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Commentary

Blocking third-party map trackers for Pokemon Go not a clever thing to do

Unless you have been living in a cave, you would have known about the craze that is Pokemon Go, the augmented-reality mobile game in which you catch virtual critters by walking around in the real world.

My Pokemon Go trek began on a New York working trip (before the game was launched here two months ago). Since then, firing up the game when I wake up has become a new morning ritual.

For the past two months, my wife and I have spent much of our free time going to places like Marina Bay Sands, Botanic Gardens or Bukit Batok Nature Park to catch Pokemon. Indeed, I don't remember our spending as much time outdoors in the past two years.

I have never spoken so much to my nephews before Pokemon Go became our common topic. And I've not met so many strangers in "reserved-and-shy" Singapore who would start talking to me about where and when to catch Pokemon.

If you have rushed to a location where a rare Pokemon has sprouted, chances are you will find friendly fellow Pokemon hunters directing you to the exact location.

And this brings me to my first peeve with Pokemon Go and its creator Niantic.

If you have been playing the game, you probably are using a third-party map tracker, like Go Radar or sgpokemap.com, to track the location of those Pokemon you want to catch.


A Pokemon trainer playing the Pokemon Go mobile game in the Singapore Botanic Gardens. ST PHOTO: TREVOR TAN

Unfortunately, a recent update by Niantic has rendered most of these map trackers useless. Many rejoiced at the move, as they argued that the use of these map trackers is against the spirit of the game. But I beg to differ.

This is different from GPS spoofing whereby you change your phone's GPS to "reach" the location of a rare Pokemon in order to catch it, or asking your friend in another country to log into your account to catch that region-exclusive Pokemon.

This map tracker is merely a tool to help you know where to go to get that Pokemon. It is like using a guidebook to know how to finish a quest in a role-playing game like Fallout 4.

Furthermore, Pokemon Go was supposed to have a built-in tracker in the first place. Niantic removed the tracking feature, saying it was too buggy.

It was Niantic's own decision that spawned so many tracking apps and sites in the first place.

Also, the current Sightings feature in Pokemon Go is as good as useless. It does not show which direction or how far the Pokemon is away from you.

This is particularly frustrating when you see a dark outline in Sightings (meaning it is a Pokemon you have never caught before) and not being able to reach it because you have no clue where is it.

Unless you live in an open field that allows you to comb the area, you will need to cross some roads, look out for traffic - both human and vehicular - and safely find the location of that Pokemon.

Given that each Pokemon stays for only around 10 minutes in one particular location, you do not have much time with all the man-made and natural obstacles.

The developers behind FastPokeMap, one of the most popular Pokemon map trackers, wrote in a blog that the update not only blocks map trackers, but the extra lines of codes to prevent reverse engineering also drain battery and render the app unusable for some Android smartphones. The blog also mentioned the declining number of Pokemon players as a result of these changes.

I am thankful I have completed the local Pokedex - yes, I've caught all the Pokemon that are available in Singapore - before Niantic blocked third-party map trackers. If not, I will be as frustrated as many Pokemon hunters when I try to find that elusive Machamp or Chansey.

If Niantic wants to block third-party map trackers, do so when the in-game tracking feature is actually working. Not now when it is essentially useless.

The last thing Niantic should do is to alienate its fans. If not, Niantic will ultimately be the one to suffer the consequences when hordes of fans abandon the game.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 19, 2016, with the headline 'Blocking third-party map trackers for Pokemon Go not a clever thing to do'. Print Edition | Subscribe