The defining characteristic of “Pokémon GO” is that you have to explore the world around you to actually catch all the Pokémon in the game.
Since last week, a website called PokéVision has been making that process much easier by showing exactly where certain Pokémon can be found at any given time.
Plenty of people are using it, too: The site has been visited by 16 million people in just six days, according to one of its creators.
In an interview with Tech Insider, PokéVision’s Y.L. (who asked that he and his two colleagues only be identified by their initials) said that running the site has been a “crazy ride” since it came online Tuesday, July 19.
Despite the fact that PokéVision is intercepting data from the game’s servers to show where Pokémon are spawning, Y.L. said that he hasn’t been in contact with Niantic, the company behind “Pokémon GO.”
That’s probably because Niantic’s top priority is fixing the game’s frequent server outages — a problem PokéVision has also experienced.
Y.L. declined to provide specifics about how PokéVision is tapping into “Pokémon GO’s” servers, but people have posted methods for doing so on Reddit.
Niantic didn’t respond to a request for comment for this story.
Y.L. and the other two people behind PokéVision, J.R. and S.L., have been fans of the Pokémon franchise since they were born in the 90s. He said they created PokéVision to make the game more fun to play, not encourage cheating.
“We’re here to complement the game, not make it easier,” he said.
Since PokéVision came online, Y.L. and his team have made some interesting discoveries about how certain types of Pokémon spawn. For example, the rarest Pokémon to see in the wild is
Gyarados, the mighty water dragon that evolves from Magikarp.
They have also observed rare Pokémon appear in surprising places, like the time a Dragonite spawned in someone’s house in the suburbs.
You can read our interview with Y.L. of PokéVision below. It was conducted over email and has been lightly edited for clarity.
Alex Heath: What made you want to create PokéVision?
Y.L.: All of us were born in the 90s, which means Pokémon has always been a big part of our childhood.
We were obsessed with “Pokémon GO” when it came out and played it non-stop, going places near our town that we didn’t even know existed. Unfortunately, around two weeks ago, the Niantic “Pokémon Go” in-game tracker began bugging out, known as the “three footsteps glitch,” where all Pokémon displayed [were shown as] super far away.
We love the game, of course, but this bug really deterred us and many of our friends from playing since it resulted in us mindlessly running in circles (literally) and still failing to find the Pokémon listed as nearby in game. We built this tracker ourselves along with big help from the various contributions of the “Pokémon GO” development community.
We have been working non-stop to maintain it, so ironically, because of this we’ve actually played less “Pokémon GO.”
AH: Niantic has said that it’s working to fix the three footsteps glitch. Do you plan to keep PokéVision running after it’s fixed?
Y.L.: We will have to see what the community response is. That comes first!
AH: What’s the traffic been like on the site? I know you’ve had issues keeping your servers up.
Y.L.: This has been a crazy ride. We started off with just the three of us on the site, of course. After an hour of releasing it to our friend, Matt, we gained 1,000 active users on the site. At the end of the day, I believe we had around 8,000 [concurrent] active users on the site.
The next day, Wednesday, we peaked at 16,000. We thought we were done [growing], and this is when it started getting hectic.
On Friday, it got really chaotic and we ended up with over 110,000 active on the site. We were basically running on no sleep at this point.
On Saturday, we knew we were in trouble, and that’s when you saw a downtime almost every hour. There were tens of millions, maybe more (we can’t even check at this point), on the site at any given point. We were at well over 180,000 users on the site at any time.
When Sunday rolled around, it got really crazy. We had over 300,000 users on the site at some point.
As of yesterday, we have over 16 million unique users.
AH: How are you able to see which Pokémon are spawning in the game? Are you hooking into the game’s servers somehow?
Y.L.: We aren’t officially affiliated with Niantic. We are using similar tech that’s been shared on Reddit, Github, etc. It’s more or less the same resources for everyone.
AH: Why can’t you show Pokémon spawning from lures and incense? Is that a game limitation?
Y.L.: It’s because Pokémon from lures and incense are unique to you. So if you put an incense down, your friend can’t see if you get a special Pokémon [from the incense].
AH: I know there are other sites out there claiming to do what you do. What makes PokéVision the best tool?
Y.L.: We’ll let the users be the judge of that, of course! But what makes PokéVision the best tool is the community of players that we have, not necessarily what we have built. The way we built our site and let it scale, you are able to see the scans of other users so that you don’t necessarily need to scan for yourself.
For example, the moment you load our homepage, you are placed in Santa Monica, CA — one of the busiest cities for “Pokémon GO.” You’ll instantly notice that your screen is populated with Pokémon without you having to scan.
Because of our sheer amount of users, “Pokémon Go” and PokéVision users are working together to help find Pokémon — both physically and virtually. It’s this level of community teamwork that really makes PokéVision shine. And it’s all because of our users.
AH: Has Niantic been in contact with you? Are you worried about any legal repercussions?
Y.L.: We have not had any contact with Niantic. The information [we use] is exposed publicly. Any player like you or I can access it through legal means, which is what we’re doing.
AH: Could Niantic shut PokéVision down? If so, does that worry you?
Y.L.: If Niantic told us to shut PokéVision down, we would comply, absolutely. It is their game, and we respect that.
But we do think that while the three-footsteps glitch is occurring, they [Niantic] might be feeling that PokéVision is helping the growth of “Pokémon GO,” in a sense.
AH: One of the coolest things about PokéVision is that it lets you see which Pokémon are spawning anywhere, not just by your location. What are some cool insights your team has gathered from being able to see where Pokémon spawn around the world?
Y.L.: Yeah, we definitely wanted to let players “peek” into what’s going on around the world. I think it added a nice touch because we see interactions across the globe. Someone travelled 500 miles just to catch a Pokémon that they found out doesn’t spawn in their state!
AH: Is there a rhyme or reason to how Pokémon spawn? How often do rare ones appear?
Y.L.: We saw that Gyarados is super rare. Like really rare. We also noticed that on weekends, Charizard and Dragonite both spawned on Santa Monica pier. So there definitely seems to be some semblance of pattern.
What we really love are the Pokémon “nests.” Nests are what players refer to as hot spots of certain Pokémon. Last week, Santa Monica beach had a nest of Electabuzz, but it seems to be changing to Growlithe now. We aren’t entirely sure.
One thing is for sure, though: They [Pokémon] do move around, so it’s not like one spot will always be a nest. A user also found a nest of Dratinis, which of course evolves eventually into the strongest non-legendary, Dragonite. We saw 10 Dratinis at this spot at any given time. If players want to find that spot, they can check out PokéVision. :)
AH: Pokémon only spawn for 15 minutes max at a time? Do rarer ones spawn for less time?
Y.L.: Yes, it seems like the max is around 15 minutes. And rare ones definitely spawn for way less time. We’ve seen some spawn for two minutes, I believe.
AH: What’s the rarest or most unlikely sighting you’ve seen so far?
Y.L.: A Dragonite in the suburbs. Here’s a picture from when it happened and someone reported it spawning INSIDE their house:
[Dragonite] SF, CA [3:50PM PDT]
It definitely caused some jealousy.
AH: Do you have plans to let people receive alerts when a rare Pokémon spawns near them? That seems like a cool feature to have.
Y.L.: It’s frequently requested, for sure! We have some ideas for some future cool features. We definitely want to make sure that they compliment and enhance the “Pokémon GO” experience and not take away from it, so we’re being careful.
AH What new features do you have planned?
Y.L.: People have asked for the ability to filter Pokémon on the site, and we just added this yesterday! We do have a few initial ideas for new features, but nothing concrete yet.
One thing to keep in mind, though: We’re here to compliment the game, not make it easier. Part of the fun of “Pokémon GO” is exploration. With our site, even if you see the Pokémon’s location, you still have to go outside to catch it.
AH: Running your servers must be expensive. How are you able to afford the cost of keeping PokéVision up and running?
Y.L.: At this capacity, we aren’t sure if we can afford to. We are looking for outside help, though. AWS (Amazon) servers get a little expensive at this scale, hehe. That was a nervous laugh.
AH: Are you planning to monetise PokéVision? If so, how?
Y.L.: First and foremost, we want this to be accessible to everyone. Despite the server costs, we’re adamant in keeping the service free.
We have a couple of ads on just the one page, but that’s it. “Pokémon GO” is a free game, and a basic helper app should be that way as well.
AH: Are you taking donations to keep your servers running?
Y.L.: We do, but it’s 100% not necessary. We feel bad accepting them in the first place. We really just want to provide something that everyone can enjoy. We have been getting donations and we’re so grateful to those who have been supporting us that way.
We’d really like to thank the PokéVision community for supporting us through all the downtime, Esri, who has been graciously scaling their map API and geocoding for us, and of course, the Niantic/Nintendo/”Pokémon GO” team for making all of this possible.