On September 30th, Niantic started banning more Pokemon Go accounts that showed evidence of botting or GPS spoofing. The ban wave is the latest in a series which began when Niantic cracked down on the myriad bots on the internet that were allowing users to quickly finish catching all the available Pokemon in the game without having to move at all. The bots were continuously updated, patched and reinstalled by users on multiple accounts even after many were banned.
It is estimated that several million Pokemon Go users are still using bots. That means Niantic’s terms of service are being violated across the world. It’s still making them a ton of money but cheating is taking away from the game’s purpose. It’s like that really, really unfair cheat in the first Age of Empires called “Big Daddy”. After typing that into the dialog box a car used to appear that fired shots that killed dozens of people at once. No one could stand against it.
The recent bans signal that Niantic is about to release an encryption that will break all third party apps including those that aren’t bots but just giving Pokemon Go users clues to the locations of Pokemon and spawning grounds, such as Open PokeMap that stopped scraping accounts when it saw the ban wave coming at them.
There’s a little bit of blame to be thrown to Niantic too for this whole botting fiasco. Their server to client communication had been insecure and vulnerable to attacks from the beginning. This has invited developers, hacker, programmers to exploit the cracks and Niantic’s repeated effort to seal them has been in vain. The only solution that Niantic has come up with is to ban the accounts over and over that are suspected of unusual activity. There’s even a chance that many people who had nothing to do with botting got banned and their appeals can take weeks to be addressed.
Pokemon Go was the breakout hit mobile game of the summer leading in to the fall. It racked up millions of downloads and at its peak, 40 million active users per day. It even topped the search topics on Google, surpassing “Porn” for a few weeks, something that is very rare. It also led to millennials leaving their homes and interacting outside their computer screens in a first for a mobile game. It’s one of the most successful experiments in the very short AR history and is bound to have deep repercussions for the future of gaming.