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How Pokemon Go Could Help Rural Players

My biggest gripe about Pokemon Go is that the places you’re encouraged to explore just aren’t that interesting. Want to grind Mewtwo raids to get a shiny? A city centre is your best bet. Want to stock up on items or Field Research tasks from PokeStops? City centre. Want to find the most Pokemon spawning? You guessed it.

Playing Pokemon Go in a major city is great. You can grind easily, but even if you just log in casually, you’ve got plenty of spawns on your doorstep to maximise your chances of getting that rare monster or shiny sprite. If you’re not fortunate enough to live in a bustling metropolis, however, things are quite different.

The town where my parents live has about five PokeStops and three Gyms. That’s not bad all things considered, a lot of towns have it far worse. But still, I can barely play the game when I visit. There are a handful of spawns around the PokeStops and very little else. It’s perfect if you want to catch another Bidoof, but if you want a chance at bumping into a Dragonite or Slaking in the current TCG event? No chance.

Rural Pokemon Go players have been complaining for a long time, and rightfully so. Niantic’s insistence that only major cities have the infrastructure required to host so many PokeStops, spawns, and players is a bit of a cop out. If I want to go exploring, I’m not going to go to a shopping centre, I’m going to head to a mountain, a forest, or a beach. If I want to play Pokemon Go while I’m there however, the game that puts exploring at its core falls flat. Most natural wonders only have PokeStops where there are man-made signs; a map of the walking routes, perhaps, or the viewpoint at a mountain’s peak.

Some of my favourite Pokemon Go memories have been arriving in the middle of nowhere and spinning a random PokeStop, leaving a tiny sign of my adventures in my game log. I put a Kangaskhan in a random gym in the Australian outback when I was travelling through, and it wasn’t knocked out for months. That gym is marked on my map in-game, and I’ll remember that moment more fondly than any city centre raid or Community Day I’ve ever done. It’s an extreme example, but if you lived in that tiny farming homestead, Pokemon Go would barely be playable.

Players in marginally more populated, but still heavily rural, communities can request new PokeStops in the game, but the lengthy process is pointless if other players don’t evaluate your submission and provide supporting evidence that the point of interest exists and is exciting enough to warrant a stop. But with few other players in your rural area to rate your application, it becomes a catch-22.

Fewer PokeStops means fewer spawns, and while a barren mountain is unlikely to cause too many players much havoc (other than those intent on actually exploring), the same problems impact small towns and players in rural communities. These players are not only dealing with fewer PokeStops and spawns – which means research is harder to complete, levelling up is more difficult, and items are harder to come by without spending real money – but the post-pandemic game changes are disproportionately affecting them, too. Reducing the damage done by players raiding remotely was always coming, but it’s made it harder for rural players to participate in the best raids. I find it difficult enough getting a raiding group together in my city suburb, so remote raiding is practically the only option if someone in a rural dwelling wants to get their hands on a Mewtwo, for instance. Remote raids have also got more expensive recently, too, and the free passes have been scrapped. Incense changes also impact rural players more than city dwellers, too.

What’s the answer? There are a few options. The first would be to reintroduce good rewards in Field Research Breakthroughs. Currently, completing seven days of Field Research tasks rewards you a Klink. There’s a chance it can be shiny, which is better than some months, but any players who’ve stuck with the game for a few years remember a better time. These encounters used to reward Legendaries, usually whatever was in raids at the time, but sometimes other Legends rotated. At the time, many people complained about seeing the Regis again or catching another Articuno and missing out on a potential Zapdos encounter, but we didn’t know how good we had it.

Allowing PokeStops depicting natural wonders like cool rock faces or old, craggy trees would be a second option. It’s noticeable that much of Niantic’s marketing, including the images in this article, is focused on exploring mountain ranges and wild forests, but the gameplay in those places would be dire, if playable at all. There’s a striking discord between the game’s marketing – from trailers and promotional images to what representatives say in press releases and interviews – and how it feels to actually play the game.

It seems that Niantic realised how much of a money spinner raids are, and quickly put a stop to how many ways we could access Legendaries. It’s annoying for all players – I don’t need another bloody Klink – but it’s even worse for those in the countryside. If they can’t find enough friends to raid with, and can’t afford or don’t want to spend money on remote raid passes, Legendaries are practically inaccessible.

This brings us to another of Niantic’s core pillars, community. Rural players just need to find a group of like-minded raiders to camp outside their village’s one gym and they’ll be grand, it’s inferred. I agree that Pokemon Go is best played together, but not everyone has that luxury. Even if you have a raiding group, the fewer gyms there are, the less chance there is of a raid you want to tackle popping up, and the less chance everyone is available. In a city centre, on the other hand, head to any of the 20 raids you can see in your vicinity, and likely there’s already half a lobby waiting to take down a Mewtwo.

Rural players have been quitting the game for years, even before the pandemic, and it seems like Niantic is doing very little to keep them on board. In the developer’s eyes, rural players are less likely to spend money on the game (thanks to fewer Gyms to buy raid passes for and a smaller population to raid them), so the gameplay changes, event bonuses, and everyday challenges will continue to focus on city-based whales. But if the company wants to really focus on exploration, and help the wider community of the game, then it needs to make some changes fast, or Pokemon Go’s rural communities will disappear for good.

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