Where Did "Pokémon Go" Wrong?


In 2015 the Pokémon company, along with Niantic and Nintendo, announced a mobile game changer that would introduce Augmented Reality gaming to the masses and promised endless hours of real life exploration and fun. On July 6, 2016, Pokémon Go was officially released (in most countries,) and fans all around the world took to the streets. In the first days the overwhelming influence of this game was very apparent. Social media lit up with screenshots of people catching Pidgey's in their kitchen or a Squirtle on their toilet seat. Small businesses and large companies even altered their marketing strategies to draw in crowds by using in game lures or by advertising that there was a gym at their location. I can personally attest to the increase in miles I walked per day from playing Pokémon Go as well as the new, random areas of my town I discovered while searching. Not only that but there were social groups popping up where you could meet new people, go on walks, and catch these virtual creatures with other humans.


This hype however quickly wore off and there are several key reasons as to why. The obvious ones were the immediate lack of features that made this a real Pokémon game. This list included battling, trading, and training.  These are the key features that make a normal Pokémon game fun and addicting. The lack of in game player interaction coupled with the implementation of the candy system gave the game a repetitious feel that had no substance. Memes were created about the candy system alone, demonstrating the lack of purpose it brought to the game. In previous titles you would catch or be gifted a Pokémon, then train and or evolve it by gaining experience when you used it in combat. This made evolving a Pokémon or getting one to level 99 feel like an achievement. In Pokémon Go you just catch as many of a certain type as you possibly can, trade them for candy (for that type,) and then use the candy to pump up whichever one you didn't distill down. You also need another material called star dust to level up for Pokémon and it can be quite the grind to build up a good amount of the stuff.


Many remaining fans will argue that there is battling in the current version of Pokémon Go. However this only exists when you're trying to take over a gym and it's by no means a well developed or fulfilling system. Instead of training your Pokémon to acquire a specialized set of skills over time, each creature you catch has a limited, fixed list of abilities. While in "combat" you don't pick from these in any strategic pattern, you just tap quickly and stuff happens. While trading isn't as much of an issue, since exploring is half the fun, it's still a key feature that has been consistent with the Pokémon brand. It also makes it difficult for younger fans with no drivers license to trace and fill out their Pokedex. Unanticipated also designates certain Pokémon to only be available in some countries. How are people supposed to obtain these without spending thousands of dollars on international flights. They sort of fixed this by making those specific Pokémon available through the egg hatching system. 


The tracking argument has been a hot topic since day one. In the early forms of the game your UI included a small window that would display nearby Pokémon. A silhouette was used as a placeholder for undiscovered types. This list however, never seemed to be quite accurate and didn't really help at all. They tried a few updates to perfect this but never really sold me on the concept. Last time I played they were using Pokestops as identifiers for where to search and in my small town, that just didn't hold up. Recently Ninantic added legendary, group raids where you could band together with other players to "battle" and capture a legendary Pokémon. This still didn't seem to be enough of an incentive to bring back their once magnificent player base. 


Its been a year now and there are still no signs of PvP, trading or replacing the candy system and stardust system. The tracking and the geographic diversity of the Pokémon isn't as interesting as was originally pitched. At first it felt like the game was launched without being finished. It's more obvious as time goes onthat the motivations behind these decisions were to push micro transactions. I mean it worked on me for a short time. I wanted so badly to be able to hold gyms in my town that I spent some real life money on this game. This past weekend marked the (in my opinion) final effort to grab the attention of the nerd community by holding the first Pokémon Go featival. The festival was a complete disaster with reports of most attendees not even being able to acces the games servers due to such highly concentrated traffic. In the end the concept was there but the execution was never fully realized. Maybe it's an issue with expectations vs reality but I don't see it that way. Niantic had teased features as "coming soon" and they never really happened. Maybe one day AR and Pokémon can be something amazing but it's not with this game. What are your thoughts? Are you still playing?