Pokemon Go Detective Pikachu pose and costumes in use.
Image via Niantic

Pokémon Go’s ‘unpolished’ avatar update was rushed out, major changes unlikely according to report

Proper testing may have been overlooked to hit release timelines.

Pokémon Go’s recent overhaul to player avatars has the community divided on the new look and customization options. The state of the update surprised game testers too, with one revealing that these changes were likely pushed out before they were done and won’t get major updates. 

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In an April 19 anonymous interview with Pokémon Go journalist JRESeawolf, one player who volunteers their time to review, discuss, and occasionally test beta features for Niantic provided a look behind the scenes at how the company has handled the avatar changes from their perspective. This includes a timeline that worryingly puts only a few months of actual testing behind the update many players are calling “visual doomsday” for Pokémon Go and a distinct lack of internal communication about future plans around it. 

A Pokemon Go player looking at an updated avatar.
This update was pushed heavily on socials. Image via Niantic

According to this player, who has been in this Niantic-organized feedback group since it was founded more than two years ago, initial questionnaires about avatar updates were shared sometime in early 2023, with a full beta test rolling out for select players three to four months ago. A wider playtest was pushed live in the Pokémon Go app in March, which led to the first public wave of complaints begging Niantic to reconsider these changes. To make matters worse, the insider says Niantic made “very very little improvement [or] change since the beta version to what we all have now.”

Multiple players in that feedback group were surprised to see a release date for the feature given when the Rediscover Yourself update was announced—especially considering it still seemed to be an “unpolished beta version.” Prior to this interview, Dot Esports shared a report that confirmed Niantic is aware of backlash for Pokémon Go’s avatar changes and is “taking feedback seriously.”  Based on that context, and additional conversations we had with JRESeawolf, it sounds like Niantic implemented a short test window for the avatar changes and pushed it out to meet an internal development deadline rather than improving the feature based on feedback.

That is further backed by the anonymous insider stating Niantic made no internal request for further studies or feedback on the avatar system. Additionally, the player notes this suggests the developers won’t be “looking to do any major updates to these avatars besides fixing the many genuine glitches [or] errors.” Beyond that, the group has also been very vocal internally regarding the state and handling of this update, with one user being “ashamed to be part of the study when this is the result.”

Two Pokemon Go avatars compared before and after the new update.
The comparison makes things look pretty clear. Images via u/Gearhead31 on Reddit. Remix by Dot Esports

Given the massive amounts of backlash and the state of the game following the update, players in the feedback group have spent time gathering specific points and issues with the avatars, forwarding them through the proper channels—though there is no guarantee they’ll be answered. According to the anonymous tester, Niantic’s feedback system even for internal use has become very onsided in recent months. 

At the start, they say Niantic personnel would open up back-and-forth discussions when asked to provide feedback or test new content. Over time, however, those workers stopped announcing studies in advance of tests and communication has dwindled, largely due to those same Niantic employees in the server reportedly being frustrated with how often study features would go live with insufficient testing. “You do feel sorry for them working in these conditions, higher management will do what they want and drive data to fit their own vision,” the anonymous tester said.

One response to the report backed up these claims, with Reddit user u/Plus-Pomegranate8045 stating they are in a similar testing group for a different mobile game where the developers ask for feedback and then make no changes to updates that “the group overwhelmingly states that they don’t like.”

A direct comparison of original and new testing Pokemon Go avatars.
All body types have some clear changes. Image via u/W0LLIP on Reddit

With this information in hand, it is even less likely we will see the old Pokémon Go avatars return in any form, and now it looks like updates to these new models aren’t in the works—at least where volunteer testers can see them. That does not mean the previous report is inaccurate, however, as Niantic could still be taking this wave of negative feedback seriously. At the very least, we have a clearer view of how this update and initial feedback were handled before the full launch now—even if it paints a worrying picture of how the dev team and Niantic management might operate on different wavelengths. 

“Reading this makes me so incredibly frustrated. Nothing we say, want, or experience, matters, not even in the slightest. Not even those who have a direct link to Niantic have their opinions considered,” one fan said

Dot Esports reached out to Niantic for comment on this and previous reports but received no response at the time this article was published.

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Cale Michael
Lead Staff Writer for Dota 2, the FGC, Pokémon, Yu-Gi-Oh!, and more who has been writing for Dot Esports since 2018. Graduated with a degree in Journalism from Oklahoma Christian University and also previously covered the NBA. You can usually find him writing, reading, or watching an FGC tournament.