The rapid rise, the fall, and why I can’t be tossed about Pokémon GO

By Ian Chee - on 02 Aug 2016, 3:57pm

Pokémon GO is now so popular that you’d have heard of it even if you haven’t heard of Pokémon – which is in and of itself an impossibility – you may not know how to pronounce it properly or know anything about it, but you’ve most definitely heard of it even if you’ve spent the last two decades under a rock or in a separate dimension. So popular is the game, that Nintendo’s shares skyrocketed shortly after launch, and plummeted again after the company told people that it didn’t make the game, but merely held the rights to the Pokémon name.

And it skyrocketed for pretty good reasons. For one, most of the people who grew up with Pokémon are at the very least in their twenties. Even if you were born in the same year as Pokémon, you’d be 18 now. Almost everyone that Niantic can bait with nostalgia pandering is already on the Pokémon GO ship. That leaves a very select few who are either a) couldn’t be bothered with it because it’s not actually Pokémon, b) don’t actually have the time or means to really enjoy it, or both. Obviously discounted are those of us who are living where Pokémon GO isn’t yet officially released.

And if you’re on the Pokémon GO bandwagon, then you’ve already heard of (or are actually the ones involved in) people driving into things while playing, falling off cliffs while playing and other sad shenanigans of similar nature. People lose themselves in this. And I completely understand – it’s a dream that took 18 years to come true, and when it does (and you don’t find it too little, too late), then of course you’d live the dream whenever you can, and sometimes even when you can’t.

Of course, things will come crashing down when reality kicks in. And when reality wakes you up from your dream, the more you indulged in the elation the more you’ll feel the hit.

Let’s start with one of the most important ways reality reigns supreme. And we begin with the fact that Pokémon GO is software. Software have bugs, and these could make your quest to be the very best pretty annoying (not that you can be the very best, but more on that later).

One of the most annoying bugs bugging (cheap pun intended) Pokémon GO right now, is the fact that it doesn’t track its own placement of Pokémon properly. Players have had the three-step-glitch up until recently where the distance tracking was removed entirely. Kind of like when someone has early stage lung cancer and you remove the entire lung instead of the cancerous tumor, which may be only a small part of the lung.

If you don’t know what I’m on about, Pokémon GO uses steps to indicate how far away a nearby Pokémon is, with three steps being the furthest. It’s really annoying when all the Pokémon nearest to you are ‘three steps’ away, and there’s no way of telling exactly how far they are, or which is the closest among them. Niantic recently ‘fixed’ this glitch by removing the steps indicator entirely – Pokémon still show up ‘nearby’, but they could still be impossibly far away, and you wouldn’t know in which direction you should go in order to encounter them.

So since Niantic wants people to go wander about in search of Pokémon, even when people may not have the luxury of time and freedom to do so (again, we’re talking at least eighteen-year-olds here, so mostly people who are working), obviously some kind souls are going to help their fellow players in tracking where Pokémon actually are in their vicinity. Pokémon trainers finally have a goal, a route to an actual destination to plan and Pokémon to be caught, the main target and everything else in between. Examples of such kind souls are the people behind PokéVision and services of its like.

John Hanke, CEO of Niantic. <br> Image source: Timothy Archibald / Forbes.

Naturally, Niantic isn’t happy about it (or so says its CEO, John Hanke), and have proceeded to block it from working. Players are obviously upset, but Niantic does have the right to do so because it is tapping into game code to be able to tell where Pokémon are spawning. And all that is in violation of Pokémon GO’s terms of service. As always, the developer (Niantic in this case) is missing the point entirely; people aren’t upset that PokéVision is blocked so much as Niantic isn’t fixing its own tracker – or at least announcing that it will – before blocking the next best thing. To make matters worse, the initial trailer also has a short clip where the game actually tells you the location of the Pokémon you're after, with real-time location updates. When did that change? When did Niantic decide "we don't want people to know the exact locations of Pokémon, and we want the priority to be exploration instead"? Or is Niantic diligently working on that version of Pokémon GO, and not letting anyone do it for them because it's coming very soon? At this point, that last one seems a bit unlikely.

And while we’re on the topic, John Hanke is not a fan of PokéVision because it “removes the fun from the game,” but doesn’t mind people attaching their phones to a train set to hatch Pokémon eggs without leaving the house, which is kind of the whole point of Pokémon GO. He’s not a fan of a third party site that tells players where Pokémon are – giving them an objective, a reason to get out of the house instead of wandering aimlessly before giving up and heading back home – but is fine with people coming up with ways to play a game that’s meant to get you out of the house, without actually leaving the house. Because putting your phone on a train set is fun, but actually going out and catching Pokémon isn’t, right? No? I don’t know anymore.

What I do know is this: Imposing what you think is fun onto your fans is not the way to go, and not listening to them is as surefire a way as any to put the last nail in your own coffin. And as Kotaku has discovered, many of its users are already beginning to get vocal about their displeasure. If Niantic continues to be the opaque developer in the age of transparent game development, then it's going to have a hard time getting back the fans that it's alienating. People who have spent money are asking for refunds, and those who have failed are putting one-star reviews and asking other dissatisfied people to do the same. 

 As a result, you have things like this making its rounds on the internet.

Also, when a guy that says stuff like this is a former Community Manager instead of current, you know something is wrong somewhere.



With Niantic's issues done, we now move on to the next thing: Pokémon GO itself. Pokémon GO is a free game, which means while it’s not pay-to-win, it certainly is pay-to-win-faster. Which, once you’ve grown numb thanks to every other free mobile game being this way, is fine. The richer faction of the three will dominate the gym battles, unless there is another with extremely dedicated Pokémon trainers with more free time than the rich faction has cash to even things out. It makes little difference in terms on an individual’s experience with the game, unless you’re the competitive type.

Another thing I do know is that Pokémon GO plays nothing like Pokémon. It’s not the turn-based game with a hyper complex stat system with strategies in place for players to either mitigate or exploit the hyper complex rock-paper-scissors system that is the many Pokémon types. What it is, on the other hand, is a game where the weaknesses and resistances of types don’t matter as much, and whoever has the Pokémon with the higher CP – and a smoother connection to the server – wins. The combat is real-time-ish, but in essence, your Pokémon are using normal attacks with a type that corresponds the the Pokémon’s, and a special meter reminiscent of fighting games. You use these for actual moves found in the actual games, but their damage values are still unlike their original counterparts.

In other words, it’s a Pokémon game in name only –names of Pokémon, names of Pokémon moves and names of the types and how they respond to one another.

Then there’s the issue with legendary Pokémon. If they work anything like the original games (distributed through events at select locations like game stores, mainly in the U.S., Europe, Japan and Hong Kong), then it’s pretty much impossible to get them. And it’s very unlikely that a game that’s aimed at getting you out of the house would let you download them off the internet like how Nintendo has been doing with some of the legendary Pokémon beginning with Generation 6 (X, Y, Alpha Sapphire, Omega Ruby).

So while there is the possibility of catching them all despite its unlikelihood, it’s certainly impossible to be the very best, like no one ever was. This is because outside of Gym Battles that have you fighting for one of the three factions against the other two, there are no individual trainer-vs-trainer battles, or even trading. This may be added in the future, but then if you’re a regular player, then you’d stand little chance against a freemium player, and none at all against one that also happens to have a lot of free time that can be used to travel around collecting Pokémon.

While it doesn’t show you the issue that I have with the combat system, here’s a pretty good roundup of how Pokémon GO isn’t actually Pokémon, in the form of an Honest Game Trailer:

Don’t get me wrong though. When it is released – and it seems likely considering what Hotlink and Grab are doing – I’ll still download the thing. It’s still something I can make use of when I arrive at an appointment early and I have lots of time to kill. But if I were to have cravings as a hardcore Pokémon fan, I’d still wait for Pokémon Sun and Moon.

And on that bombshell, adieu to y’all.

Disclaimer: The content of this blog post is the writer's own opinion, and does not reflect the views or opinions of, its affiliates or any other institution unless clearly stated.

Ian Chee

Ian Chee / Writer

Having given up his dreams of playing games for a living, he has gone for the next best thing: writing about them for a living. Or at least, whenever given the chance. Quite clearly a Japanophile, it's a wonder why he doesn't yet speak the language, although that might have something to do with the fact that he doesn't speak much in general.