Sunday, August 7, 2016

3 Things Pokémon Go Need To Fix ASAP

I know pretty much everyone has a bone to pick with Pokemon Go right now. It's true that Niantic has handled the launch less than well, eventhough I am far less annoyed with it overall than a lot of people seem to be. Technical issues are one thing - havng to reload constantly definitely gets on my nerves. Lack of communication is just plain stupid - such an easy way to avoid frustration and misunderstanding and yet so many companies fail at this over and over. I also agree that Niantic might be prioritizing things wrong when they want to make sure to launch a game that isn't working very well yet in as many countries as possible rather than trying to fix it. But then again, the people in the countries that don't have Pokemon Go yet might disagree, for all I know they'd rather have a broken game than no game at all - I can sympathize with that. Setting those frustrations aside however, there are still things about the game that give me reason to worry. Maybe even more so because they, at least for now, seem to be "working as intended" as far as Niantic is concerned.

The Eggs
There has been a lot of speculation and experimenting around the mechanic with egg hatching. Everything from putting your phone on robot lawnmowers, on your pet while they're running around in the garden or on turntables. When people aren't busy trying to get the eggs to hatch without having to move around with the phones themselves, they're busy trying to figure out how to make the eggs hatch, period.

It's clear that it involves moving around, or rather moving the phone, in some sense. But not just in any sense. Some moving arounds are clearly better than other moving arounds. Just looking at my own experience I've gotten no reaction when trying to get progress in a moving car, very little progress when going on a bike and very sketchy progress when walking (albeit this has both been beneficial and disadvantegous for me). I've got an almost 7km (4 mile) ride to work and even when I try to keep my phone active for the majority of the ride (setting safety aside) I barely get more than a 1km worth of progress on my eggs. Rumour has it that to prevent cheating, there is a mechanic that prevents eggs from registrering progress if you move faster than a certain speed. Whatever that speed is however, no one really knows. Clearly it is somewhere between walking speed and bike speed, my rough guesstimation would be maybe 15km/h (9mph).

The fact that there (most likely) is a speed limit doesn't bother me at all. In fact it would probably bother me more if there wasn't, because boy could you hatch many eggs on a flight. It would be silly, even game breaking in my opinion, not to limit it in some way.

What does bother me however is that even when I am walking in a leisurely pace, there is really no telling when my eggs are going to hatch. Even taking the same walk will hatch my eggs (with the same distance value) at different intervals and there are few things more frustrating than a set value acting like what seems close to randomly. I've got my goal, my quest, I need to walk 5 km. So I walk 5 km, but my egg doesn't hatch. Rarely does it hatch from walking less than the set distance, but that has happened too. It wouldn't bother me if it was off by a couple of hundred meters, but it's a lot more than that, and so consistently for me to completely stop bothering to even keep track of it. I just shrug and think "the damn thing will hatch when it hatches".

People are speculating that this is because of how the game keeps track of your movement. It's probably reasonable to assume that Niantics servers can't keep spot on track of every player at any given moment - I realize that. Instead it seems like they update your position in intervals, every five or ten seconds and then deduces how much distance you've travelled since your last check in. I also think this is how the game determines your speed. I don't know if I am imagining it, but I think I get more progress on my eggs on the bike rides where I stop every now and then to do some catching than on the rides I don't.

Either way, and even if I do understand the technical limitations, something needs to be done. The way it is now egg progress feels way too random and sketchy to feel like progress at all. I've had my egg jump from 3,5km to 4,8 after what could not have been more than a couple of hundred meters. That's one of the very few times the sketchy updating has benefited me. More often than not I walk a distance only to see that my egg progress has been rewarded half or less of that. It makes egg walking feel a lot less like a destination and a lot more like something that just happens while you're out catching Pokemon. And then after all that walking you get a Jynx in your 10km egg anyway. Maybe working as intended?

The Items
I could complain that items that are said to have a 30 minute timer actually start somewhere around 26 minute for no good reason at all. But isntead I am going to complain about the fact that I feel like a lot of the items that say they're supposed to do something, don't really do something. I'm not expecting Mewtwo to ascend from the skies and snuggle into one of my Pokeballs just because I threw out a lure or an incense. But I do expect some sort of action beside Pidgeys and Zubats (and Drowzees and Rattatas). They're a dime a dozen and putting out an incense/lure does not mean I want more of them.

I understand that there are only 151 Pokemon to catch, and they want us to savour it for as long as possible. Obviously they can't hand out rare pkmn left and right. But incense and lures are fairly rare things as well. I'm level 20 and I've had 5 or so incenses, around the same number when it comes to lures. I'm only just over halfway through the Pokedex so clearly there are still a lot of pkmn left for me to find, even if you don't count the legendaries. Considering they only last 26 minutes, it's only a very small portion of game time that is going to be affected by these items. Unless of course you buy them in the shop. But why would anyone pay for anything that barely seems to make any difference? It's in Niantics own interest to make these items more interesting for us. And it takes like, a billion Magikarps, to get a Gyarados anyway so would it really hurt so badly if three of them decided to flop our way because we put up an incense or lure?

The Gyms
Right around the corner of where I live (yet not close enough for me to attack it from the comforts of my home unfortunately) is a Gym. It's been blue for 95% of the time and level 10 for a lot of that time as well. As I started getting the hang of Pokemon Go and how Gyms seemed to work I started wondering about something.

If I need to fight a gym to increase the prestige to be able to put my Pokemon in there to be able to claim my reward (with me so far?)... then what happens when a gym is a max level and can't increase its prestige anymore? That means I can't get my own pkmn in there to claim the reward and fighting it will only benefit someone else and not me. The best thing I can do at that point is wait and hope that someone from an opposing team weakens the Gym enough for me to be able to squeeze in one of my own pkmn. This in turn means that other people of my team are my rivals as much as they are my allies. Or rather, they're only my allies as long as they strenghten my own chances of staying in a Gym. It's counter intuitive and it's really no way to build any kind of team spirit.

Niantic cleverly avoids this problem in Ingress because there is no reward beside prestige to be had from claiming and owning areas in that game. In Pokemon Go however there is a very real reward. So 10 coins every now and then might not seem like much, but it's get a bit annoying when my local gym is claimed by the same person for weeks and there is nothing I can do to get in on the action because it's my own team!

There is also a lot more to do at an Ingress Portal

Now maybe you'd wonder what would be the point of gyms if owning it didn't reward more than the honor of owning it? Well, it works in Ingress and trust me - the Ingress players are fierce about their Portals (the sort of equivalent of Gyms).

In Ingress Portals wane over time, they deteriorate, meaning that without someone from the same team coming around to power them up every now and then they will eventually power down and become neutral again. I don't know if this is a function the Gyms share in Pokemon Go, but if it isn't it should be. I think it's a great idea since it requires active playing and not just set-and-forget.

Otherwise I think Niantic need to rethink how players of the same team can benefit from claimed Gyms. Maybe anyone from the same team that comes into vicinity of that Gym could get their daily reward, even if they don't have a pkmn in there (maybe this option should only be available if the Gym is at max level, I am ok with that)? Or maybe Niantic need to make it possible to get coins from some other means, or maybe change the way you get coins in the game completely? Either way, as it is now it's a bad thing when someone from your team claim a gym and raise it to max level without you, and that is just silly.

I could talk about a whole bunch of other things, like balancing issues to name one. Balancing is something that can take some time to get right however so I am going to bide my time on this one and see how Niantic handles it. For now I am just going to have to contend that every Gym has three Vaporeons in it.


  1. If your items aren't starting at 30 minutes, it likely means that your phone's clock isn't getting its time from the cell tower. Did you override the time? Allowing it to be changed by the server instead should fix that issue in theory.

    1. I'm going to have to give that a looksie, thanks for the tip!