Pokémon GO 2021: A Retrospective On A Transformative Year

2021 has been a transformative year for Niantic Labs' Pokémon GO. Let's look back on what worked, what didn't work, and how this year will be remembered.

Pokémon GO graphic. Credit: Niantic
Pokémon GO graphic. Credit: Niantic
  • Slowing Down: Niantic has obviously slowed down the rollout of new content in Pokémon GO. In the past, full generations would drop at once or at least in waves. Events would essentially guarantee a new Shiny release. Now, new species are released one at a time, with months passing sometimes with nothing new. A shiny release during an event has become a huge bonus. Community Days have completely changed as well, losing their former glory. This is all understandable, as there is a limited number of releases Niantic can roll out until they catch up with the current Pokémon games. They utilize Costumed Pokémon well, using them as fun features to add content without breezing through new species and Shinies. However, the slowing down of Team GO Rocket releases and Shadow Pokémon was a mistake, leaving a lot of fun on the table this year.
  • Build-Up & Payoff: Events this year have changed in structure as well. This was the first full year where Seasons were active in Pokémon GO and Niantic seems to follow a new pattern: start the season with low-key events, building interest slowly until the final month delivers a big payoff with strong events and a major special event. This makes for uneven gameplay but prolonged anticipation. While I miss the old way, I can see why this works for the new structure.
  • Live Events: In-person festivities have returned. The end of 2021 saw Niantic finally host their make-up Safari Zones and announce plans for an in-person Pokémon GO Tour next year.
  • #HearUsNiantic: Your mileage may vary, but I feel like Niantic handled a difficult moment very well in 2021. Pokémon GO was the subject of a boycott for reasons both fair and unfair, in my opinion. Niantic has been horrible at communicating with the fanbases of their games, but they were being pressured here to become a stationary game against their company philosophy. They responded quickly by essentially adapting to player desires. Whether that is a net positive for the game remains to be seen.
  • Disconnect: Often, the scheduling of certain events and the language used in press releases demonstrate a continued disconnect between what Niantic is offering and what the Pokémon GO fanbase wants. I hope to, in 2022, see the divide here shrink rather than grow. Niantic's major problem comes down to communication and planning, and while it is difficult to understand why these issues still happen, I have hope for what I still consider to be one of the best games around.

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Theo DwyerAbout Theo Dwyer

Theo Dwyer writes about comics, film, and games.
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