When Pokémon GO first came out, it became a global phenomenon overnight. Yet one can’t help but feel that it still bears a massive amount of wasted potential.
When Niantic first published Ingress, it quickly developed a cult following that saw the genre of AR games become a very real possibility.
By layering their game’s GUI over map data from Google Maps, Niantic could create a world that existed in two places at once – a mesh between the physical and the virtual. When it was first unleashed on the public, the world saw a phenomenon unfold before its eyes.
Seemingly out of nowhere, people were storming their local parks, museums, and public spaces in the hopes of being lucky enough to catch their favorite Pokémon.
Nintendo and Niantic had hit a gold mine. Records were toppled and the world seemed convinced that a video game now existed with the potential to get people out of the house.
As impressive and revolutionary as it seemed, there was an underlying feeling that something was off; that things could have been better.
Certainly, the near-constant server outages due to the large influx of players didn’t help, but there was more to it than just that.
After the initial thrill of catching Pokémon in the wild alongside fellow trainers hoofing it about, players were faced with a very grim reality: there isn’t an endgame.
There are a lot of carefully crafted systems that function as psychological hooks and pushes to get players either out and about or reaching for the “shop” button on their UI, but Pokémon GO players were soon left with a PokeDex full of entries with nothing to do with them.
Even now, over a year after the game’s initial release, the same problems are resurfacing. Despite the additions of the second generation, numerous bug patches and hotfixes, seasonal events, Legendary Pokémon, and Raid Battles… the lack of endgame still remains.
It seems that Niantic is opting for a development path that focuses on creating batches of content for the players to consume in a seasonal format, rather than on establishing a reusable platform.
The current meta goes something like this: player’s fight tooth and nail to discover what the best Pokémon to battle with is, they train said Pokémon up to its best potential, then park them in a gym for their team to take over.
At this point, players from a rival team lay siege in an attempt to reclaim it, and so the eternal battle continues forth ad naseum.
Rewards for doing this is primarily stardust, which is used for levelling up the Combat Power (CP) of your Pokémon. A higher CP means a higher chance of winning battles, and it doesn’t take long to figure out that you’re in the worst kind of closed loop: a hamster wheel.
There is, of course, still the challenge of completing one’s PokeDex entries, but even in the proper Pokémon games, it has felt more as bait for completionists than an integral part of the underlying design – seeing as how the game itself would not give you anything for completing the monumental task.
In Pokémon GO, it’s even worse due considering it is a stacked challenge – players who live in rural areas are shit out of luck when it comes to obtaining Pokémon (and items from Poke stops) which tend to dwell in highly urban environments and around public monuments.
Niantic still could have something remarkable on their hands – if they were to spend more time developing the manner in which the teams function and actually give the players a PvP and battle system worth writing about.
It’s baffling that a Pokémon game would resort to tapping and swiping the screen in real-time when Adult Swim’s Pocket Mortys game managed to come up with a simplified and sped-up turn-based battle system based on the original Pokémon Games.
Ultimately, Pokémon GO is far from dead – but at the pace and direction that Niantic seem to be going with the game, it’s at a risk to just stagnate into a mire of new generations and Legendries to farm and then it’s back to the grind. It deserves to be so much more than that.