In just 7 days of breaching into Niantic’s code, new automation and spoofing tools keep sprouting daily.
Obligatory Pokémon GO facts: most popular mobile app in all appstores, 30 million users, real world locations (like museums and public service agencies) asking to be absent from the game due to player’s abuse, while others (like restaurants and coffee stops) enjoy their new influx of clients. No deaths. No Official API.
An API (Application Programming Interface) just means and interface that let’s developers communicate with a program and get/share information with it. Technically every server has an API its clients are using to communicate with it.
The problem is, some APIs are available for public use (like Google’s), and some require you to reverse engineer the messages sent from the server in order to understand how to use them, because you were not supposed to. This is what’s happening with Pokémon GO’s servers, and its a big violation of Terms of Service, which is illegal enough to get you banned from the game, but more on that later.
For that very reason, this post aims not to bring more attention to those applications (not like they need it with big blogs like The Verge or Gizmodo doing exactly that), but rather give a brief overview of their functioning and the possible effects these might have on Pokémon GO’s future by examining a close case – not Ingress (as is covered in some other sites), but the Pokémon main series of games.
Easily the most relevant of these apps is the one that gets on real time the information of wild Pokémon, Gym ownerships, and Pokestops. If you play GO this sounds like a dream came true. And you would be right, this almost eliminates the hardest part of catching Pokémon, which is to localize them.
And by “almost”, I mean that its use it still limited to where you can possibly go to. This is where GPS spoofing comes in: another app let’s you just trick the game into thinking you are anywhere in the world while staying on your couch.
Other tools include automating the more mechanical tasks like capturing Pokémon, or notifying you when rare Pokémon show up near you so you don’t even have to look at your phone.
First, lets get this out the way: Niantic will hunt down on these projects, and Ingress has an history of stubborn project owners that got the accounts of their users banned. These projects are not only violating the TOS, but producing duplicate accounts for “data-mining” purposes that also happen to overload the servers. The data provided by these apps is useful, but its also a risk to your actual and future experience with the game.
It’s a matter of days until new security measures prevent the actual method of decryption to keep digging into the server, but then it will be the developers turn to race and break the security again. This is a cat and mice game that can continue infinitely.
Pokémon GO is growing a bit too fast for an organized community to develop. We can, however, use the regular Pokémon community to draw some comparisons and guess what might be the future of hacking and Pokémon GO.
Main series games focus on the catching and training aspect, as the motors to attaining strong Pokémon, with the ultimate goal of having them face each other on battle.
Regarding the relevance of training to the player, you can (and this is a generalization, but not far from truth) identify 2 kinds of players in the main Pokémon games:
a) Those who care about catching and training, and can enjoy it, or at the least, respect its value in the game’s context. These people might or might not care about battling, but if they do, it’s as an extension and validation of their other efforts.
Thanks to the emotional connections players form with their Pokémon, the training process can be fun and fulfilling on itself as you watch you monster gradually grow and evolve – seasoned trainer might even find joy carefully choosing training spots for maximum exp gain or EV training (a form of training that makes your Pokémon stronger in certain stats in spite of less relevant stats).
Catching is challenging on itself, and while it is far from the mystique task of pre-internet days and schoolyard gossip, the rush of battling and finally securing elusive Pokémon as part of your team is as rewarding as it can be heartwarming.
This is the major bulk of Pokémon players.
b) Those who only care about battling, and see training as a nuisance, or just enjoy the strategic aspect of battles more than that of growing Pokémon. Despite its nature, competitive Pokémon is a very rich game with a dedicated community of really nice and knowledgeable people (I talk from experience here).
Mind you, there are extremely sophisticated tools for hacking these games – long gone are the days of feeble Gameshark codes, right now you can just create Pokémon out of thin air with all the “specs” you can think off (from Pokeball it resides in to its genes).
Yet you see almost zero problems in the community with these, because when it comes to hacking, Pokémon is a phenomena on its own.
For one, hackers respect the boundaries imposed by the games, eg. you don’t actually create “impossible” Pokémon like, say, a Charizard with Water Gun, and the scarce people who do are shunned hard by other members.
Pokémon and items, thanks to features like Global Trades, are already easily available for everyone, so hacking becomes just a mean to quickly harder to get resources without giving you a real edge on battles, nor providing you with the experience of training.
Even if you hack your way to strong, even perfect Pokémon, you only hopped over a step for Pokémon battling which is a whole other strategy game. If you hack your way into a full Pokedex, then good for you?
Game Freak is in the odd position where, despite encouraging people not to use these tools, they don’t really have the need to eliminate them, as their target audience are the very same people that would consider the use of hacking tools as “ruining the game”.
This is also the reason Pokémon battle simulators like Pokémon Showdown can get away with using copyrighted material, for years: Game Freak is not losing a single dime for them, because people buy Pokémon games for entirely different reasons they would go play a simulator.
Compare it to when the target audience is playing the sim instead of the real thing and you get cases like the actual witch hunt Konami has on Yu-Gi-Oh! Online simulators.
All in all, you could say the Pokémon games are, for one reason or the other, “protected” against hackers ruining the game for everyone, not by controls on Game Freak’s part, but rather on players protecting their best interests and hacking being mostly irrelevant to the game’s main selling points.
But Pokémon GO is a different beast.
Pokémon go just forgoes the training aspect, not altogether, but rather swaps it with a system where you are actively “traning” as you catch more Pokémon (with the candy trades). So you catch Pokémon to have them, and then catch more to make them stronger. Being a gym leader gets you many benefits, which amount to having an easier time catching Pokémon.
By revolving every other mechanic around it, the searching->catching process turns into the whole point of the game and the only opportunity to create a bond between players and Pokémon.
You don’t see people posting on their Instagram about strategies, you see snapshots of their latest catch, or a funny scene involving a Pokémon and an often unassuming real life person or animal.
You also don’t hear people gossiping about how they will beat the Gym Leader in town, but rather, how the just found a Hitmonlee behind the building or informing their teammates they just put a lure.
Viral videos don’t involve high CP Pokémon or battles, but might involve crazes over a wild Vaporeon.
Pokémon GO is an entirely social game. There is literally no reason to play the game if none of your friends are. Without friends to share information and experiences, and other people joining teams and taking Gyms, the game is a glorified Ghost Radar.
But how far can you go?
As much as these tools being developer ease many of the tasks in the game, the moment you map every Pokémon in Town in real time is the exact point when other players become irrelevant to you. There’s no point in asking for Pokémon locations, and barely a need to put lures, you can just check the map instead.
The urgency to catch most Pokémon dissapear as you can just find another one anytime you want without leaving your couch, as GPS spoofing allows you to, right now, walk through Japan’s streets or even go see if Articuno really is on Mt. Everest after all.
Automated catching and alerts are yet more commodities to come, but really, in a week or 2 all these could be integrated in order to automate the whole game; just leave your phone alone while it looks for Dragonites.
And then what? Numbers, that’s what. Thats what you have left when you get people out of the equation in a social game, a number cruncher. No one will care about your Snorlax if everyone has bots hatching 10km eggs for them.
Ingress has some stories with illegal projects, but in the end, the community regulated itself by shunning hackers and promoting a proper gameplay even among competitive teams.
Pokémon already has a community like that in the main games, one where everyone shares the love for these creatures and express it in the way they see fit.
While the hype for these new tools and the Unofficial API are guaranteed to have a boon in the upcoming days, maybe even weeks, I personally trust the community to work itself out and realize how pointless it is to automate the only 2 mechanics in the game (which are already pretty mechanical but whatever) in a way that also strips away the necessity of the human contact that’s keeping the game fun and healthy for everyone.
Going outside, exploring and communicating with people that share the love is not even Pokémon GO’s thing, is what Satoshi Tahiri wanted to portray all the way back when he came up with the concept of collecting and trading mystical creatures, because he wanted to regain the child joy of looking for insects in the forests near his house.