Pokémon Go’s difficult 2020 was full of ups and downs

Some issues were unavoidable, but there were certainly highlights for Pokémon Go in 2020

Pokémon celebrating 2020 in Pokémon Go

This year, Pokémon Go’s players had a rather taxing time keeping up. In an age where going outside and interacting with others was not just frowned upon, but downright dangerous, there have been a lot of new events to tide players over, and some essential new features that had to be developed in a very short space of time.

Pokémon Go in 2020 began in much the same way the previous year ended. Shadow Pokémon boss fights, including battles against Giovanni with the legendary dogs, were still a relatively new idea, while events were skewed towards celebrating the dawn of a new year. It seems like a sick and twisted joke now, but yes, there was a time when we looked at 2020 with fresh optimism.

Events weren’t all that spectacular in the first few weeks, though a small wave of Unovan Pokémon were introduced as the months continued. However, soon the world was plunged into lockdown, looming real-life events were cancelled, and the style of in-game events taking place took a while to catch up with the new normal.

For some inexplicable reason, Niantic is still making Pokémon regional exclusive with few ways to make them more widely available. Sure, some people decided to take holidays abroad (why?), but most people were largely confined to their homes. The good news was that lockdown also coincided with the introduction of PVP battles and these have mostly been free to participate in. For a short time, accumulating winning streaks was how you could get legendary Pokémon such as Landorus, but thanks to rampant cheating it was not consistently robust enough for most players. Soon it became apparent that this was a temporary solution.

Pokemon Go's remote raids in 2020 allowed for players to connect with each other via invites. Here we see six phones connecting to a raid.

It wasn’t long before Remote Raid passes debuted, but it was a while before necessary improvements were made (namely to only use the pass when battles begin). The system is still not perfect though, as the countdown timer for raids is too short for most people to comfortably join, and it would be better to get an idea of how many trainers are looking at jumping into a raid.

What Remote Raid passes did allow for the first time was international raiding. The significance of this was not realised until just the Lake Trio event. Uxie, Mesprit, and Azelf returned to raids. This time around, thanks to Remote Raid passes, players from around the world could invite players to raids that would be impossible for them to participate in otherwise. The response on social media has been a flooded of people inviting others to raid exclusives with them.

There were costs to raids in the Covid era, namely EX Raids. These haven’t returned since the beginning of the pandemic. It’s not the biggest loss though, as there have been plenty of events for those wanting to catch legendary Pokémon. By far the biggest was Go Fest 2020, which was a worldwide event for the first time in history. There were a few teething problems and it was nowhere near as intimate as a real-life event would have been, but by and large it was a successful event (it brought us Rotom for the first time too, which was nice). We also saw the Today View, which shows off all of the current events and bonuses in the app, which is very handy for those wondering if an event was still on.

The announcement image for Pokémon Go Fest 2020. It includes Pikachu, Jigglypuff, Oddish, and Cherrim playing in a back garden.

There was also a time when getting Pokéballs was challenging for rural players, who were no longer commuting to work. Initially Niantic put out bundles costing one PokéCoin, but eventually free gift boxes were introduced to solve this problem. Changes to the buddy system also allow Pokémon to bring you items such as Gifts to send to friends, and Pokéballs to catch Pokémon. Increased Pokéballs from opening Gifts also encouraged friends to interact with each other, seemingly resolving an immediate problem.

What was less successful out of the gate was the debut of Mega Evolution. Lots of people complained about having very few ways to accumulate Mega Energy, a problem that persists in important ways even now. Since Mega Evolution is temporary, some felt its duration was too short, so Niantic extended the duration a bit. Another more recent controversy was with the much anticipated Pokémon Home integration, as it has its own annoyances with how infrequently you can transfer a shiny legendary Pokémon.

On the whole, Niantic did make one or two big mistakes, but it’s largely kept the ship running in the new normal. Looking to the future, it is somewhat brighter in Pokémon Go thanks to the upcoming ‘Go Beyond’ update. Events will soon be dictated by the seasons, meaning those in the southern hemisphere actually get relevant Pokémon for the weather they have. Increasing the cap to level 50 gives players new challenges, while the debut of Kalos Pokémon, like all new generations, is very exciting indeed.

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Niantic can do a bit more though, so we’re asking our Delibird to pass on the message to Niantic for our wishes for next year:

  • Kecleon’s introduction is long overdue. That should be fixed immediately! (If it’s not introduced in the Hoenn celebration week)
  • Global trade distance, while much better than it was initially, still needs to be extended beyond 50km
  • Extend the countdown timers for raids so that people have a chance to join them
  • Allow players to express interest in-app to join raids, so that those nervous about joining a raid can feel more comfortable participating in them. There are third-party apps that can do similar things
  • Redesign of the Friends list so that you can easily filter ones you don’t have contact with any longer (similarly to tags with Pokémon)
  • Make the monthly Community Day events last a weekend rather than one day. You could have a break in-between, but two days is better than one
  • More chances for regionals to appear outside their native region worldwide in events, especially elusive ones like Maractus, Relicanth, and Sigilyph
  • Events for international players to catch Pokémon like Kangaskhan and Heracross, which are regional Pokémon with Mega Evolutions
  • Reduce the number of costumed Pokémon that are introduced next year (except for Cowboy Hat Caterpie, because that one person replying to every official tweet has asked for it for so long)

Tough days are still ahead for all of us, and it’s important that Niantic realises the decisions it makes are key to the survival of Pokémon Go into the next year. It’s highly likely that the new seasonal approach will bring good things and stuff we’ll find frustrating.

As it approaches its fifth birthday, Pokémon Go’s position as the top grossing game on Google Play and third most grossing game on the iOS app store is something Niantic will want to celebrate, so here’s hoping for even bigger things next year.