Pokemon Go has always been a game meant to be played outside. Developer Niantic is eager to remind players of this and even more eager to remind everyone that outdoor Go Fests are happening in Seattle, Berlin, and Sapporo in the coming months. We spoke with Pokemon Go’s director of global live events Humberto Kam recently about why now is the time to take Pokemon Go outside again, even with lingering COVID concerns, and Niantic shared a presentation doubling down on why now is the time to go back outside to catch Pokemon.
Niantic founder John Hanke and Pokemon Go’s director of live product, Michael Steranka, were on hand to talk about returning to live events, share optimism that this year will mark a return to the excitement the game appreciated when it launched in 2016, and remind that playing social games outside has always been a core Niantic value.
John Hanke spent most of his time at Go Fest 2017 speaking with players.
Hanke also reminisced and commiserated about the past. The 2017 Pokemon Go Fest in Chicago was the first the company ever held on that kind of scale and there is no sugar-coating what happened–it did not go well.
“It was a tough learning experience for us,” Hanke said about how the game was not working for the majority of the event and it wasn’t until the afternoon that players were able to finally explore the city and catch Pokemon.
The Pokemon Go Fest events held in 2018 and 2019 went more smoothly, and though the company held a print-at-home Fest event in 2020 necessitated by the pandemic, Hanke said it was just not quite the same. Hanke called it, “A pale shadow of the real event, but it was what we had.”
Last year, Niantic took baby steps to return Pokemon Go to in-person events by holding community days and smaller events, and then held a larger Safari Zone event in May in Seville, Spain. That event went well and paved the way for the upcoming Seattle, Berlin, and Sapporo events. Despite the success of these smaller events, Steranka says the company is still being careful about moving forward. “It’s a little bit nerve-wracking,” Steranka said, “It’s led to lots of sleepless nights for myself and other folks here.”
Pokemon Go’s Safari Zone event took place in Seville, Spain on May 13.
For the upcoming Go Fest events, Steranka says there will be more than 200 unique Pokemon to capture with 80 of those Pokemon appearing at each of the events. “It’s the most ambitious Go Fest we’ve ever put together,” Steranka says. Thankfully you will still be able to be able to encounter these Pokemon even outside of being at those events in-person.
Pokemon Go returning to in-person events is as exciting as the rest of the world slowly returning to social events that have been inaccessible during the pandemic, but the Pokemon Go community isn’t universally happy about the renewed direction of the game. During the pandemic, many mechanics were changed to allow players to play the game and catch Pokemon without needing to put themselves in COVID danger. They didn’t have to gather with groups of other players or travel to more populated urban locations where Pokemon and Poke Stops are more dense to play. The changed mechanics especially benefited players in rural areas and have generally been embraced by the community.
In response to the backlash around Pokemon Go’s reverted mechanics Steranka said, “Over the last two years, we’ve tried to meet players where they were because of the pandemic.” Steranka followed up saying the mechanics were always meant to be a temporary measure and that Niantic’s games, and Pokemon Go in particular, have always been about going outside and playing outside. That being said, not all the mechanics are being reverted. Remote raiding remains, the number of Pokemon have been increased in rural areas, and daily home Pokemon spawns will still be happening. “We think the pendulum swung a little too far,” Steranka said and reiterated that Niantic is a mission-driven company and one of Niantic’s core missions is to promote outdoor exercise, which is something scaling back the pandemic mechanics will help achieve.
The 2022 Seattle Go Fest takes place between July 22 and 24.
Another issue often raised by the community is related to Incense, which lets players use an item that can be earned or purchased to promote Pokemon spawning. “We’re aware of the visual bug that happened. It was really unfortunate timing for that bug to take effect. Some Pokemon still appeared on the map after despawning,” Steranka said. “That bug has been fixed and we’ll be continuing to monitor it over the next few months.”
Finally, Niantic ended its presentation by talking ambiguously about its new expanded social integration app, Campfire. The app will let players coordinate with other trainers (which is how Niantic refers to Pokemon Go players) without having to leave the Pokemon Go app. Hanke spoke up again and said Campfire will be rolling out over coming weeks and there will be more to share soon.
Pokemon Go Fests will be happening in Berlin, Germany, between July 1-2, Seattle, Washington between July 22-24, and finally Sapporo, Japan between August 5-7. Niantic is also planning a big finale event, but it has yet to detail exactly what that will entail and how it will work. You can read more about those events and how to buy tickets for them here.