— The 3 Deep Content Developments That the Augmented Reality GameChanger Needs To Stay a Giant
Raising Nintendo’s stock by 25%, eclipsing Tinder and (maybe even) Twitter in user activity, and skyrocketing to the number one spot in Android and App stores within a single day— it’s hard to call Pokemon GO anything other than a roaring success. I’ve been playing the game since the night it launched in the US and it’s already made me walk more willingly in the past 4 days than I have in the last 6 months. I’ve sat at parks in Manhattan for hours because of lures, eschewed subways to walk for Pokestops, and poured through endless Google searches for tips and tricks to play — so I’m a fan.
But being a gamer my entire life, I’ve seen my fair share of releases and hype to notice that Pokemon GO is not without its flaws — no, not the frequent server crashes or easy to point out bugs. But ones which if left unchecked, will leave it as just a July hype-train and nothing more.
1. The Game Needs Greater Inter-Player Interaction
Niantic has already stated that trading is in the works. But that’s not enough. Though trading with friends was one of the great appeals of the classic handheld game, it would be foolhardy to say that it was anything near the importance of battling. With the Pokemon trading card tournament scene, online team simulators, and even titles like Pokemon Stadium, it’s hard to ignore the competitive elements of the game.
Some might say that it already exists with gyms, but this just isn’t true. Though gyms are competed over by players, the battles themselves are against AI. This is due to time and convenience constraints since we can’t expect defenders to physically camp at their locations, but it removes what was a very human part of the game. Even if you could argue that the human and strategy of battling has become planning widescale logistical campaigns for your team, that has its own packet of issues: requiring a dedicated community to orchestrate it, being feasible only by the very fervently committed, and still lacking the individual fulfillment of a battle won by self, for self.
Potential Fix: Adding the ability to trade is just a salve, not a cure. Neither is adding battle. What the Niantic team really needs to figure out is how to utilize the incredibly powerful moments they’ve created with Pokestop lures. They need to find a way to transform those incredibly serendipitous real life gatherings into meaningful continued interactions in the game. The internet is already abuzz with the friendships and relationships made at these gatherings — why not ease the process?
This is almost single-handedly the most powerful feature of the game. The lure has allowed amazing things to happen, now encourage them to stay alive. Add in-game chat. Create a friend network. Make it so that eggs hatch faster when in a group with friends (more bodies to warm them, am I right?).
Niantic has created a reason for people to connect, now make one for them to stay that way.
2. Deeper Content and Greater Achievements to Spur Continued Engagement
So people collect Pokemon. The majority will be easy to find, the rest will take a bit more time and effort to evolve. But what then? Only the most committed will continue to comb cities for the 3 Pokemon they’re missing, most will likely just give up. What will keep them in the game? Sure you can continue to release new Pokemon (and that’s exactly how the handheld game continues to engage players), but that’s admitting stagnation. Right now things are great and players can explore the world and interact with it in some limited ways. But give them enough time and they’re are going to get bored in lieu of any greater objective.
That’s why every single popular social game that’s been launched into the world scene has Player-versus-Player tournaments or rankings. That’s why Pokemon itself has always had mechanics beyond the Elite Four like EV Training and Nature Breeding. They know that the achievement aspects of the game will be done quickly, and there needs to be a robust suite of competitive things to do after it to keep the players engaged and invested.
Gyms don’t fulfill this role simply because no one knows you even have one. There are no exclusive rewards for the winning color team. Right now, we don’t even know what color is winning — which though might prevent bias from starters picking a color, is lousy for the competitive spirit.
Potential Fix: Honestly, I’m not a fan of splitting the entire player base into 3 overarching teams. Though it ramps up unity in the beginning, it fails to draw the loyalty and fervor of a small close-knit group formed organically. What was really missed was the opportunity to allow groups/leagues to be created and formed, allowing ad-hoc Pokestop lure gatherings to become spontaneous party creations and real life friends. But this can still happen.
Allow small parties/leagues to form under the same color umbrella. Create events that pit these parties collaboratively against each other but even more so against the other colors. Award parties with real territory and real rewards. Let these small leagues message each other to scheme, coordinate, and compete against each other. One of the most sticky features a game or product can have is community — but communities created forcefully or grown too big are doomed to fail.
Furthermore, allow certain information to be public. Maybe make a map that highlights the area (or even the country!) by gym team ownership. Broadcast when a team overtakes another in number of gyms. Make announcements when a rival team overtakes a friendly local one so that players can rush out to take it back. Create rewards so that there’s greater purpose to gym ownership. Make regional rankings for small groups, and have the number one party become the Elite 4 of that neighborhood that people can challenge.
3. Content Needs To Be Evenly Geographically Distributed
I live in the suburbs — as does 53% of America. What this means is that there are very few Pokestops in my neighborhood… and even fewer gyms. If that were it however, this wouldn’t be a problem. The problem is that this is the same everywhere except super busy cities — and that’s saying something because though I say suburb, I’m still within the confines of what can be called New York City. For me, I can simply take a bus stop and arrive in the Mecca of PokeStops (Manhattan) within an hour or so. But not everyone has the same luxury — especially not for a game.
Though the goal and hope for the game is physical exploration by the players, the experience has so far shown to be extremely slanted for people depending on where they live. Someone living and working in the suburbs simply has no opportunity to go to these busier locations. That means that they hit their respective content peak extremely early: that the few Pokemon they see in the limited zones they travel through will be the only ones they’ll ever see. The lack of Pokestops also means a lack of supplies, raising the difficulty. The lack of gyms means a lack of purpose, reducing content.
Potential Fix: This is a hard one. How can you encourage exploration and social gathering but still provide enough of a rewarding and progressing experience to suburban players? My idea is rotating spawn points. In the classic games, we knew where we could expect to find what Pokemon. Rattata would be in the early stage tall grass, but never in the latter areas. Besides legendaries, Pokemon spawns were designated and set in stone.
But we don’t have to stick with that system. Pokemon exist in the real world now, let them migrate like real animals. Switch up the monsters that spawn in areas every now and then. This shouldn’t be too hard to do since things like rain and night already affect what Pokemon show up, we just have to do it in a larger scale.
Another fix is to reinstate the Point of Interest submission feature that Ingress had. With so many more users, it’d be a terrible waste to not utilize the volunteered information so many people would be dying to give. The only issue is processing the information, but I’m more than confident that there is an army of people out there ready to do it just for their love of the game.
I love Pokemon GO
And so does the world right now. But we have to keep looking forward to make sure that the game has real content so that it can survive the inevitable time when the newness of it dies down. Niantic has done a phenomenal job so far, but it needs to continue to be innovative in designing the game mechanics beyond just the Augmented Reality features.
P.S: Oh, and hey. If anyone from Niantic is reading, I’d love to talk more about your amazing game.