Pokémon Go players are once again furious at developer Niantic about an unnannounced change to the game. On Saturday, the augmented reality mobile game held its annual Pokémon Day event, allowing players to complete quests and catch pocket monsters from the Johto region. The next day, Niantic released a blog post on its website about the Season of Alola event and “exploration updates” coming to Incense. Turns out, it’s a pretty major nerf that makes Incense far less useful than in the past.
Incense allows players to catch more Pokémon, creating an aura around their avatars that spawn new creatures to catch. These items can be earned leveling up, or bought with Poke Coins earned in-game or purchased with real-world money.
This new change increases the duration of Incense from 60 to 90 minutes for the Season of Alola event but lowers how many Pokémon spawn, going from one every minute to one every five minutes. While walking with Incense, a pocket monster will spawn every 30 seconds, which has not been changed.
This change seemingly popped out of nowhere, and was poorly received by players who rely on Incense to enjoy the game. Serebii.net game master Joe Merrick tweeted that this change “pretty much breaks the game for a lot of people again. Why does Niantic continue to make decisions that don't benefit the actual players?”
A reddit post titled “Make incense great again. Save incense!!! We must rebel!!!,” had over 1,300 upvotes, with one commenter writing “my mobility is very limited at the moment too so I can’t just go out and walk so (I) was pretty disappointed at how horrifically nerfed it is.”
Representatives from Niantic did not respond to a request for comment from Inverse.
To accommodate distancing measures in 2020, Niantic made fundamental changes to Pokémon Go. These included lowering the distance needed to spin Pokestops, hatch eggs, or interact with Gyms. It also made earning in-game experience and finding Pokémon much easier, by increasing the strength of Incense.
These additions were lauded by the community, and made the game more fun to play during a difficult time. Rural players, who often had to go without spawns, were suddenly swimming in Pikachus and could play with ease.
But the fun was short-lived — Niantic announced in June 2021 that it would revert a majority of these changes, increasing the distance on interacting with Gyms and Pokestops. Players were furious, with a Change.org petition gathering more than 196,000 signatures.
“Going outside and spinning PokéStops and Gyms is important to our mission because it encourages exploration of the world,” a Niantic spokesperson told Inverse in July 2021.
After the backlash in August 2021, Niantic compromised by reducing the interaction radius with Gyms and Pokestops.
Niantic still hasn’t learned
Though Pokemon fans are known for being quick to anger, this time the reactions are justified. In a November 2020 blog post on distancing changes that mentioned Incense bonuses were “temporary,” the company promised to give “at least one month’s notice before they change.”
That didn’t happen. Niantic revealed the latest Incense changes only 24 hours before the update rolled out in the United States. Details about Incense specifically were buried among five other official blog posts added that day. Unless you were scouring the website at a specific time, you wouldn’t even be aware of the change.
A banner on Pokémon Go’s website at the bottom of the Season of Alola event does not mention the Incense strength decrease, instead foregrounding the increase in duration and walking efficacy. Niantic hasn’t gone far enough to ensure fans are aware of these changes, which means some players could still be purchasing Poké Coins to buy Incense under false pretenses.
It’s time for Niantic to be more transparent with players — and to listen when that community isn’t happy.
This story has been updated to clarify the recent changes to the effects of Incense.