Back when Pokémon Go originally released in the summer of 2016, the game’s core identity was built around the fact that its gameplay required players to walk around in the real world, ideally, in busy towns and cities, to find the real world locations that Pokemon were hiding in, as well as collecting items and earning in game currency at real world locations associated with Pokéstops and Gyms.
While the game became a globally popular phenomenon for a time, the core design of Pokémon Go was, undeniably, exclusionary to certain kinds of players. Rural players, for example, often couldn’t gain access to free items, in-game currency, raids, or rare creature spawns in their local areas, because of the way that the game is built around population density. Many of the same issues also impacted disabled players, who were often limited in their ability to engage with Pokémon Go’s physical location or movement locked mechanics.
Between the game’s launch, and the beginning of the Covid-19 Pandemic three and a half years later, disability rights advocates pushed for developer Niantic to update the game to allow for disabled players, who may not be able to walk to a local Gym or Pokéstop to collect free items or participate in daily in person raids, to still be able to meaningfully engage with the game from home. These requests were largely ignored, until changing global circumstances forced a larger majority of the population to be unable to regularly leave their homes during lockdown.
Suddenly, once non-disabled players were limited in their ability to go out into the physical world and play the game, Niantic started to make concessions.
The first batch of updates, rolled out during the early stages of Covid lockdown, involved doubling the range from which Pokéstops could be accessed, to make it more likely that players in large cities could access a Pokéstop from home to collect free items like Pokéballs. The game also introduced gifts, which could be sent to more rural players once per day to provide some free items, and increased the spawn rates for Pokémon both in rural areas, and for players who are stationary. Previously, players needed to be walking around to see the largest possible number of Pokémon spawns in a given area.
The game also rolled out free daily quests, making sure that at least one of those quests could be completed from home each day without needing to do things like visiting Pokéstops, and halved the distance that players would need to walk to hatch eggs, at a time where being able to go out for a walk was somewhat limited.
However, most notable of the changes introduced at the start of the pandemic was the ability to take part in Pokémon Go’s raid battles remotely, rather than in person.
Raid battles in Pokémon Go, where players collectively meet at a physical location to battle a tough creature as a group, are how many legendary Pokémon are distributed, and are often the only way to get many of the game’s strongest creatures upon release.
There were some limitations to remote raids, but they were at introduction a welcome addition to the game. Players could take part in any raid remotely, as long as they were either close enough to the gym to see it pop up on their in-game map, or received an invite from a friend, and remote raiders were not in any way penalised for contributing to combat from a remote location.
However, this didn’t last long.
A patch a few weeks after remote raids were first introduced reduced the amount of damage that remote raiding players dealt, compared to those playing in person, lessening their effectiveness and trying to encourage players back toward raiding in person. Additionally, a limit was introduced on how many remote raiders could join any given raid, again making it harder to complete raids if remote raiders were taking part.
The largest negative however, was that there was no way to take part in remote raids for free.
While players who visit physical Pokéstops and gyms in person can gain one free raid pass per day, remote raid passes have only ever been available to players via the in-game item shop, or recently as rare quest rewards. While it was in theory possible to earn the in-game coins needed to purchase remote raid passes for free while playing, this required doing tasks like taking control of gyms, which can be difficult for players to do who aren’t able to leave their home regularly, as those are in person only tasks.
At the time, Niantic did seem to be moving Pokémon Go’s design in a more accessible direction for disabled players, even if those changes were coming as a result of the needs of non disabled players, and were a little muddled in their execution.
I made a video around this time, asking Niantic to consider improving the support they were offering disabled players, rather than as I feared rolling it back post pandemic. My hope at the time was that they might start offering one free daily remote raid pass, for example, to offer a small amount of ongoing access to raids for disabled players playing from home going forward.
Unfortunately, Niantic did not take that feedback on board.
Over the past three years, Niantic has been slowly, but steadily, rolling back support for basically every feature that it introduced during the pandemic. The decreased egg hatching distances went back to normal, the increased radius at which Pokéstops could be accessed from was decreased, and as of this past week, we’ve seen a new wave of rollbacks applied to the way that remote raid passes work for disabled and rural players.
If you’re lucky enough to have a Pokémon Go Gym that you can access from your home, to battle and help hold control of for your team, you can in theory earn a maximum of 50 coins per day, for use in the paid item store in Pokémon Go.
Previously, remote raid passes cost 100 coins each, equivalent to approximately £1 each, or two days of maximised free coin earnings. This was the same as the price of regular in person raid passes, but you could importantly gain one of those per day for free by visiting a gym.
Now, as part of the newest Pokémon Go update, remote raid passes are seeing their prices nearly doubled to 195 coins each, or 175 each if bought in a three pack. In person raid passes remain only 100 coins each, with a 50 coin discount if bought in a three pack. Obviously, there’s some discrepancy here. For many, this appears to be a disability tax being applied to players who cannot play in person.
In addition, players are limited to a maximum of three remote raid passes in their inventory at one time, or five if they purchase a three pack while they have two in their inventory already. This is in contrast to in person raid passes, which have no limit to how many can be stored in a player’s inventory. This means that for big events, such as legendary raid days where a shiny legendary might have boosted odds, remote raiders are less able to stock up over time, ready to do large numbers of raids on one day, instead limited in how many passes they can have ready for that event.
While in person players can slowly earn free currency, and stockpile as many in person raid passes for these kinds of events as they like, remote players do not have that luxury.
While one new method of earning free remote raid passes is being introduced, a free remote raid pass can be earned by completing seven days of in-game quests while having fewer than three remote raid passes in your inventory, this is still considerably less frequent than the daily passes offered to in person players.
When you look at the price increase applied to remote raid passes, the increased difficulty in earning them for free, and the new limits on how many can be held by a player at one time, it seems clear that Niantic is reducing accessibility for disabled players, both those with mobility disabilities limiting their ability to leave their homes, as well as immunocompromised players who cannot attend large in person gatherings for raids.
Pokémon Go has, for quite some time, been trying to roll backward on accessibility for disabled players. The game now offers a free daily incense to all players, for example, but the incense ONLY works if you go for a walk, and are seen to be moving a distance from your starting location, as opposed to during the pandemic where incense spawn rates were boosted, even when stationary.
While I have not talked about this in previous videos about Pokémon Go, I do feel like it’s important to acknowledge that Pokémon Go location spoofing apps do exist, and while there is a small risk of action being taken against a user’s account for location spoofing, many of these location spoofing apps are a LOT more accessible than the Niantic provided version of the game for disabled players.
From the ability to walk around the map using an on screen analogue stick, to being able to use physical daily free raid passes without physically being at those raid locations, there are many features that can help disabled players engage with Pokémon Go, that are being offered by these alternative unofficial apps.
While I’m not going to say that spoofing apps are risk free, the risk is low if you are sensible, and you look into how to use them in a non suspicious way, and I’m not going to deny that, right now, if you’re a disabled Pokémon Go player, you may well have a better experience with Pokémon Go via unofficial means, rather than hoping that Niantic will support your ability to play these games.
Niantic has spent the past three years steadily rolling back tools they introduced during the start of the pandemic, and they’re making their game less accessible to disabled players in the process.