It’s one thing watching the tidal wave of online news confirming Pokemon GO is now a global phenomenon, but last weekend I got to see it in person for the first time. The local park was hosting a craft fair, so a group of friends and I decided to go along, have a picnic, and take advantage of the two PokeStops and PokeGyms located there. It was already busy by the time we arrived as groups sat near the PokeStop that had an active lure module. People were smiling, laughing, and playing football before rushing back to their phones. It was refreshing and breathtaking seeing people of different ages and backgrounds come together in a way I have never seen before.
It’s a reflection of how Pokemon GO’s success is a result of the perfect storm. The combination of the Pokemon brand – an already established global phenomenon – with the treasure hunting aspect of geocaching and basic augmented reality features was always going to be appealing to the gamer demographic, but even the most positive forecasts have been exceeded. The timing of the app’s release coinciding with the summer holidays has been a huge factor too, giving many players the time to venture outdoors. Friends and family who have watched others hunt down the virtual creatures have also gotten involved thanks to the app being free to play, and its simplistic gameplay mechanics have kept them hooked.
The cute designs of the Pokemon haven’t hurt, either.
In some ways, I’m reminded of when I first started playing World of Warcraft. The rush to become the very best like no-one ever was (sorry, that won’t happen again), the eagerness to explore the world, the never-ending search for the rarest loot, and the playful if occasionally aggressive competitiveness between sides – all familiar aspects from Blizzard’s MMO. Ratattas and Pidgeys have become the new common loot, for example, and as such are congregating at the bottom of my garden. It makes sense, though, because comparatively, you wouldn’t have expected a rare item to drop around Northshire Abbey.
Even the server issues are something all MMOG veterans can relate to, but it has been amusing seeing non-gamers experience familiar emotions with Pokemon GO. I smiled upon seeing comments like “I was just about to walk to the shops!” and “My egg is so close to being hatched!” whilst sympathising with “A rare Pokemon has just popped up as well!” There has even been the old classic “I’m going to fall behind!” It’s frustrating, but technical difficulties are a reality of online gaming, let alone something that at one point reported had 64 million players simultaneously overloading the servers.
That said, at least many of them won’t experience the horror that is server queues. *shudder*
The great joy that has spawned has been followed by misery, though. The usual counter-push by naysayers and sceptics has arrived like clockwork, referring to stories such as people being lured into nefarious ambushes or trapped in mine shafts, or run over because they weren’t paying attention to traffic, or putting up signs telling players to stay off their property and instead go to a pub because they need to “get a life.” A lot of that is down to a lack of common sense, but despite the fact there will also be idiots out there the truth is that it’s a minority causing the ruckus.
I guess it’s all relative, but the way I see it Pokemon GO has done two amazing things. Firstly, it has taken a traditionally indoor medium and popularised its outdoor potential. After all, Augmented Reality games have been around for years, but none have had the brand recognition of Pokemon attached to become mainstream (similar to how World of Warcraft gave MMORPGs mainstream appeal.) Secondly, it has encouraged players to engage and learn about the environment around them. By this, I mean attending local events that they normally wouldn’t have made the effort to go to, or enjoy local parks that they haven’t been to in months. It goes beyond that thanks to PokeStops and Gyms not only be associated with places of worship but being placed upon monuments and artwork. Case in point – I knew of one war memorial near to my house, but thanks to Pokemon GO I learned there was a second one not too far away.
And as they say, knowledge is power, folks.
It’s important to note that, in many respects, Pokemon GO isn’t a very good game. The RNG (random number generation for you non-gamers) associated with every Pokemon makes it impossible to truly plan ahead, and the grind to achieve anything is certainly real regardless of if you travel a lot. The gameplay mechanics range between incredibly simplistic and annoyingly under-explained, especially when it comes to tracking Pokemon and fighting in Gyms. Still, it’s the simplicity of catching Pokemon that is the real draw, as well as encouraging the collectors in all of us. The brand’s tagline is “Gotta Catch ‘em All!” for a reason.
While the initial success of the game is evident, having topped most Top Grossing App lists within ours of being released in a territory, the big question is whether Pokemon GO will enjoy any longevity. Outside of the endless struggle for Gym dominance and getting all 150 Pokemon, there really isn’t anything else to achieve. Hopefully, developers Niantic will bring in features such as trading and duelling at some point, even if they have heavy restrictions placed upon them. It’s unrealistic to think they will add more functionality beyond that as the main 3DS games need to remain the focus of the franchise (not to mention any additions would potentially add more stress to the already delicate servers.) At the very least, Pokemon GO has created a summer event that many will not only cherish, but will want to replicate in the future. Whether that is possible remains to be seen, but in the meantime, I’ve got a bunch of smug-looking Eevees that need balls throwing at them.
The Ratattas can damn well remain homeless, though.