Gaming General Geekery

Pokemon GO – Bad game, great experience

Scott Cabot, developer of Animal Snap, is a great friend of D1DLC. He was the first person we interviewed, joined us on an AVCon Panel and even disagreed with Brad and lived to tell the tale. He’s written words about Pokemon GO for us and they’re good. You should read them. 

I had an interesting experience with Pokèmon GO recently which made me reflect on the game as a whole and why I think its appeal has lasted longer in the public consciousness than many expected. Of course everyone will have their own reasons as to why they either like or dislike anything but I thought it would be worth sharing my thoughts as someone who was vehemently negative about Pokèmon GO but has since changed his tune somewhat.

I should point out that most of my negativity surrounding the game was the implementation of core mechanics and overall lack of gameplay. At its core Pokèmon GO is a very poorly constructed product, that most definitely could improve over time, but has short comings in many areas. These include simple quality of life changes. Why can’t egg incubation follow the tried as tested pedometer method of calculating total steps? It requires less data usage and allows people who take advantage of treadmills or inside activity to still get use of the game without having to walk long distances. I’ve heard arguments that pedometers are easy to cheat with, and they are, but in 2016 setting up fake GPS location data isn’t hard either. There are already websites available that will “walk” your Pokèmon for you. The catching mechanic feels clunky and doesn’t always react the way the user would expect, the AR is novel at best and the insane battery usage and phone requirements (minimum 2GB of ram….seriously?) make the game run at a crawl on older devices. Don’t even get me started on needing the screen open the whole time, aren’t push notifications just the norm now? I’ll give them a pass for the shaky server authentication in the first few weeks, that is run of the mill for big releases in this day and age.

These to me scream sloppy design, particularly from a company that have already made a successful geocached game before. Even more frustrating being that users are willing to overlook these inherent flaws, or perhaps even acknowledge them yet continue to play. This has always perplexed me, does the general public not care for good design? Are they used to playing Shovel-ware on mobile devices or is there more going on here?

We can’t deny the enormity of Pokèmon as a franchise, from hardcore to casual fans there are a large number of people who feel fondly about their digital pocket monsters, particularly those from the first series. This love is not only nostalgic either as it spans many generations of Pokèmon fan. The beauty about Pokèmon GO as a game is that anyone can start catching Pokèmon as soon as they want for absolutely no investment. The game costs nothing to play and users already own the device needed to run the software. It cuts out the need for an expensive handheld such as a 3DS and the extra baggage that comes from playing a “real” Pokèmon game. Fandom and low barrier to entry make for a very powerful combination.

But what specifically changed my mind about the game?

I have one friend outside of those I know “from the industry” that I would call a gamer. He has a PS4, buys all the big releases and genuinely wants to talk about games and game news when we are together. He’s recently gotten into Pokèmon GO, particularly on his commute, and he convinced me to go down to Glenelg with him today and get deep into someone Pokèmon catching. We spent 3 hours walking around Glenelg hatching eggs, taking advantage of all the Pokèstops and even catching a Pikachu! But what I noticed most about the game is that I wasn’t playing it like a traditional game at all. Sure we would get excited about finding a Pokèmon we didn’t have, we high fived when we both got that Pikachu and a Kadabra. I also walked 8km, with a head cold that isn’t a fantastic idea, but I’m not even here to talk about the merits of physical activity (seriously though, do it, it is good for you). What dawned on me was that the game wasn’t taking me out of the real world at all. It was enhancing what was already there. The sun was out briefly today, the company was fantastic and we were able to look at the beautiful view Glenelg had to offer. It just also happened to offer some cool Pokèmon too. When played socially this game becomes far more than the sum of its parts. My friend would get excited when I added a Pokèmon to my Pokèdex that I hadn’t seen before and we would joke about who got a Squirtle in less tries (it was me, first time every time). Perhaps the beauty of Pokèmon GO is that it is such a sparse game. That there really is no game at all, but that we can choose to enhance our day by giving it an added side quest or to provide a reason to push forth and see parts of the foreshore we haven’t in some time.

I had another friend tell me they hit up a Pokèstop last week and they had never noticed the sculpture there before and they actually stopped to pay attention to it. I don’t believe that the zeitgeist around this game is about the game at all. I think it has caused people to become more traditionally social. This game can’t be played through lobbies over an internet connection. If you and your friend both want that Pikachu you both have to be standing in the right spot at the right time. Being able to have such stimulating analogue experiences is, in my eyes, what makes Pokèmon GO great. I think it is fair to dismiss the game as a sub-par product and I hear you loud and clear but I think its power has been connecting people in a way that our “social networks” don’t anymore. Sure we still have that weird psychology that makes us want to collect things and make numbers go up, but I believe those that truly love this game do so because they don’t play it in isolation.

Niantic you may have your flaws but if you keep patching this thing and work out the kinks you might just be onto something.


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