Pokemon

Improving Wayfarer and the Pokéstop Submission system

Niantic has recently lowered the required level to submit Pokéstops to level 38, which is great news for rural trainers who had not managed to hit the level cap just yet!

When the Wayfarer system was released and made accessible to Pokémon GO trainers, I was very happy to finally be able to contribute by reviewing nominations and submitting Pokéstops to help my Pokémon GO friends in my hometown. If you want to read my success story, I wrote an article not too long ago titled Improving the in-game experience: A Wayfarer Success story.

But that’s not the point of this article. After reviewing thousands of nominations and getting my Wayfarer Gold medal in Pokémon GO, I think I have enough experience to analyse and describe the best and the worst of the current system. Furthermore, I will try to provide honest and constructive feedback on how I’d improve the system. You never know if a Niantic employee might be reading this so we better be prepared! 🙂

Positive aspects of Niantic Wayfarer

Niantic Wayfarer

Being able to submit new Pokéstops

The Wayfarer and Pokéstop submission system is a blessing by itself. Do you remember when we weren’t able to submit new Pokéstops and we had to beg the high-level Ingress players to submit them? That was truly a nightmare.

Keeping track of the previously approved/denied candidates

I think it’s nice to have access to the history of previously approved and rejected candidates. I usually think of it as a scrapbook containing all the submissions that ended up being a success.

And for the ones that don’t, you can always resubmit them and copy & paste the descriptions you used if you’re 100% certain that what you’re submitting is worth being a Pokéstop and follows the guidelines.

The in-game medal

I know, I know… There should be better incentives to review. But at least we have something to brag about, right?

Wayfarer in-game medal

This could easily be improved by giving away better rewards. How about getting 10000 stardust for every 100 agreements? Or an exclusive free Wayfarer Box in the shop only available to those who reach a certain number of agreements within a given period of time? That would for sure reduce the nomination queue and less nominations would be stuck in limbo.

Improvable aspects of Niantic Wayfarer

S2 Cell criteria

Here’s one of the most important ones. If you’re a casual submitter, you probably came across a wayspot candidate in your route and thought you’d give it a shot and submitted it, just to get it rejected because it was apparently a duplicate. What? A duplicate? There’s nothing like that nearby in Pokémon GO, how can my submission be flagged as a duplicate?

Well, the reason behind that is that other Niantic games (Ingress, for example) share the same data but have different criteria! What that means is that although the wayspot exists, you won’t be able to see it in Pokémon GO, which is VERY confusing.

Why does that happen? Because quoting Niantic: “different games have different gameplay and thus different criteria”. Understandable, but yet frustrating that we cannot see something that is actually there, but hidden.

And how does that statement translate into technical stuff? You guessed it, S2 cells.

S2 cells

Take a look at the image above. The ELI5 of S2 Cells is that they’re a system to divide the earth. So basically, S2 cells are a mathematical mechanism that helps computers translate Earth’s “spherical” 3D shape into 2D geometry divisions. As you can see in the image, there are different levels. A S2 level 16 cell contains 4 S2 level 17 cells, and so on.

In Pokémon GO, there can only be ONE Pokéstop/gym in each S2 L17 cell. And a maximum of 3 gyms within a S2 L14 cell. This does not mean that if you submit a Pokéstop candidate and it gets approved it won’t be added to the database. It just means that if there’s already one Pokéstop or gym in that cell, your Pokéstop will be added… but will never show up in the game. And you can extrapolate that to answer the question of why your submission was flagged as a duplicate! Because it already existed, but since it shared cell with another stop or gym, it didn’t show up in your Pokémon GO map when you wanted to submit it. So don’t bother resubmitting it again. Feel free to check out the article linked at the beginning of the article for more details regarding how a Pokéstop can turn into a gym.

Suggested change #1: Pokéstop density per S2 L16 cell. Equal distributions hurt rural areas

Alright, now we know the basics. How come didn’t I come across that info in the first place? Here’s where it gets tricky. Because this has never been mentioned or confirmed officially, even though everyone in the wayfarer community knows that it works this way. Remember the EX gym elegibility controversia back when we didn’t have the “EX” tag visible in a gym? Well, everything in the map follows these rules, but Niantic have never confirmed it and that’s why you maybe didn’t know that either. Until now.

–> Suggestion to improve the system: Update the limitations from 1 Pokéstop/gym per cell to “x” Pokéstops/gyms within “y” cells. In other words, for example: 5 stops/gyms per S2 L16 cell (1 S2 L16 = 4 S2 L17). What exactly does that mean? Well, it’s quite common to see eligible wayspots being very close to each other in certain hotspots such as the city centre or the town hall. Relevant wayspots aren’t like S2 cells, they are not distributed equally. Thus, a system that limits the number of wayspots this way is not efficient at all. It’s understandable that Niantic do not want multiple Pokestops within 5 meters, but S2 L14 cells are large enough to allow more than one stop or gym per cell without reaching that extreme scenario. It’s actually quite easy to understand by looking at the picture above. Just look at how many stops you waste if you want to equally distribute them individually in small S2 L17 cells instead of grouping them by taking into account that in rural areas it’s quite common to have most eligible wayspots located together in very specific hotspots.

Sharing the same database with other games (e.g. Ingress)

Pokémon GO and Ingress share the same wayspot database but have different criteria regarding which wayspots show up in the game. In Ingress, the maximum number of wayspots that will show up in game for each S2 L17 cell is higher than in Pokémon GO. Basically because in Pokémon GO it’s just one.

Which brings us to another problem. In many places, especially rural towns, all relevant things that are worth submitting and follow the guidelines seem to be gathered in very specific and small areas within these towns.

For example, I went to a rural area not too long ago. The town hall, the church and two very beautiful sculptures were within a few meters of each other. All four were portals in Ingress, but only TWO of them were Pokéstops in Pokémon GO. There was another stop down the road but that was it. All other S2 L17 cells were empty, because there was nothing worth submitting. But that “hotspot” was literally wasted because of the very strict S2 L17 limitation.

Suggestion #2: Prompt concepts to let the user know that he/she is trying to submit a wayspot that is too close to an existing one

In addition to that, there is another hidden rule. The 20m distance rule. If you submit a wayspot within 20m of an existing one and it gets approved, even if your submitted wayspot is in a different S2 L17 cell, your wayspot will NEVER show up in the game. That’s because it’s “too close” to an existing wayspot. And worst of all, it can also happen with hidden wayspots too! If your approved wayspot is not within a 20m radius from the existing (and visible) one, but within a 20m radius of a hidden one (that you can’t see unless you check Intel Map), your wayspot will NOT appear in Pokémon GO.

–> Suggestion to improve the system: Show us the radius when we want to submit a new Pokéstop or at least tell us if the place we’re submitting the Pokéstop at is too close to an existing (visible or non-visible) wayspot. Reduce a little bit the radius. Schematic of two potential solutions shown above.

Rely on external tools

If you check the Niantic Wayfarer subreddit you will see that plenty of users use Intel Map, which is an official tool made by Niantic to browse the global Ingress map. Yeah, I know what you’re thinking, why don’t we have one for Pokémon GO yet?

But Intel Map is not the external tool I mean. In order to view all the wayspots, all you need is an Ingress account (even if it’s a level 1 account) and that’s about it. You just log in and there you go. However, if you want to overlay the S2 cells you will need to use external tools. Some of them overlay the cells over the map you’re viewing and are pretty useful to see how your area looks like.

I won’t comment on specific details on how to use them because they are technically against the rules, so there’s that. If you want to use them, use them at your own risk. It’s pretty crazy that we have to rely on these tools to actually see how the map looks like and which wayspots are hidden to us Pokémon GO players before wasting our nominations and most importantly, our time. I don’t want to even mention how many times I have told my locals to avoid nominating stuff if they don’t know how to do it properly because I’m afraid that they will mess up the entire map… A couple centimeters can truly make the difference between a visible Pokéstop and a failure that we won’t be able to submit again or use in the game.

Another external tool used by many trainers whose name won’t be shared is a tool that shows plenty of valuable information regarding your nominations. You probably had a nomination rejected because there was “not enough evidence” to show that it was actually there. Well, with that tool you can actually see what the reviewer will see in the map when reviewing. So you will know whether or not the map is up to date and shows what you are trying to submit.

Wayspot radius and Street View preview

–> Suggestion to improve the system: There should be a way to access Intel Map for Pokémon GO players. This way you’d be able to see all existing wayspots in the database, not just the ones visible in Pokémon GO. And most importantly, a way to see how the map is distributed or divided so that you avoid submitting stuff that would share a cell with other existing wayspots.

Inform us why a nomination has been rejected in other languages rather than just in English

When one of your nominations gets rejected, you get an email. If you don’t have your phone language/game language set to English, you won’t actually see why your nomination has been rejected and you’ll get a generic “Your Pokéstop has been rejected. Read the guidelines and try again” kind of message.

Reasons why your nomination was rejected. Only available to those whose game is in English

Please, try to add that information in other languages too. Even if it’s still in English, it’s always nice to know why your Pokéstop has been rejected in order to avoid making the same mistakes the next time you are trying to submit it.

–> Suggestion to improve the system: Translate and add the reasons why your Pokéstop has been rejected to the automatic email that is sent once that happens. Or at least include that info, but in English.

In-depth explanation of nomination & acceptance criteria and better communication

Every single aspect I mentioned about S2 Cells, external tools, distance within existing wayspots and all that stuff is nowhere to be found.

Wayspot eligibility criteria guide, which doesn’t include 99.9% of the info given in this article

“Your Pokéstop is too close to an existing one“, “your nomination has been flagged as a duplicate“, “your nomination does not meet acceptance criteria” are just generic messages with zero relevant info that lets us know how to avoid making the same mistakes over and over again. Providing more detail regarding what has been done wrong would be wonderful.

Monthly AMAs made by Niantic are a great concept but the info provided most of the time is quite vague, so that could definitely be improved too.

–> Suggestion to improve the system: Provide more info regarding what went wrong so that we can avoid making the same mistakes over and over again. Avoid generic messages with zero details.

More intuitive system to review

The review system is not really clear either. For example, if I give 5 stars in every single metric but I give a 1-star rating to this one, will my review count as a rejection thus invalidating all the previous 5-star ratings I gave for that nomination? I think that more work needs to be done to clarify the review criteria.

Another interesting idea I always thought that could be implemented is actually removing the star system and replacing it with a Yes/No system (or a thumbs up/thumbs down system). Just like Youtube had a star rating system years ago, Niantic could follow and replace the review system to make it more intuitive.

Rework of the rating system. Graphic design is my passion

Is this Pokéstop a good candidate? Yes/No. Is the title/description appropriate? Yes/No. Is the location accurate? Yes/No. You get the memo.

–> Suggestion to improve the system: Rework the rating system or at least provide detailed info regarding how it works.

Outdated Google Maps data

I had plenty of nominations rejected because apparently there was not enough evidence of that wayspot being where I submitted it. I found it pretty weird and my nomination followed the guidelines but it was rejected. I checked Google Maps and the map info was from 2012, that’s why it didn’t show up.

Some areas might have outdated info

Whenever that happens, one thing that is usually recommended is to download the Street View app, go to that place, take a 360º picture (photosphere) and upload it. I don’t really know if the photosphere will be given to the reviewer 100% of the time, but it’s better than nothing, right? Once I submitted the Pokéstop again, it was accepted, so we can consider this a win?

–> Suggestion to improve the system: Whenever the map data is more than “x” years old, set the default view to aerial or add some flag to notify the reviewer that the submitted wayspot might not be there.

Generic stores/restaurants

This one is very controversial… According to Niantic’s guidelines: “A favorite gathering place for friends or strangers alike, where you can share a drink or meal, be entertained, or watch public life happen is eligible. Or something that draws us together to share an experience in a locally and culturally relevant way. Local hotspots include libraries, popular restaurants and comic book stores, among others”. We all have some hidden gems and places we’d bring our non-local friends too. But at least in my area, submitting them would result in an instant rejection. So it’s not even worth trying…

–> Suggestion to improve the system: I think that it’d nice to get some further clarification on that topic and even a popup message or something to notify all reviewers would be a welcome change because it’s frustrating to follow the guidelines and still get nominations rejected for this specific reason. I’m not trying to submit a generic McDonald’s but a place with a cool story behind!

Too close, but yet so far

Remember when I said that a few centimeters can make the difference? Look at the image below and see what I mean. Since there is no way to know if we are submitting a Pokéstop too close to an existing one or in a cell that is already full, things like this can happen.

Small distances can make the difference

And no, I’m NOT encouraging people to now follow the guidelines and submit Pokéstops in fake locations. What I’m trying to say is that sometimes your GPS might drift a little bit, or even the accuracy can be a little imprecise. Placing these Pokéstops a few centimeters to the right/left could suck them into the 20m void preventing them from being added to the database or could make them show up in Ingress but not in Pokémon GO.

That’s why knowing what’s actually there in the map database is crucial. A few centimeters can truly make the difference…

Cooldown while reviewing nominations is too strict

There’s a hidden cooldown when reviewing wayspots in Wayfarer. Yet again, we don’t know the exact number of seconds but there was a vague statement made by a Niantic Employee in one of the last AMAs in which he/she mentioned that we should “at least spend 30 seconds or more between reviews”.

Wayfarer cooldown

30 seconds is a very reasonable amount of time for 3-5 star nominations, but if a nomination is an instant reject because it blatantly does not follow the nomination guidelines, why do I need to stare at my sceeen for 30 seconds before giving it a 1-star rating? And if you don’t do it, you’ll be soft-banned and you won’t be able to review for 4 hours.

–> Suggestion to improve the system: Keep the cooldown as it is for 2-5 star nominations but reduce it for 1-star ones that don’t follow the guidelines.

Nominations stuck “In queue” for months

Let’s face it, there are not enough reviewers. And now that level 38 Pokémon GO players are able to submit wayspots, things will get worse. Some of my nominations have been stuck “in queue” for months!

–> Suggestion to improve the system: Give more incentives to nominate (stardust, …) or make the reviewing process faster.

Conclusions

  • Having the chance to submit Pokéstops is great, but the system needs some major improvements like the ones mentioned
  • Better communication and clarification of eligibility criteria are needed. We need to know how the system works if we want to use it properly!
  • Adding more submitters is nice but what we really need is more reviewers. Perhaps we would achieve that with better incentives to review or some Wayfarer events/contests like the AR scanning one that will take place in a few days?
  • Did I miss anything? Feel free to let me know in the comments section down below or tag me on Twitter!





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