Niantic Labs announced via Twitter on Thursday afternoon that, in response to the challenges presented by the COVID-19 outbreak, it would be making adjustments to its popular augmented-reality mobile game Pokémon GO.
“We’re putting our focus on expanding features and experiences in our games,” Niantic wrote in the tweet, “that can be enjoyed in an individual setting and that also encourage exploration!”
Healthcare officials have recommended social distancing to help limit the COVID-19 outbreak.
As of Thursday, and extending until “further notice,” the changes include a one-time purchase where players can purchase 30 sticks of Incense, an otherwise rare and expensive item that makes more Pokémon appear in AR around you for an hour, for 1 PokéCoin.
Incubators will now also work twice as quickly, allowing you to hatch new Pokémon twice as often, and PokéStops will drop Gifts more often. Niantic also says that wild Pokémon’s habitats have increased, and players can expect to find more Pokémon in the wild.
The thrust of the changes is to make it easier to find Pokémon in GO’s augmented reality without having to go quite so far from home, particularly by using the Incense to entice Pokémon to come find you.
In addition, both the Harry Potter: Wizards Unite Community Day and the Pokémon GO Abra Community Day events for March have been postponed. Niantic typically holds Community Days in both games every month, which come hand in hand with a high number of in-game bonuses, as an encouragement to get players together and send them hunting for rare finds.
Niantic Labs was founded as a startup within Google in 2010. Several members of the team had worked on Keyhole, the interactive map project that was eventually acquired and turned into Google Earth. Niantic’s goal was to use its experience with maps and mobile development to create new kinds of social games, such as 2012’s Ingress.
Niantic subsequently went independent from Alphabet in 2015, using funding from Google, Nintendo, and the Pokémon Company Group. It announced in the same year that it was working on Pokémon Go, and launched it in 2016. Three years later, Pokémon Go had racked up over a billion global downloads worldwide, over $3 billion in revenue, and millions of active users. It had also led to numerous incidents of players acting recklessly in attempts to catch new Pokemon for their collections, including several dozen traffic accidents, according to one study.