Whatever Wednesdays – Pokémon Go Edition
***Slight update 7-13-2016 @ ~ 6:30 PST (fixed a few links, added a little more information)
Pokémon Go was released on July 6th, 2016 and has generated a lot of media coverage:
‘Pokémon Go’ Craze Raises Safety Issues – Wall Street Journal
One thing is for certain though… Nintendo (and Niantic) are doing very, very well from Pokémon Go. (TL;DR – ~$1.6 million in revenue DAILY)
So what is Pokémon Go?
To be honest, I’m no expert. Pokémon was slightly after my time. However, my little brother was part of the full Pokémon thing in his day, with the original 151, Mewtwo and all. He happened to be visiting me this last week and so I started playing with him. Mind you, I’ve never played the original Pokémon or its many sequels or spinoffs. However, I do know of the back story at least a little. Ash is a kid who wants to be a pokémon trainer, the very best, like no one ever was, and so he sets off to capture all of them. Seems pretty simple right?
This game is addictive. Like… very addictive. But the real question is why?
So I asked my little brother what about the game makes it so addictive… and so… GOOD… and WARM AND FUZZY… and FUN and here is his response verbatim:
– easy to get into
– everyone has a smartphone
– easy sense of achievement
– low learning curve
– social interaction
– part of a sub culture
– easy to explain and understand
– you can play for a little or a long time
– older generations are familiar with pokemon
– something to do with idle time
– pokemon transcends every age group, race, gender
– easy barrier of entry
He is right on all counts.
However, I think there is something deeper that Pokémon provides otherwise the above probably isn’t enough for its continued success throughout the years.
Pokémon, at its very core is about a community of people who like catching and raising “animals”. If you add in the randomness of catching the Pokémon as well as some additional randomness about the particular abilities they come with, which even change when they evolve… then you have a continually compounding element of randomness. This “randomness” is playfully called RNG which means Random Number Generator. However, it has a distinct connotation when used in the video game world, as you can read its urban dictionary definition. This kind of randomness with the potential for a “jackpot” of a Charizard with the perfect complement of skills is enough to keep people playing even when they’ve seen their 500th Pidgey. Then, you throw in the competitive aspect of the game in which you can take over gyms and I assume eventually fight other players.
Pokémon has always managed to walk this fine line of creating a community where everyone helps each other out but yet are very competitive amongst one another. This doesn’t really make sense at first until you understand that hurting other players does not help you in any way. In fact, all Pokémon games encouraged trading between each other in order for people to “catch ’em all”. In the later Pokémon versions, you had to buy split versions of the game in order to “catch ’em all”. An example of this is the Pokémon Red, Blue and Yellow versions.
This idea of a competitive, but sharing environment, is a cornerstone to Pokémon in my opinion. By adding on randomness (RNG), which provides a very similar sensation/emotion to “hitting a jackpot” when gambling, as well as the competitive nature between trainers, and you have a game with a strong community and long life. I honestly can not think of any other game that has been able to replicate this same trifecta, except for Diablo II.
What’s Diablo II?
To give you an idea of that game’s staying power, it was originally released June 29, 2000 and just this last March, on March 11, 2016 it received its most recent patch (1.14a). Diablo II is considered such a masterpiece that there are whispers of an HD Remaster. Some would point to the “gambling” sensation that Diablo II incites because of the super low chances of finding a Unique item, such as a Windforce, were absurdly low. However, I believe Diablo II’s community played a big part in how successful it was/is.
Back to Pokémon Go… those cornerstones are simply the foundation of the game… the “idea” if you will.
All of the above aspects my little brother outlined are the “execution” of the game. There were an infinite number of ways to build Pokémon Go. Honestly, you could have just rushed the product out and slapped some Pokémon in it and people STILL would have downloaded it, probably even have paid money for it. However, you would lose customers if your game wasn’t very good, and any network effects that the game could have had, you relinquished for the quick cash grab. Niantic didn’t do this.
Nintendo may get all the credit for Pokémon, but honestly Niantic is really the company that should get the credit for Pokémon Go.
It is pretty obvious that these Niantic guys studied Pokémon like crazy. I wouldn’t be surprised if their whole team needed to play at least the original Pokémon on Gameboy (or an Emulator) from start to finish and catch all 151. In fact, they probably split their office into “teams” to see who could catch all 151 first. They needed to dissect and distill it down to its foundation which I described above and then rebuild it for the mobile platform… and then they even added Google Maps and GPS on top of it for the immersive effect. They even managed to leverage the data from their prior game Ingress to mark the pokéstops and gyms and such. In case you didn’t know, you can use the Ingress data to help you find Pokéstops and such as detailed in this reddit thread.
They got all of it right.
How can you tell that they got all of it right? It’s very simple. Even when the servers go down or the pokéball stalls AGAIN when I’m trying to catch a Growlithe, I may whine and moan and curse their bad servers.. but the truth of the matter is that I am just disappointed. I’m not mad at Niantic, I’m just mad at the situation, because when it comes down to it, I know that any team that puts this much care into their game is doing their best to keep the servers up to keep all SEVEN MILLION OF US happy. Niantic didn’t just take Pokémon and “make it mobile”… it was ALREADY mobile when it came out on the original Gameboy. Niantic took it and made it immersive, and made you feel like you were in a different world with an overlapping of two worlds.
Pokémon Go is a game-changer. Probably even more of a game-changer than VR.
This article talks about how Pokémon Go is just the beginning… and I think he is right. He likens Pokémon Go’s Alternate Reality (AR) and Oculus Rift’s Virtual Reality (VR) to an escape from reality. However, I don’t think this is necessarily true. I think of it as giving us the ability to experience things we might not be able to experience. I don’t think people play Counterstrike and go for headshots because they want to escape from reality and be thrown into a warzone… I think it’s because while they may or may not actually ever fire a gun in real life, they would like that experience or pseudo-experience.
Pokémon Go is a monster. It is the classic idea x execution multiplicative action.
It remains to be seen whether it can hold the attention of the United States and the rest of the World, after an inevitable cooling off period within the next few weeks or a month when things begin to grow stale. However, if Niantic is as smart as I think they are, I think they are already ready for when that happens to recapture our attention again… and again.
What do you think Niantic’s next step will be?
I think their next step will be some form of enhanced competition. The current gym setting probably isn’t enough. I see them implementing some kind of leaderboard, maybe local, state, regional, and national leaderboards. Maybe a recurring week-long competition that people can enter with a prize at the end. They may even implement “ladder” or “seasons” as they are called now, that Diablo II and Diablo III have used respectively, where everyone is reset to zero and starts from the beginning for a certain period of time.
If they are really just going for money, then they can just implement an auction house where people can buy and trade Pokémon, and they simply take a % fee. However, this created big problems for Diablo III back in the day and created a sub-economy based on botters as well as a “pay to win” stigma that plagued it for such a long time that it never fully recovered.
Overall, I think Niantic is smarter than me, so they probably already had this all figured out even before they even launched the game.
Will you keep playing Pokémon Go once your little brother leaves?
Probably not. He actually just left today. However, it’ll probably stay on my phone and I may mess around with it once in awhile to see what’s around me. Maybe I will get a Charizard one day.
No TL;DR this time since it’s my opinions. Just browse the above.
Agree? Disagree? Questions, Comments and Suggestions are welcome.
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