It seems that every millennial has been running around trying to catch them all. The app has already been downloaded more times than Tinder, increased Nintendo’s value over $7 billion, and received huge coverage from just about every media publication. Stores are putting up signs that read “Pokémon for paying customers only.” Police departments are telling people that they can catch Pokémon perfectly fine outside of law enforcement buildings. And I’ve got tons of argument to understand it might be the game everybody was waiting for: making friends in IRL, a game to make exercise after all, nostalgic feelings about your first experiences with the characters…it sounds like a sweet chemistry for success.
But how long will this last? Because as ubiquitous as Pokémon Go is at the moment, there are a number of issues with the technology and design. This isn’t the first mobile game to completely capture the public’s attention. And its predecessors eventually fell by the cultural wayside weeks later. Remember Flappy Bird? 2048? Candy Crush? Words with Friends? Farmville? Nintendo’s previous big mobile game, Miitomo, blew up for a week before everybody just got bored of it. Despite its popularity, Pokémon Go is not a well-designed game. Its only real mechanics are walking and swiping, and the reward mechanics are screwed up. Unlike previous games in which a Pokémon’s rarity correlated with its strength, in Go, the strength is dependent on how many times you collect a particular Pokémon. And despite what I said about friendship, Pokémon Go is surprisingly just a single-player game. You can only see your avatar, so even if hundreds of other trainers are around you, they won’t show up on your screen. There’s no way to chat in game or even trade Pokémon, the very mechanism the franchise was built on. Players can only interact with each other through gym battles, but even then you can’t actively play against someone; you have to just leave a Pokémon in a location so people passing by can fight it independently.
It doesn’t complement a walk through the park or a hangout with friends; it supplants that activity in favor of itself. Pokémon Go also happens to be an incredibly selfish game. Unlike other apps that can run in the background and send push notifications, the game requires that you look at your phone at all times, eating up data and battery. It doesn’t complement a walk through the park or a hangout with friends; it supplants that activity in favor of itself.
Given all this, it’s amazing that such a strong social culture has sprung up, completely organically, around this game. However, that’s a testament to the strength of the Pokémon brand, and the memories the young generation still have for it, rather than the game itself. And nostalgia and novelty only get you so far. Niantic, the game’s developer, already has plans for biweekly updates, which will include trading and new ways to interact with checkpoints and gyms. But to keep this game relevant, Niantic will ultimately need to refine the social element. Adding a friend’s list and chat element would help users keep in touch and create more of an incentive to play the game. Adding other means of interaction, like battling, would open up new avenues of play. Maybe there could be a way to expand the gym system so there are local clubhouses that encourage in-person meet-ups and blend with plans for sponsored locations.
I really hope these potential updates come out in time. Gathering together at midnight in a local park over the weekend is a great experience to be living somehow. Hopefully, next week going to the park and finding you trying to catch Pokémon will not be a lonely experience.