‘Pokemon GO’ Is Fixing Gyms – But The Defender Bonus Has To Go [Opinion]

Pokemon GO fans are rejoicing as some leaked information was more or less confirmed by Niantic Labs as updates focusing on the game’s cooperative aspects; shortly after Pokemon GO won the BAFTA (British Academy of Film and Television Arts) award for Best Mobile Game, studio representatives hinted at “all new cooperative social gameplay experiences” coming soon.

“With spring arriving in the northern hemisphere, players can look forward to all new cooperative social gameplay experiences in Pokemon Go that will give Trainers new and exciting reasons to get back into the sunshine.”

The “leak” – information dug out of the game’s latest code – seems to support that. As Polygon reports, data-miners at The Silph Road, Pokemon GO‘s biggest fansite/subreddit, found new phrases buried in the code suggesting that players would be getting more (read:some) feedback on what their pokemon were actually doing in gyms; whether they’d won or lost a battle, and if they’d returned to their inventory. At the very least, that suggests an expansion to the current gym system – if players are being notified, it’s hopefully because the information will actually be relevant to them.

Other phrases found imply that players may have to return to gyms to feed berries to their pokemon if they want to keep holding them; as Paul Tassi, Forbes‘ expert on Pokemon GO says, the move may be intended to make life more difficult for GPS spoofers: people who cheat by faking their GPS location.

Finally, two new phrases mention something called “raids” which will apparently happen nearby. Nobody knows exactly what this means at this point, but it’s a safe bet that they also have to do with the gyms, with all of the other changes.

So far, so good. But let’s get back to spoofing and gyms and defender bonuses.

If you are anything like me and live in a major urban area, you’ll probably have noticed that for about the last six months, pokemon gyms tend to have a few things in common: they’re all level 10, they’re all filled with very strong pokemon (ever seen a ten-Dragonite gym?), and they’re all held by the same few people. If you’re really paying attention, you might also have noticed that sometimes your own teammates will knock off lower-ranking pokemon and replace them with their own (presumably through the use of alt-accounts,) that these players are disturbingly-vigilant of their gyms (all 10 pokemon get replaced very quickly) and that this even happens with gyms inaccessible by car.

To most of you, this will probably be a familiar sight.
To most of you, this will probably be a familiar sight. [Image by Don Crothers/Niantic Labs]

All of this stems from a few different problems, which cheating seriously exacerbates – and it’s safe to say that Niantic really isn’t doing a good enough job of catching and banning the cheaters, from those who spoof to those who use outside tools to stock up on powerful pokemon. But it all circles further back to the defender bonuses.

Even if you’re a casual player, you’ve probably nabbed one of these before. Each pokemon you have defending a gym can earn you, every 21 hours, 10 Pokecoins (the premium currency) and 500 stardust. You may or may not be aware that this bonus only stacks up to 10, which is a good move on Niantic’s part, but it’s not really enough of a limit – and that’s not just a problem for players, it’s a problem for Niantic.

According to Niantic, in a statistic which surprised pretty much everyone, they have 65 million daily players worldwide. That statistic alone is incredible; it pretty much beats every other video game in the world: Valve’s entire Steam gaming platform barely beats that out. The Xbox One hasn’t sold half that many consoles.

If it’s accurate, it’s an unbelievably impressive number. Which makes it kind of unfortunate that their revenue keeps dropping, as per statistics from ThinkGaming.

But consider this: putting aside Pokemon GO‘s lackluster competitive gameplay, which is certainly a factor and we’ll circle back to that, cheaters and serious players alike don’t contribute any revenue to the game because they’re getting $1 worth of coins for free every single day, and that’s enough to maintain a steady stock of premium-only items. That especially includes egg incubators, the game’s single best way to obtain pokemon, stardust, and experience.

Those coins add up faster than you might think.
Those coins add up faster than you might think. [Image by Don Crothers/Niantic Labs]

I’m not suggesting that they’d otherwise be dropping $400 a year on Pokemon GO, but they’d almost certainly be spending more than the nothing that they are now – and all for the low price of maintaining a stranglehold on the one competitive aspect of the game, simultaneously frustrating more casual players who are then even less likely to put their own money in. The cheating players simply exacerbate this; they essentially don’t have to play the game at all. And for a certain sort of player, that is the game.

What makes this more remarkable is that Niantic really got premium purchases right with their original game, Ingress. While it will never have the same player base as Pokemon GO, it works in a very similar manner; Niantic doesn’t give away premium currency for Ingress, though, and they consistently hold huge globe-spanning events which pit the game’s teams against each other to achieve a specific goal. That said, the most popular item in the Ingress premium store is essentially a PokeStop module that doubles the number of items per spin for 10 minutes; players buy these in mass amounts in the lead-up to an event. Niantic nearly recaptured that during their Christmas events, when they sold special bundles and featured limited-time pokemon spawns, but they haven’t managed it again since.

What it really all comes down to is that while the idea of the defender bonus is great in principle, and you want to reward players for playing consistently, the free coins have got to go. It might disappoint a lot of players, but Niantic is shooting themselves in the foot by giving up so many potential purchases.

Pokemon GO may lose some players if the defender bonus is changed, that’s true. But the question Niantic has to ask is whether they want those players in the first place.

[Featured Image by Niantic Labs/The Pokemon Company]