Pokemon Unite’s Big Developer Update Is A Christmas Miracle

Among the myriad of problems facing Pokemon Unite, none are more pressing than the lack of communication from developers. Every live service game is a work in progress, and even the most successful and respected ones still have problems to solve. But when the developers don’t communicate, players quickly start to feel like their concerns aren’t even being heard. Expressing concerns or displeasure with a game and never hearing any kind of acknowledgment only compounds the frustration, creating resentment on top of the actual problem that needs to be addressed.

People just want to know that someone out there is listening to them, but the Pokemon Unite team at TiMi Studio Group hasn’t been willing to formally acknowledge player concerns. Though surveys have been collected, the studio has only deigned to address the player base in a couple of brief blog posts, and a roundtable interview with producer Masaaki Hoshino where he confirmed for the first time that the studio is aware of common pain points surrounding matchmaking, ranked mode, and pricing. Since that interview, some things have improved, some have gotten worse, but the studio has remained silent.

That interminable silence was finally broken this week in what I can only describe as an unprecedented update. Not only did we get the longest ‘letter from the producer’ ever, but it addressed real concerns with actionable solutions. The three topics it covers are pricing, matchmaking, and leadership.

The first section, “Zoroark Release Retrospective” acknowledges that the Aeos gem bundle pricing introduced with the release of Zoroark was a step too far, and going forward, new Unite Licenses won’t require you to purchase them with Holowear. “We intend to create a better paid experience for Pokemon Unite players in the coming months,” the update reads. “And we welcome your feedback across our social channels.”

I’m of two minds about this change. The pricing issue extends much further back than the release of Zoroark, and while de-bundling future Unite Licenses is good, removing the ability to purchase new licenses was still an overly aggressive monetization decision. At the same time, I want to acknowledge that the studio is walking back a price increase for the first time ever, specifically because of player feedback. We are no longer talking to a brick wall when we voice our concerns about Unite. This is proof that your feedback can make a difference.

The next section, “Matchmaking Explained”, is revelatory for a few reasons. First, we’re given raw, under-the-hood data about how Unite’s matchmaking rating (MMR) performs, which is something we’ve never had access to before. Of course, the data shows something no frustrated player wants to see – that matchmaking is working as intended. But the post acknowledges that there’s a disconnect between what the data tells us about the frequency of fair matches, and how players are actually experiencing the game.

In an ideal matchmaking system, players of similar rank are placed together to create evenly matched games, and evenly matched players have an even win rate (50-55 percent). While that’s exactly what the data shows, MMR can’t function correctly if rank isn’t an accurate reflection of skill. To address this, changes were made to the formula that determines how Master Points are gained and lost. In July, players started gaining and losing fewer points as the their rank increases. Ideally this would mean climbing the higher ranks is harder and takes longer so that the rank system is a more accurate reflection of individual player skill. Further improvements may be necessary, but at least me finally know the why and how changes are being made.

The post goes on to address the issue of leavers and passive players, which have a huge negative impact on the player experience of their teammates. Going forward, players will lose fair-play points and be placed lower in matchmaking priority when idling, plus the detection of passive players should be improved. Whether or not these improvements fix the problem remains to be seen, but at least the developers are acknowledging a problem and taking steps to address it.

I’m grateful for this update, and I don’t want to sound like your mom who complains you don’t call enough every time you call, but we need this kind of communication on a frequent basis. This post represents a higher level of transparency than we’ve ever seen before, and it takes time to explain specific issues and how they will be addressed. The final segment introduces Yuki Gabe, a new producer taking over for Masaaki Hoshino (moving on to Pokken 2, perhaps?) which could be an indication that communication will improve in the future. Following this developer update, we also got a January roadmap and the most detailed English patch notes we’ve ever seen. These are good signs that he new producer is taking communication seriously. Hopefully, these become a regular thing and we won’t have to wait until next Christmas for another gift.

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