When Pokémon Go launched over two years ago, the possibilities seemed limitless. Using GPS and AR technology, Niantic promised to give Pokémon fans something they’ve dreamed of since they were kids: a real Pokémon game. As they walked down the street, they’d run into monsters waiting to be battled and captured, and special PokéStop locations scattered throughout their town could be used for acquiring items needed to continue enjoying the game.
It seemed like the perfect Pokémon game, though it wasn’t long before its technical instability and limitations pushed some players away. Niantic eventually patched Pokémon Go so that it didn’t constantly freeze and crash, but it still didn’t feel like a game for everyone. Recent updates have us hopeful that the popular Pokémon-catching app is getting closer to being accessible to all fans regardless of who they are or where they happen to be, but some work still has to be done.
Fortunately, Pokémon Go has started rolling out features that could change how the game is played in less-populated areas, particularly rural and suburban towns. First coming to users in Brazil and South Korea, the PokéStop nomination system will let players submit their own choices for future PokéStop locations. All it takes is a picture of the location, a description, and a submission to the users at the Ingress Operation Portal Recon project who will determine whether it’s a good choice.
For two years, PokéStops have been limited to the locations already included in the game, as well as those established through a sponsored partnership. If you didn’t have a Starbucks or a Sprint store near your house, you’d likely be out of luck. Even in areas where these stores do exist, they’re often inaccessible without a car, defeating the game’s mission of getting players to walk and experience the real world with just their phone and a pair of tennis shoes.
While you can still catch Pokémon in an underpopulated area – I’ve done it myself – in order to get more Poké Balls or potions, there’s little choice but to hop in a car and take a drive to all the closest PokéStops. For those in more remote areas, this can result in a long car trip. If Niantic opens up PokéStop submissions to a wider user-base, this would no longer be the case. Single-location restaurants, cool art around your neighborhood, and historical spots would all be eligible, and could give players in rural communities the chance to get all the free items and bonuses of those in crowded cities.
At the moment, there are only a few ways to get more Poké Balls and other consumable items. You can level up, but this is largely done by catching more Pokémon, and if you happen to run out of Poké Balls then your only remaining option is to throw down actual cash to acquire packs of items. This leads to players in less-populated areas being forced to pay for a game their peers get to play for free, and they can’t take part in one of Pokemon Go’s main joys – traveling to destinations where players can meet up and play together.
Players that travel to different PokéStops will occasionally receive closed gifts that they cannot open themselves. These contain anything from potions to Poké Balls and even special eggs. If they send them to someone on their friends list, the receiver can open them and enjoy the rewards. Though these gifts help to level the playing field, and only provided that you have friends in cities who are enjoying the game, it certainly doesn’t eliminate the issue entirely.
These issues aside, making Pokémon Go accessible to players in different locations or of different economic status isn’t enough to turn it into a game for everyone. One more hurdle remains that prevents some players from enjoying the game to its fullest potential and it impacts those with disabilities. In its current state, Pokémon Go features no options that cater to people who struggle with mobility or vision impairment. Software to simulate walking has been banned from use and accounts caught doing so have been suspended.
This problem will be especially important by November when Pokémon: Let’s Go launches for Nintendo Switch. Though it will be more accessible to those with physical disabilities, it features connectivity with Pokémon Go, and its failure to address the mobile game’s limitations could lead to an incomplete experience for some.
Niantic has certainly taken large steps toward making Pokémon Go a game enjoyable by everyone, but the company simply isn’t there yet. While it’s started branching out into creating AR games for other franchises including Harry Potter, Niantic needs to make sure to meet the needs of its current players first. It would be a shame for a game so innovative and influential to ignore the needs of its marginalized players.