Niantic has begun to remove the COVID-19 bonuses introduced to Pokémon GO in spring 2020. These bonuses, which were added to Pokémon GO to held trainers play the mobile game from home during a time when many areas were experiencing lockdowns, will be removed in New Zealand and the United States first, starting today. Let's get into the details.
The following information about the removal of the pandemic bonuses was posted to the official Pokémon GO blog:
[We are] planning to remove or change some of the bonuses introduced last year. [We] will remove them first as a test in the U.S. and New Zealand starting at the end of July. We will remove or change them on a rolling basis in other countries and regions over time, and at the same time introduce new exploration bonuses.
The Pokémon GO community has not taken kindly to this on social media. While there are quite a few hyperbolic reactions that peg this as the death knell for the game, there are just as many more reasonable reactions that simply are pushing for Niantic to reconsider.
The removed bonuses include:
Over the past year, Incense effectiveness was increased to attract Pokémon to you more frequently, even if you weren't able to leave home. After the change, this effectiveness will be set at the standard level when you're stationary and increased effectiveness will kick in when you are moving.
This is what I'd believed would cause the biggest upset. However, this is hardly mentioned in comparison to the final removed bonus, which we'll get to later.
What remains unclear as I write this, as the bonuses still have hours remaining in the United States, is what the "standard level" of Incense is. The pre-bonus level of incense yielded fewer than five spawns per thirty minutes to stationary trainers. However, Niantic did briefly nerf this bonus last fall only to then buff it again. The nerfed Incense was much more useful than pre-COVID Incense. I performed a test here that showed that it yielded a spawn approximately every 110 seconds rather than the 55 seconds we saw with the COVID bonus Incense. If this is what we can expect moving forward, I don't personally see a problem with that. It would still yield a large number of spawns for a very small sum of coins. It should also be remembered that Niantic increased the number of spawn points in Pokémon GO last year as well in seeming preparation for a nerf of this Incense.
Previously, your Buddy Pokémon brought you more Gifts each day, up to five gifts at once and up to three times a day. […] After the change, the frequency of these gifts from Buddy Pokémon will be reduced.
Previously, PokéStop and Gym interaction distances were increased, to enable people to engage from further away. After this change the distance will revert back to the standard distance, when it makes sense in different places, though may be increased during future events and as part of certain features.
This is what the Pokémon GO community is rallying against, and I get it. I also get Niantic trying to go back to its roots: the game was always about getting out and exploring the real world. I think that this one is what angers people most because it seems petty. An Incense buff does make the game something that can be played almost as effectively from home, which removes the encouragement to walk. However, the PokéStop distance simply wasn't increased that much. It seemed more like a quality of life update than anything else. While I think it's silly to interpret this as the death knell for Pokémon GO, this last one does make me pause and wonder: What are we doing here? Why, exactly, is this being removed? What purpose does removing it serve? Why is this being removed instead of Niantic actually adding new content to incentivize walking?
Tomorrow, I'll post a new Incense experiment to determine how frequently spawns will arrive to stationary trainers. Stay tuned!