Sunday, July 17, 2016

First Thoughts On Pokémon Go

Of course it's a post on Pokémon Go, what else could you expect?

Just like millions of other people around the world I have started playing Pokémon Go recently. When I first heard about it I was absolutely thrilled. At that time (I can't recall exactly when that was, late last year maybe?) I had already been playing some Ingress casually and liked the concept. The idea to turn that into a Pokémon game seemed brilliant. If you know nothing about Ingress, in short it is pretty much like Pokémon Go. There aren't any Pokémon of course, but the equivalent of PokeStops and Gyms (in Ingress they are the same) and the core idea to walk around to gather supplies to battle it out against the other team (there are only two factions in Ingress) is all there.

Looking back at it I am surprised I didn't realize what a smash hit Pokémon Go was going to be. Ingress was already very popular - the day I started playing it I was invited to my factions local Google group in my hometown, which arranges walk-arounds where you can take down opposing "gyms" together, and boy were they active. I never did join in because it rarely fit with my personal schedule, and quite frankly I didn't enjoy Ingress enough to go out of my way to play it. It was fun, but more of a "I've got nothing to do while waiting for the bus"-kind of fun.

Then you've got Pokémon. I don't have to tell you how popular Pkmn is. Combining these two ideas, which also allows pkmn fans to come a step closer the ultimate dream of becoming an actual pkmn trainer... it was a match made in heaven, really. So what do I think of it?

First off, I'm not even going to complain about the technical issues. Do they annoy me? Of course they do. But I've given up hope that any company can deal with huge server-loads, I mean if Blizzard still can't get it right after five expansions and 12 years of experience then who can? And after all, it's not a game I've paid for so I am alright with it. For now.

Otherwise it is pretty much what I hoped for. It's not perfect, but few things are but seeing as catering to my very specific needs is probably impossible in a game clearly aimed at pleasing everyone on the planet. I'm ok with that too. My initial impression is definitely good so it is probably easier for me to adress the things that give me cause for mild concern (keep in mind however this is solely based on my personal experience with the game);

A little bit too empty around my place...

Or lack thereof. To me it is clear that Niantic, that is the developer of the game, has simply taken what is called "portals" from their Ingress game and transferred them over as PokeStops and Gyms in PGO. Thing is, there are about four times more portals in Ingress than there are PokeStops in PGO, so why the difference? My first guess was that they don't want to make it too easy to gather items but that doesn't make sense - you could just make each stop give less items in that case. In fact, it is clear to me the game hasn't been designed around getting people to walk around at all. If it was, there would be more PokeStops and they would definitely be more evenly distributed. As it is now they congregate around areas where people already move around, like town centers, making me believe that Niantic has designed the game to be something you do while you're already on the move for another reason - rather than being the reason itself. They clearly did not foresee the playstyle that players are adopting now which doesn't make sense either since they should have years of Ingress data to tell them otherwise. Admittedly, Ingress portals aren't exactly common outside of city centers either, but at least a lot more common than PokeStops.

Ok, so you can at least catch Pokemon anywhere, but after a while you run out of balls and then there is literally nothing to do in the game anymore. Oh wait, unless you pay for more balls. But the way the PokeStops are distributed now it makes it really unfair on anyone living more countryside (or like me, 10 min walk from city center). Another guess is that maybe Niantic doesn't actually want to encourage people to walk off outside to more uncivilized areas but the way the PokeStops are distributed around here you really don't have to walk two steps outside the city center before they become way too scarce. Too soon Niantic.

Actually, not much to do in Ingress either.

This might be something they've planned to implement, but I am sure a lot of players, myself included, wish there was a way to fight it out between eachother in the game other than attacking Gyms. There isn't in Ingress however, so it's possible it's not something they've thought of doing. Of course, one would have to ponder how it could fit into the game design, although if you ask me it could be implemented just as a stand-alone feature to test your strength against eachother without it necessarily having a lasting impact on anything else in the game. I can otherwise see the possibility of cheating, if say you could strengthen your pkmn or gain items through battles. But I see no harm in just-for-fun skirmishing.

Which T-shirt are you?

The Teams
Like I mentioned in Ingress there are only two teams, green and blue. The rivalry between those teams is enthusiastic but respectful, for what I observed at least. I really hope it can stay that way for PGO as well, but I've already seen posts and memes calling certain teams things that are probably intended as a jest (and most are quite funny) but are only a step away from being hateful. I mean, where does it even come from? It's a faction people had no relation to only a week ago. I think it worked fairly well in WoW, eventhough there was always a lot of namecalling in BGs, each faction calling the other faction a bunch of 12-year olds, or 40-year old virgins still living in their moms basements, but it usually stayed at that. This might've been in part because you can always play on both sides and because the both sides can't actually communicate. In PGO however you choose one side and as far as I know that is what you are until you somehow create a new account. Another thing to consider is that you will actively meet people of opposing factions when walking around, you might even end up staring eachother down over a Gym. Let's just say I am a bit worried that any hateful attitudes online might spill over into the real world.
To be fair however, everyone seems just so gleeful over the fact that they are playing pkmn together that maybe I am just being a worry-wart.

Honestly, I don't think the whole "paying attention to your surroundings"-thing is a thing. I mean, it clearly is since people seem to be hurting themselves left and right over this game, but then again with this many gamers you're bound to have pretty much anything happen sooner or later. I don't think the game is absorbing enough to make me forget I am crossing a road however. What I do have a problem with though and that I wish that they could change/fix somehow, is how you need to keep your screen active for the game to respond properly. I had the same problem with Ingress, and that game didn't require me to stay active to catch pkmn, so it was even less of an issue there! I'm not sure how it tracks egg-hatching progress, but I'm pretty sure that I don't get any notifications for pkmn if I don't keep the screen active. This drains so much battery, and quite frankly it's just tedious to stare at your screen for that long. Maybe the wristband that there has been talks about could solve this, because surely Niantic themselves has nothing to gain from whether the player stares at the screen or not? My guess it has something to do with how apps run passively so they might simply not be allowed to send/receive data from the game as long as you don't keep it open. It makes sense, but I would love for there to be some option somewhere where I could just walk with the phone in my pocket and have it vibrate or even make a noise whenever I am close enough to a pkmn. If it's already supposed to do that I can tell you that it's not working for me.

Speaking of long.

Personally, I am worried PGO will go the same way Ingress did for me. I played it (Ingress) quite actively the first couple of weeks. Like mentioned I joined the local group (eventhough I didn't walk with them), I Ingressed all the way to work on my bike, I tried Ingressing while I was out with my kid - but in the end it didn't really feel practical. Playing while bicycling was just plain dangerous I noticed and I couldn't push the pram one-handed which meant stopping all the time which just annoyed my kid in the end. This left me the option of taking the opportunity to play whenever I had an errand somewhere or to go out specifically on my own to play. Ingress couldn't make me want to, I'm not sure PGO can either. I think the key issue is that I don't have anyone in my vicinity who plays it and walking around on my own doesn't feel particularly enticing. Ideally I'd go with the bf, but someone has to watch the kid and the kid is too young to play.

Overall however it is a fun little game and quite the phenomenon to boot. It is true that few things beat catching long time favorites (I am working myself to a Gengar) and I am actually quite happy they've limited themselves to the first gen (at least initially). Niantic has probably made a smart move when they decided to streamline elements from the games to make them more appealing to the casual smartphone audience. For instance I don't think it would've worked as well if you had to actually battle the pkmn before catching them - aint nobody got time for that!

When I told the bf a couple of days ago about how much PGO had already been downloaded he said that every pkmn for the handhelds had been popular too. I pointed out to him that the main difference is that eventhough a lot of people have Game Boys, a whole lot more have smartphones. It is such a massive market to tap into, and a game like this is perfect for it. Now let's just hope it can stop crashing.


  1. It is a well-known fact that Pokemon Go is really amazing and addictive game. All my friends are crazy by it. Frankly speaking, I am shocked that this game has become popular so fast, but I don't play it.

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