Niantic, the developer behind the popular mobile game Pokémon GO, said that COVID-19 is a severe threat to the game. The massive online title has stayed steady with a batch of recent announcements, such as a recognized community day for Machop and a holiday event, which starts today and lasts through December 31. Niantic has occasionally been adding Galarian forms of Pokémon to the game, including Mr. Mime, for representation of the mainline series' latest installments, last year's Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield.
The game has even undergone some recent datamining, and it's been found that Genesect will be receiving a new moveset. This moveset will closely resemble, but not exactly mirror, the Pokémon's signature move Techno Blast from the mainline games. These dataminers also discovered that regional challenges based on Sinnoh, Unova, Kalos, and likely others will be making their way into the game at an undisclosed point in the future.
In a recent piece from The Verge, several developers from Niantic discussed why COVID-19 is a severe threat to Pokémon GO. Matt Slemon, a senior product manager for Niantic, explained how COVID-19 is an "existential" threat, saying that the team has been forced to adopt new strategies and conceive new ideas to account for social isolation. He also mentions that Niantic was able to pull data from Apple's mobility maps to better analyze how people are walking or interacting with Pokémon GO. However, Slemon said that the best approach as of now is to be "as flexible as possible."
Given that some games are better suited or even thrive in social isolation, such as Animal Crossing: New Horizons, for instance, it makes perfect sense that Pokémon GO is at somewhat of an impasse. Pokémon GO virtually requires its players to get outside and be social with one another, which is an increasingly dangerous activity as cases of COVID-19 surge. It would be inappropriate for Niantic to encourage a kind of behavior that could result in even more COVID-19 cases and possibly harm its players. It truly is a conundrum, as Pokémon GO is a highly social game, and it's difficult for people to fully experience it by staying at home.
Though Niantic has been making an effort to consistently update Pokémon GO with new content, such as the holiday event that begins today, there is only so much that the developer can do. If everyone is staying home, then the game suffers. However, it's much better for a video game to take its losses than for COVID-19 to spread further across the globe and take even more lives. It would be horrendous for Niantic to pretend that the pandemic doesn't exist, so hopefully the team is able to devise some new ideas to work around it.