Pokémon GO: Death of the hype, broken game mechanics and some thoughts

A few months ago I wrote a short post about the first month playing Pokémon GO. It’s been half a year by now. What has changed since then?

These months Pokémon GO has experienced ups and downs, criticism, it has introduced a wearable and several major updates, though they didn’t include what most fans were expecting (a true radar, trading, real battles, PVP…). Let’s drill this down:

Has the game survived the wow factor?

It is easy to find post saying Pokémon GO is dead. But is it? They have lost a remarkable number of players and it may seem that the overall interest has plummeted. On September, 79% of paying players had fled, allegedly.  This excellent article says that only 4% of iPhone users still use the app. There is an opinion in Reddit I want to single out: they say that casual players may have moved back to Candy Crush type games and only hardcore players remain. Personally, I saw recently a lure at a PokéStop of some mall in my area and it was like a revenant had passed before my eyes. I hadn’t seen lures for a good long while.

As this article suggests, it is likely that the player base will remain relatively stagnant (with hardcore players) only to increase with special events like Halloween or Christmas, or with generation 2. Events like these.

Game mechanic: What is the point of leveling the player up Pokémon GO?

I have read a few times that the higher the level of the player, the more difficult it is to catch a wild Pokémon. Is this true? According to my experience, I would say so, even though I don’t have empirical proof to back it up. This was a big issue back in the summer months1, but as of right now if it is true, the effect is way less noticeable. On the other hand, Pokémon GO Game Press allegedly offers all the math and the explanations behind the catch rate. According to this, player level wouldn’t be part of the catch rate equation. It doesn’t make it more difficult, but it doesn’t make it easier either.

Having a higher level apparently doesn’t grant you a higher chance of getting 5 or 10 km eggs2 (better eggs). I haven’t found anything saying that it could help fight better battles at gyms. Actually, gyms have a level on their own, apparently unrelated to that of the player.

So what is the benefit of leveling up? I’d say items rewards, the chance of encountering/leveling stronger wild Pokémon and social comparison.

  • When the player is below level 10, item rewards sure come in handy, but when the player is level 20+, rewards are less useful. This, added to the increasingly higher experience required to level up, makes, in my opinion, these rewards dull from the middle levels on. In addition, rewards arguably don’t improve much when the level is higher. In fact, I think rewards felt better at early levels: I had a lot of incubators (more than one)! Additional incubators (others than the infinite incubator) became rarer later in the game. Click here for the full list of item rewards and experience required.
  • It appears that a higher level player has the chance of encountering higher CP wild Pokémon3, 4, at least up to some level (the cap may be at level 30). In addition to this, the level cap of captured Pokémon increases as player level does.
  • Level is also a social measure, and Pokémon GO is (tries to be) a social game, isn’t it?

In any case, the point of leveling up the player is blurred to me. You could ask me: ‘If you don’t level up, then why play?’ I think it’d be better if experience came with some improvement in what the player can do. When it takes 200,000 xp to level up (from level 25 to 26), being granted 10 Ultra Balls, 15 Max Potions and 10 Revives (I end up throwing away most of these) and 15 Razz Berries (the most useful item of the list) isn’t much.

Raising a Pokémon, another broken game mechanic

In the original games, the player only had to spar in random battles or with trainers to level their Pokémon up. This grinding led to one of the most satisfying parts of the original games: to see the Pokémon increase their level, become stronger and to, eventually, evolve. Leveling up is quite different in Pokémon GO. Logic would say that gym battles could do it, but they don’t. At least, not directly: they grant experience to the player, but not to the Pokémon which engage in the real fighting. In fact, until the arrival of Buddy Pokémon there was no direct way of leveling Pokémon up (it provides the player an almost fully controllable way to handle the level of their Pokémon, and no, stardust is not as controllable as Buddy is, in my opinion; sorry for the long parenthesis). Players had to capture enough Pokémon of the same species in order to get candies so that they could power one of them up to the current level cap.


Have they dealt with the cheaters?

A game is destroyed if its rules are not kept safe. Rules are the founding of games and cheating the rules was a tremendous issue in the first months of Pokémon GO. What about the last month of 2016? Well, I can’t say for sure that cheaters are gone. In my opinion, most of the cheaters were trolls that were not really interested in the game, but in the hype. Now that the hype is dead and buried, I think cheating is way less blatant. However, I still spot grotesque CP numbers in some Pokémon at gyms. Concerning security and avoiding cheaters, you want to know what really grinds my gears? That Niantic, instead of building solid security measures to prevent cheaters, decided to ban root users. It’s true that in order to use fake the GPS (spoofers) or other cheats, it requires a rooted device. But people don’t root the device just for Pokémon GO. I did it because Android is quite a restrictive OS, and root provides a little freedom. Let me say it again: root is not the same as cheating. This measure enraged the community, for a while. It certainly enraged me. But they must have done the math and decided that it was ok to assume that player loss. I don’t see a huge number of people undergoing the relatively difficult process of rooting the device.

What have they done right?

There has been a lot of ranting towards Pokémon GO, and I include myself in here. Has it been fair to Niantic? At some extent, we should’ve allowed us only for a mild criticism since this is a free app (we pay with our privacy), with no ads. They have managed the game poorly, and the communication with fans is still terrible, but they have struggled to better the app. These are a few things that they have done right so fat, in my opinion:

  • The Buddy system certainly is an improvement that tries to overhaul a broken game mechanic. Without it, it would require an excessive amount of grinding to evolve certain rare Pokémon (I’m thinking of the fossil Pokémon, for example).
  • The steady pace of recent updates. So far they have been releasing relatively regular updates.
  • Events like Halloween or Christmas.
  • The game is way more stable.
  • The introduction of daily rewards. This helps to maintain the feeling of progressing through the game.

One thing that amazes me is that even though they released an incomplete app, with huge bugs, incredibly unstable, it managed to break every record regarding mobile gaming. Maybe it’s true what the head of marketing says in this interview: “The fire-fighting has ceased […] Now, we can get back to developing core features.”

What I would like to see in the future?

Narrative. Pokémon games aren’t precisely of the plot twist type. The narrative has been relatively simple so far. But they had one. Pokémon GO doesn’t have anything of the sort. I’m not considering as narrative the leaders of the three teams, or the appraisal thing. There are hardly any events or interactions with NPC. In the previously linked interview, Quigley says that “Every two weeks there’s new content or bug fixes going in the game. There’s key content releases we’re planning. “. I wonder how they are planning to achieve that, but if I was asked, I would want to see this:

  • First thing: don’t close radio or music apps playing in the background.
  • We need more locations other than PokéStops or gyms. A vendor? A random NPC saying ‘Whoa! The technology is amazing!’ A move changer? A clerk for customizing the avatar (clothes)?
  • Remember that time when fossil Pokémon were fossils and the player had to something to revive them? It was fun!
  • Remember the stones? It is too late because people have already evolved their Pokémon, but what about if the stone was a powerup? Or what about if it changed randomly the attacks to some other (more powerful) moves?
  • PVP and trade would be definitely welcome.
  • A PokéPhone, agenda or whatever you call it. Pokémon GO uses Google. It can’t be hard to implement a friend system.
  • Add status to the capturing system. Asleep, poisoned, paralyzed, frozen or burn.
  • An effective way of knowing the area in which the Pokémon might appear.
  • Populate with PokéStops more areas. Not only in rural areas, but also urban areas that are barren land.
  • This is the feature that I would like the most. To be able to battle wild Pokémon with some Pokémon of the party.
  • Complete Generation 2.

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