I was 11, maybe 12, when Pokémon Red/Blue made its first debut on our side of the ocean, and I can vividly remember the joy it brought me – sitting with my friends during recess, talking about our latest catches, inching closer and closer to becoming the very best. Sure, we weren’t running around the park with the other kids, but we were having fun. Making memories.
Reliving our childhoods
18 years after I stepped foot in Pallet Town for the first time, it’s time to create new memories. Now I know what you’re all thinking; there have been many Pokémon games since the original, Howard! There have been, and I’ve played them all, but they’ve been…relatively the same experiences.
Pokémon GO is different, and I feel it’s the start to something much bigger – as long as Niantic doesn’t let it become another Miitomo.
Last year, we got our first glimpse at what Pokémon GO could become, and if I’m being honest for a moment, my initial thoughts were not entirely positive. No one’s going to go outside to hunt for Pokémon. It’s going to get boring fast. AR is a fad.
I was wrong. Probably.
Pokémon GO is not just a refreshing take on the IP, but an experience like none other. If you’re unfamiliar with the release, here’s a quick breakdown from The Verge.
A game changer
I can honestly say I’ve never seen a phenomenon like this before. It’s rumored that almost 10 million unique users are engaging with Pokémon GO on a daily basis – spending time outside, venturing to new places, meeting new people. Since release, my wife and I have done exactly this. We’ve spent more time outdoors in the last two weeks than we have in quite some time, and we’ve seen others do the same. I can’t tell you how many smiling families we came across who were all equally engaged in their next catch, or how many stories I’ve read about overweight teenagers who are pushing themselves to become more active. Pokémon GO isn’t just a game. It’s a lifestyle.
Don’t let this die, Niantic
Here’s what worries me. Time and time again, we’ve seen apps explode out of the gate, then slowly die off due to lack of resources and/or drive. In most cases, I couldn’t care less. This is different. It may sound silly, but Pokémon GO seriously has the potential to change how we live, and I hope Niantic and Nintendo realize this. So what’s needed to keep the momentum going?
Yes, the servers suck.
This is a given, which I’m not going to talk too much about. I honestly don’t think anyone expected a rush of players this large. The servers that Niantic have in place simply can’t handle it, and often cave under the load. This will be fixed, hopefully soon.
Let’s get [more] social
There’a already a large social aspect to Pokémon GO. I mean, it requires you to venture into the outdoors, after all, but there needs to be more. Almost every mobile game I find myself playing for longer periods of time contain some sort of friends list, with some sort of leaderboard. Bringing this functionality to Pokémon GO will not only keep people engaged, but it can continue to encourage physical activity.
Here’s where it may get frustrating. Niantic, which was an internal startup at Google, still seems handcuffed to them, hence the Google sign-in option when you first launch the app. For a social aspect to succeed, Niantic needs to incorporate at least one of the major platforms (Facebook, Twitter, etc), and possibly even a built-in system that works off of unique friend codes.
Well what about just usernames?! This may not be the best idea. With such a heavy emphasis on gym battling, which display usernames, the last thing we’d want to see is people adding strangers to verbally attack them for taking over their gym.
Trading / battling
This has already been confirmed to be on the roadmap, so there may not be a need to go deep into this, but both of these features would require a friends list, so I’m very curious to see how it’s implemented. A very dark part of me hopes that Niantic releases a two way transfer cable like in the old days. 😉
Well duh! With over 700 Pokémon now available in the standard games, this should give Niantic quite a bit to work with. I’m sure we’ll start to see new waves of Pokémon being released as the year goes on, hopefully in new and exciting ways!
Catching Pokémon with friends is fantastic, but from my experiences so far, the same Pokémon are generally available to everyone in your vicinity. In addition to the global catches, I’d love to see rare cases where a (shiny?!) Pokémon pops up that is only available to one person in a given area. This, if not already available (I don’t know for sure), would add new excitement to social gatherings!
Yeah, catching Pokémon is rewarding enough…but I want more!
- Additional Pokéballs for logging in daily
- A ‘thanking’ system for dropping Lures
A what now? I think we can all agree that Lures are valuable to trainers far and wide – well, the ones in the area, of course. Wouldn’t it be cool if we were able to ‘thank’ those that dropped them, especially if it attracted a rare Pokémon you were after? Imagine tapping on the Pokéstop that contained a Lure, then having the chance to transfer an item or some coins to the generous trainer who brought all the Pokémon to the yard.
WatchOS & Android Wear support
This addition may be an uphill battle, especially with the Pokémon GO Plus accessory coming out shortly, but being able to perform basic functions straight from my watch would be magical! Check in at Pokéstops, watch my eggs hatch, and view my inventory.
Oh, and speaking of accessories, FitBit support, anyone?!
Large, epic events
A video has been making its way around which shows a mob of people in New York, all heading towards the spawn of Vaporeon – which pretty closely resembles the epic scene at the end of the original Pokémon GO trailer. We need more of these, but organized.
Bits of code has been uncovered for a few of the original legendaries, which currently can’t be caught. Details on how they’ll become available have not been unveiled yet, but I hope it’s epic!
- Host live events in sporting stadiums or concert halls, available to thousands of trainers
- The epic battle would be broadcasted on the jumbotrons
- Smaller events could be organized all across the world
- The length of the battle would be determined by the amount of trainers actively participating
- Participants would walk away with the latest legendary
- Money could be raised for charity
With so many people coming together, Niantic/Nintendo could agree to donate all or some of the proceeds raised during these epic battles to charity.
In addition to the larger addition, many ‘quality of life’ changes can be added to the game to improve the user experience.
- Easier transferring: tap edit, tap all Pokémon you wish to transfer, go!
- Improved radar system
- Trainer switches to a bike when moving over 20 MPH
- Badges when taking over a gym
- Refresh function when the connection cuts out during action (catching Pokémon, etc)
Communication is key!
This one is big. Communication with your community is so unbelievably important – especially with a user base as large as Pokémon GO has snowballed into. When I’m not trying to catch ’em all, I’m likely playing Overwatch. Or Hearthstone. Or World of Warcraft. See a trend? I’m a huge fan of what Blizzard has some with their games, but I’m equally as big a fan of how they communicate with their fans.
Niantic has been more or less silent since launch. They’ll post from time to time on their officially Twitter accounts, but that’s it. There needs to be more!
- Respond to threads on Reddit
- Release in-depth blog posts
- Hire a community manager to create update videos
- Discuss new features that are in the works
- Ask for feedback from the community
- Explain your reasoning behind feature decisions
There’s zero excuse as to why there has been so much silence from the developers. 10 million users are ready to engage and help make Pokémon GO an even better experience. It’s time to embrace them.
Howard Pinsky – Director, Marketing at Fullscreen