Niantic Labs have been toiling away at Pokemon Go for a while... working on the backend and fixing up the game to restore some of the functionality that they removed when the tracker was taken offline. Well, the Pokemon Go tracker is back... sort of.
Over on the official Pokemon Go website, Niantic labs recently made an announcement about what sort of features they're expanding for the game and what sort of content is set to arrive within the geolocation RPG. They're currently testing a new feature called "Sightings", or "Nearby". Both features tie into how Pokemon can be captured and how locations can be discovered.
The post explains that certain locations around the United States are currently being tested, including all states west of the Mississippi River (barring Hawaii and Alaska), so the west coast gets to dabble in the new feature along with various northwestern parts of Canada and all of Australia.
The "Nearby" feature will affect Pokestops and locations where players can use Pokemon Go to earn some items. Instead of just showing the Pokestops on the map, they're now going to appear relative to your location. This also applies to the new "Sightings" feature, where players will be able to spot Pokemon that are nearby.
The Sightings will replace the old tracker feature that was available in Pokemon Go. Modders and third-party app makers capitalized on the tracker functionality by creating their own apps for the game that allowed people to either see all nearby Pokemon in the game or track them a lot easier. Unfortunately, Niantic claimed that the third-party apps were a drain on the Pokemon Go servers, and they made sure that they would enforce the terms of service by having third-party tracking apps cease and desist operations.
The major problem with that move was that Niantic's enforcement of the TOS also came with their removal of the embedded Pokemon tracking system within Pokemon Go. Essentially, this meant that players trying to find specific Pokemon could not.
Supposedly, a lot of players gave up on Pokemon Go because they were unable to track the Pokemon. They begged, and begged, and begged Niantic to bring back some form of tracking to help make it easier for people to know when Pokemon were nearby and to follow those tracks to the Pokemon's location.
The tracking was originally done using the three footprints to indicate if a player was getting hot or cold on the trail of tracking a Pokemon. But there were some issues with the footprints glitching, so Niantic removed the feature altogether.
They've opted to return the tracking via the Sightings feature. They don't really go into detail about how the Sightings work, but that's what they're testing out now in various parts of the U.S., Canada and Australia. This could be a good way to lure some gamers back in if the Sightings feature works as intended and as a good replacement to the Tracker.
I imagine they're trying to find a solution that doesn't bog down the server as well as still offers players the kind of usability to keep Pokemon Go interesting and engaging. After Niantic receives proper feedback, they'll roll out the feature to the rest of the regions that have access to the mobile app.