Niantic, the development studio behind the wildly popular augmented reality smartphone game, now says that anyone found cheating will be hit with a permanent ban.
As The Verge reports, it recently updated its terms of service warning that users who try to manipulate the app will be booted off for life. This, it says, can include: “Falsifying your location, using emulators, modified or unofficial software and/or accessing Pokémon GO clients or backends in an unauthorized manner including through the use of third party software.”
— Pokémon GO News (@PokemonGoNews) August 15, 2016
Some users have been experimenting with ways to trick the app into believing they’re in a false location. This could be used to get region-specific pokémon — or just so the player doesn’t have to exert themselves walking in reality. There have been similar attempts to trick the game to confer other benefits on the user. But if Niantic catches you trying this, then wave goodbye to all your ill-gotten Drowzees.
“Our goal is to provide a fair, fun and legitimate game experience for everyone,” Niantic says. “We will continue to work with all of you to improve the quality of the gameplay, including ongoing optimization and fine tuning of our anti-cheat system.”
The company is also offering an appeals process, for people who feel they have been banned incorrectly.
Pokémon Go cheaters are starting to get their comeuppance, as game developer Niantic has begun issuing lifetime bans and is pursuing legal action against bot developers.
Cheaters have been using bots and tools capable of playing 24 hours a day, seven days a week, tricking the location-tracking system of the game to make it appear the player is walking around and catching Pokémon. This has led to very powerful players and monsters that have rendered the Pokémon gyms (battle arenas which make up the half the game that isn’t simply catching monsters) unassailable for most other players.
This has led to intense frustration for other players, who are incapable of competing, even by spending real money on in-game currency and items.
Cheating is specifically against Pokémon Go’s terms of service, but until now has not been punished on any large scale. In an extension of the developer’s action against Pokémon location mapping services, such as Pokévision, Niantic has started issuing legal warnings against developers of bots.
The developer of the Necrobot – a paid-for service that allows players to perform so-called farming of their Pokémon Go accounts, collecting items, Pokémon and hatching eggs – said: “Due to legal action being started against other bot creators and developers (we did not receive a letter yet) the project development will be stopped. All source files/downloads will be removed.”
At its height, Necrobot had 500,000 downloads a day of its files from Github and 260,000 registered users of its site.
Users of such bot services are also being issued with lifetime bans. Niantic’s recently updated support pages to specifically call out users “falsifying [their] location, using emulators, modified or unofficial software and/or accessing Pokémon Go clients or backends in an unauthorised manner including through the use of third-party software”.
Niantic said: “Our goal is to provide a fair, fun and legitimate game experience for everyone. We will continue to work with all of you to improve the quality of the gameplay, including ongoing optimisation and fine-tuning of our anti-cheat system.”
The news was warmly received by users of Pokémon Go’s largest subreddit.
One user called Sedode said: “Wooop no more 3,000CP dragonite gyms.”
Zeliek said: “I’m so excited! I live in a small northern community in Canada (population under 1,000), and I can fit the entire Pokémon Go area in one frame, yet look at our two gyms … Yes both dragonites are the same CP and yes both gym leaders are the same guy.”
Schwoda added: “I’m level 27 with a legit ~2650 dragonite. It took a lot of time and hard work to get that Pokémon, and I’m glad that he will actually be rare and relevant again.”
Since the removal of Pokémon tracking within the game, enthusiasts have started to become disillusioned with Pokémon Go. Many feel unable to compete with bots in gyms and enjoy catching Pokémon less as the game has turned into one of random chance.
Niantic is testing an updated tracking system that will help users find rare Pokémon, but it is unclear whether this and the banning of cheaters will be implemented in time to entice back users who have stopped playing the game.
The company does offer a form for banned users to appeal the decision, if they believe a mistake has been made, though it’s not clear how these cases are handled.
Niantic previously updated its app to address the wave of third-party Pokémon-tracking apps and services that sprung up in the wake of the app’s success. Though that update blocked apps like Pokévision, enterprising players have found other ways to cheat the game, like spoofing their GPS location — a technique that also violates Pokémon Go’s terms of service.
Though clever members of the Pokémon Go developer community will likely continue to try to stay one step ahead of Niantic, the company has made it clear it’s committed to weeding out cheating in the game.
“We will continue to work with all of you to improve the quality of the gameplay, including ongoing optimization and fine tuning of our anti-cheat system,” the company says.