Recent updates to Pokémon Go are cracking down on cheaters in an interesting way: rare Pokémon are being hidden from view, leaving only Zubats and Ratatas behind.
There are a lot of ways to deal with cheaters in online games. Most developers have a simple report and ban system that will remove offending accounts on a permanent basis. Some will give warnings or “timeouts” to bad players to let them know that the game masters have their eye on them, and they’d better shape up or ship out.
Niantic, the developers of the wildly popular Pokémon Go, have a very unique way of dealing with cheaters: flagged accounts are only ever able to catch the most boring and common Pokémon, forever locking them out of high-level play.
That’s right - if you’re caught using unofficial trackers, bots, or GPS spoofing software then all you’ll ever see are Zubats and Pidgeys.
According to the admins on the Pokémon Go subreddit The Silph Road, players are being “shadowbanned” if Niantic detects any third party software running in conjunction with their game. Redditors are still speculating as to how this detection is done, but players that are flagged will be presented with the below message after logging into their account.
The presence of third party software is nothing new to Pokémon Go. Ever since the developers temporarily disabled their own in-game tracker last summer, tons of third party software sprang up to fill the void. Ever since then more and more game hacks have been popping up that let players spoof their location, automate capture fights and gym battles, or even automatically detect when a rare Pokémon appears and captures it.
Initially Niantic instituted hard bans on any players caught using these hacks, however the recent shadowbans seem to be a softening of their approach.
It remains a hotly debated topic as to whether or not third party software is a detriment or enhancement to Pokémon Go. Some players say it greatly improves their enjoyment of the game, while Niantic contends it provides those same players with an unfair advantage over everyone else.
With the summer fast approaching and player numbers dwindling, Niantic is looking to renew player interest in 2016’s mobile game of the year. Will these shadowbans hurt or help? We’ll be sure to report more as the story develops.