What Happened To Pokemon Go?

When developer Niantic released the augmented reality title "Pokémon Go" in the first week of July 2016, it was as if Beatlemania had come to the world of mobile games. It didn't matter whether or not you grew up with the "Pokémon" franchise. Regardless of whether you were a hardcore fan who could match most Pokémon with their number or someone whose knowledge of the franchise was limited to Pikachu and Pikachu only, there's a chance you were one of the millions who downloaded the game and tried to catch as many Pokémon as possible while getting some much-needed exercise. 

Back then, if you were standing outside your local McDonald's while swiping on your phone, people knew exactly what you were doing — that McDonald's was either a PokeStop or a gym. If it was the former, you were collecting items to help you in your quest to catch 'em all, and if it was the latter, you were battling other players' Pokémon in an attempt to gain control of the gym. However, it wasn't like that for long. People slowly, but surely stopped playing "Pokémon Go" as the novelty wore off, and as newer games came along, the app started disappearing from users' phones. But now that it's been more than half a decade since it launched, some of you may be wondering what happened to "Pokémon Go," and if it's still a thing in the mobile gaming world.

Pokemon Go isn't as popular as it used to be, but many still play it

It may not be causing the frenzy it did when it launched in 2016, but "Pokémon Go" still has a devoted following of loyal gamers, many of whom play the game regularly and take part in the limited-time events Niantic launches from time to time. As of January 2021, the title was averaging 827,000 daily active users in the U.S., and while the world may have largely moved on from "Pokémon Go"-mania, that's a pretty solid hardcore fanbase as far as U.S.-based gamers are concerned.

In addition, the "Pokémon Go" community remains very much active, and as Slate reported, players still gather for the annual "Pokémon Go Fest," a weekend-long fan event that started in 2017; the most recent one took place in July 2021 and celebrated the game's fifth anniversary. Aside from offering general support to players, Niantic also continues to roll out new updates and introduce new Pokémon to the in-game universe. Granted, not all of the updates have been popular with players (more on that later), and chances are that you'll end up with that same old common, lower-tier Pokémon while looking for the rarer ones. But all signs so far suggest that "Pokémon Go" isn't going away anytime soon.

The COVID pandemic brought some controversies

Part of what made "Pokémon Go" so popular in its early days was how it encouraged players to step outside of their homes in order to enjoy the game to the fullest. But since the COVID-19 pandemic left people all around the world with no choice but to stay home, Niantic made some changes to "Pokémon Go" in 2020, rewarding players with free incense — an in-game item that allows Pokémon to spawn even if you're playing indoors — and more importantly, doubling the distance required to access PokeStops and gyms from 40 meters to 80 meters (via The Guardian). It may not have been the same experience as classic "Pokémon Go," but people, at the very least, got to play at home amid the extraordinary global health crisis.

But with the world slowly returning to normal (or a "new normal") in 2021, Niantic announced in June of that year that it would be gradually reversing the changes, doing so in phases and in a way that allowed people to "play safely." Unfortunately, the plans were announced as multiple nations, including the United States, were dealing with the then-new Delta variant of the coronavirus, thus preventing players from those countries from stepping out to play "Pokémon Go" just like in the good old, pre-COVID days. Gamers worldwide were up in arms over the move, and some even called for a boycott of the game. 

On August 25, 2021, Niantic, which was initially firm on its decision to reduce the PokeStop/gym interaction distance back to 40 meters, announced that effective immediately, the distance will be doubled once again to 80 meters.