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Silph Study: #050

Published:
08.18.2021

Everything You Wanted to Know About the July 2021 Map Update

As we approached Pokémon GO’s fifth anniversary, travelers on the Road began to notice substantial visual changes to the game: sunrises, sunsets, accurate stars, and major updates to the look of the in-game map!

Starting in New Zealand and gradually rolling out to the rest of the world, July 2021 saw updated in-game map visuals. Based on data sourced from OpenStreetMap (OSM), this update completely changed the way many travelers see the world of Pokémon GO, with new roads, parks, buildings, and water features appearing in-game. But what is OSM? Where does this map data come from and how old is it? What do the different visual map features actually mean? Let’s dive in and find out!

Key Points

  • There were no major shifts in nests, EX Raid Gyms, blocked areas, or spawn point distribution as a result of this update.
  • The visual game map has been updated to a version sourced from OSM on (approximately) January 6, 2020.
  • The map version that now appears in Pokémon GO is older than the map version in some of Niantic’s other titles such as Ingress and CATAN – World Explorers.


Examples of before and after comparisons relating to the recent map update. Left: Updated coastline. Middle: Additional footpaths, roads and buildings. Right: New water and dark green parks.

OSM in a Nutshell

Founded in 2004, OSM is a community-powered map of the world that functions similarly to Wikipedia: public, free, and editable. Thousands of volunteer mappers all over the world donate their time and efforts to surveying, recording, and creating a map that anyone can use and share.

While OSM has always played a role behind the scenes in Pokémon GO (e.g., as the source of features like nests), the original visual map was sourced from Google Maps. In 2017, Niantic was forced to pivot with the regional launch of Pokémon GO in South Korea, as legal complications proved to be a hurdle to using Google Maps data in that country. Over the course of the year, Niantic transitioned Pokémon GO’s visual map from Google Maps to OSM, first in South Korea, and later the rest of the world.

The OSM community openly welcomes new mappers, including well-intentioned Pokémon GO trainers. In fact, the OSM wiki has a great page set up – Tips for new (Pokemon Go) mappers to help onboard trainer-mappers who discover OSM as a result of Pokémon GO.

The July 2021 Update

When did this most recent OSM map update roll out around the world?

  • July 1: New Zealand
  • July 2: Australia
  • July 3: United States, Mexico, and most of Canada
  • July 5: parts of Asia, including India
  • July 6: Europe and parts of South America including Brazil.
  • July 13: the rest of the world.

What Actually Changed?

As the July 2021 map update reached more travelers around the world, it became apparent that this particular update was focused on map visuals rather than gameplay. While some travelers anecdotally reported small changes to spawn points, there was no evidence of new nest areas, new EX Raid eligible areas, new buddy souvenir locations, or significant shifts in the locations that Pokémon appear.

The main features updated on the map are those that travelers can see but not interact with, including:

Gray Lines

Lines tagged with the tag key highway= and some other similar features, such as those tagged with man_made=pier, appear at various line weights to represent different types of roads and paths. Piers, cycleways, stairs, and pedestrian paths are comparatively much thinner than most roads intended for vehicles. One anomaly is track roads, which appear as thinner lines similar to pedestrian paths, despite typically being wide enough for vehicles.

OSM features drawn as areas (solid shapes or polygons) will not appear gray in Pokémon GO even if they have the tags that would otherwise make them appear. Only features drawn as simple lines can appear gray in Pokémon GO.


Roads and paths will display in-game at various line weights. Most pedestrian paths, piers, and track roads appear as thinner lines.

Blue Areas

Water features drawn as closed areas will appear as blue polygons in Pokémon GO. These tags include: natural=water, waterway=riverbank, landuse=basin, landuse=reservoir, leisure=swimming_pool, and the ocean side of natural=coastline.

It could be said that blue water features render in an inverse manner when compared to gray lines in Pokémon GO. That is to say, only water features that have been drawn on OSM as areas (solid shapes or polygons) will appear in-game, and water features drawn as unclosed lines will not appear visually in-game. This means that many mapped rivers, streams, and drains do not appear in Pokémon GO.


Water areas such as rivers, ponds, and the ocean will render as a shade of blue. The visual appearance of these areas is heavily influenced by weather and lighting effects.

Building Areas

Areas with the tag key building= appear as semi-opaque three-dimensional objects on the game map. The building:part= key can also render separately and is normally drawn inside of existing buildings.


Buildings appear in-game as semi-transparent shallow three-dimensional objects. Complex buildings containing extra details drawn with the “building:part” key will display those elements in-game.

Dark Green Areas

Areas can appear as dark green in Pokémon GO if they have one of three tags. These tags are: leisure=park, leisure=golf_course, and landuse=recreation_ground.

Some travelers make the mistake of believing that dark green areas always have a direct impact on gameplay. While it is true that these three dark green tags are somewhat correlated with nests and EX Raid Gyms, there are two important caveats to consider:

  1. A number of other tags are linked with nests and EX Raid Gyms despite never appearing as dark green areas in-game: leisure=garden, leisure=pitch, leisure=playground, leisure=recreation_ground, landuse=farmland, landuse=farmyard, landuse=grass, landuse=greenfield, landuse=meadow, landuse=orchard, landuse=vineyard, natural=grassland, natural=heath, natural=moor, and natural=scrub.
  2. Since Niantic shifted to an OSM-based visual map, the map version used to define nest and EX Raid-eligible areas has never matched the visual map. This also applies to the recent visual update, which uses a map version nearly a year newer than the version used for nest areas and EX Raid Gyms.


Dark green areas represent parks, recreation grounds, and golf courses on the map. These features are somewhat linked to nests and EX Raid gyms, but due to variances in tagging and version dates, this is not a 1:1 relationship.

Source Date

When it comes to Pokémon GO, Niantic generally sources the OSM map data that they use many weeks or even months before they actually implement it into the game. By carefully observing what map features do and do not appear in Pokémon GO, researchers are able to hone in on the approximate creation date of the OSM data currently being used. This is significantly easier to do for map visuals when compared to other map-related features, as we are able to quickly observe and check a large area for any changes.

After careful observation, we pinpointed the likely source date for this visual map:

January 6, 2020.

This source date appears to be a close match with the previous version of the game map used in some other Niantic titles such as Ingress and CATAN – World Explorers. However, those titles have since been updated to even newer map versions. At this time, we don’t know why Niantic chose to use older map data in Pokémon GO compared to their other titles.


Following the Pokémon GO map update, the map version used in Niantic’s other title, Ingress, is still slightly newer than the one used in Pokémon GO. In the case of the screenshots above, several buildings added in the days after the 6th of January 2020 do not appear in Pokémon GO, but do appear in Ingress.

Future Updates?

Niantic obtains and uses OSM data according to their own often mysterious needs and requirements. There is no way to know when, if, or how Niantic might choose to update Pokémon GO’s OSM-related features in the future.

Parting Words

This long-awaited update to the visual game map in Pokémon GO brings mysteries of its own. Why was there such a long wait between updates? Why is an older version of the OSM dataset being used compared to Niantic’s other titles such as Ingress? When will we see another visual update in the future, if at all? Only time and patience will tell. Until we meet again, travelers, we hope to see you on the road. May this visual update help you find your way in the world of Pokémon GO!


Acknowledgements:
Article author: Scientist WoodWoseWulf
Editing: Scientists skyeofthetyger and Cham1nade
Special thanks to: Lead Researcher Gustavobc, Senior Researchers Crimsonreach and Smartme800


Appendix: A Timeline of OSM in Pokémon GO

Over the years since Pokémon GO’s 2016 release, there have been a small handful of updates relating to the game map and how travelers experience it. The following table, originally sourced from our previous article on OSM, has been updated as of July 2021, and represents the known history of OSM-related updates in Pokémon GO.

Date

In-Game Map Visuals

Nests & Blocks

EX Eligibility

Path Spawns

2016-07 Global Google Maps visuals OSM active at PGO launch OSM data sourced OSM data sourced?
2016-08
2016-09
2016-10
2016-11
2016-12 New OSM data sourced New OSM data sourced Implemented (link)
2017-01 South Korea only OSM visuals (link) Updated (link, link)
2017-02
2017-03
2017-04
2017-05
2017-06
2017-07
2017-08 New OSM data sourced
2017-09
2017-10
2017-11 Global OSM visuals (link, link) Implemented (link)
2017-12 New OSM data sourced
2018-01 Updated (link)
2018-02
2018-03
2018-04 New OSM data sourced + updated (link,link)
2018-05
2018-06
2018-07
2018-08
2018-09
2018-10
2018-11
2018-12
2019-01
2019-02 New OSM data sourced OSM data sourced New OSM data sourced
2019-03 Updated (link) Updated (link)
2019-04
2019-05
2019-06
2019-07
2019-08
2019-09
2019-10 Wild spawns restored to the Saronic Gulf (link) Updated (link, link)
2019-11
2019-12
2020-01 New OSM data sourced
2020-02
2020-03
2020-04
2020-05
2020-06
2020-07
2020-08
2020-09 Wild spawns restored to Y.S.U. (link)
2020-10
2020-11
2020-12
2021-01
2021-02
2021-03
2021-04
2021-05 Plateau and valley mega nests removed (link)
2021-06
2021-07 Updated