The feature is designed, however, so that everyone can contribute and have a reasonable chance of catching a powerful monster. Seasoned players will, of course, want to team up with equally talented trainers, which is where the private groups come in. If you set one up, the app will give you a shareable code (three Bulbasaur icons, for instance) so that other people can easily find and join your group. In the future, Niantic will also offer exclusive, invitation-only raids for the best players in the world. These will take place at specific gyms and provide a chance to catch the rarest and most powerful Pokémon in the game, including legendaries.
There's one small catch to the new feature: Raid passes. To join a cooperative battle, you'll need to supply one of these single-use passes upfront. You can grab one every day by visiting a gym, otherwise you'll need to buy them through the in-app store. Restricting participation makes sense, as it will help each raid feels special. If you want to be cynical, however, it's easy to see this as a money-making venture that encourages in-app purchases whenever a tough-to-catch Articuno shows up.
Before the raid battle update, Niantic is giving its gym system a complete overhaul. The developer admits they were needlessly complicated before and overwhelmed casual players. The replacement ditches the gym level and prestige systems entirely, and changes how players challenge the Pokémon left by other trainers. Now, every gym will have six available slots, and all of them must be inhabited by a different kind of Pokémon — no duplicates allowed. When you challenge a gym, you'll also take on the Pokémon who has been there the longest first, rather than the weakest.
Creatures left at the gym will have a motivation meter which falls alongside their CP, or strength, over time and as they participate in battles. Stronger Pokémon will also lose motivation faster than weaker ones. Trainers can restore motivation with berries, but the idea is that higher-level Pokémon will be booted out of gyms more quickly than before.
"We're really hoping that we can broaden the scope to encompass both levels of play," Edward Wu, director of software engineering at Niantic said. "That's part of why the motivation system exists. If you have a fully fed, and highly motivated Pokémon who the player is constantly giving berries to, that will still provide a top-tier challenge for the folks who expect a top-tier challenge. But in addition, as they weaken and get demotivated, that will give more casual players or, trainers who might not have fully levelled up yet, the chance to actually battle and win at those gyms."
Like the original games and anime, gyms will soon have badges too. As you battle Pokémon and participate in other activities, they'll level up through bronze, silver and gold. Higher-ranked badges will give you items, experience points and other bonuses every time you revisit the gym.
If you're disinterested in battling, fear not: Niantic has you covered too. Every gym will now also serve as a Pokéstop, allowing you to collect items and rank up badges like everyone else. If you give your Pokémon treats in the gym, you'll also receive some extra Stardust.
With a year under its belt, Niantic is focusing on features that encourage real-world socialising and collaboration. At some point, that will include Pokémon trading too. "We're absolutely interested in it," Wu said. "But as we've alluded to before, there are some really tough challenges associated with it. Since we have this single coherent world, where everybody is on the same instance, that's really quite unique in MMO games. So being able to make sure that trading mechanic is balanced and is fair, and does justice to our players when we have these particular challenges, is something we have been working on and will continue to work on."