Advice for the Developers of Pokémon Go

My old colleague, and current game consultant, Wes Leviton gave some free advice to Niantic, the developers of Pokémon Go on Gamesindustry.biz. Wes (and I for a short time) worked on a game called Life is Crime that was similar to Pokémon Go, though it was somewhat closer to Foursquare (now Swarm) in that you fought for ownership of a specific location instead of gyms that are a bit further apart.

In addition to his other advice, Wes recommends tolerating cheaters who use external tools to bypass the in-game GPS tracking and show up in places they aren’t:

There are numerous applications available that makes it trivial to “spoof” your location allowing players to virtually teleport to anywhere in the world. While the great majority of Pokémon GO players will play the game honestly, a small percentage of players will undoubtedly resort to faking their location to avoid walk/driving around town. As developers, we’re often quick to implement countermeasures to prevent such behavior in the name of fair play.

During my time on Life is Crime we explored many options to block geo spoofing but decided against it because our data indicated that geo cheaters were far and away the most engaged players and had an insanely high conversion rate and the time it would take to effectively block a small number of cheaters would take away from the development of new features.

Ultimately, we decided that the best way to level the playing field between geo cheaters and honest players was to provide a limited time in game portal to major cities powered by soft currency where prices varied based on your distance from the destination. Players loved the feature and destination cities quickly became hotspots for competition with highly contested cities becoming the “big leagues.”

As Wes mentions, it was often obvious to the developers when players were cheating. This wasn’t a secret, the top of every leaderboard in each competition was won by players who either spent more, cheated more, or both.

Of course, Life is Crime cheaters on Android didn’t have to go far to falsify their location. Software built-in to that operating system allows developers to test different GPS locations and users could easily access that function. If you blocked that, there was other software that would intercept your application’s request to the system for a GPS location. Anyone who was sufficiently motivated could take it further and subvert actual GPS radio signals. As far as I know, Life is Crime players were never that motivated. There’s almost no way to block cheaters and it was brilliant to work around that by making it part of the game.

What I’ve played of Pokémon Go reminds me of something else I tried to get done on Life is Crime, but wasn’t able to. Built-in community discussions. It’s tough to implement because a straight-up bulletin board forum like phpbb isn’t going to work for a huge community like Pokémon Go. You’d need to localize it to a town and maybe by team, and hire local moderators. A good online community could change Pokémon Go from a fad lasting a few months into a stable group of players that could stick around for years.

Author: Jack Slater

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