PokeStops when there are Lapras and Magmar ten feet away.

On top of that, Sightings needs to continue to exist in a separate tab that you can swipe to, no matter where you are, and players should be able to toggle which shows up by default. Rural players might want to have Sightings open all the time, given their lack of PokeStops, while city players may want to be able to flip to it if there’s nothing good in the nine PokeStops they can see around them. But right now, it’s bad in different ways for both groups.

So, those are my theories about why this has happened. I am trying to talk to Niantic about this decision-making process, but they have yet to respond to any of my questions about this issue. I’ll update if I hear back. Until then, make it work, I guess.

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