Pokémon Go: A Year On

One year ago, something happened that shifted video game history itself. A particular mobile game was released, one that attracted so many people that a crash of servers left many unable to begin what would ultimately turn into an obsession, be it short or long lived. I am, of course, referring to Pokémon Go.

Joining Game of Thrones, Brexit and Marmite, Pokémon Go became a phenomenon that everybody seemed to have an opinion on, be it good or bad. No matter where you went or who you spoke to, Pokémon Go always held a presence, be it from mobile-wielding trainers stumbling around in the rain, to snide jokes about still being a child at the age of twenty-five. But now, a year on, what have we to look back on? References to the game have dropped to nil, so it seems sensible to ask: can it be classed as a success? What has happened since that first manic month? And what can we expect from the future?

First of all, let’s consider the simply incredible financial impact Pokémon Go had. At a time when everybody was jumping on the bandwagon, Nintendo seemed to be at the centre of a money storm as stock values experienced the highest rise since 1983. And yet, a month later, these stock values had plummeted back when Nintendo had to say, on no uncertain terms, that their income from the game was minor, simply due to the fact that Niantic were the main developers and receivers of profit. Whilst these stocks did remain higher than before, the real profit for Nintendo came from the big boost in attention it received, starting with a mass boost to other Pokémon game sales.

By the end of November, Nintendo released Pokémon Sun and Moon, and, unsurprisingly, they ended up breaking sales records for Pokémon games. Several months later, the Nintendo Switch arrived, a console that saw a much greater pool of attention that many attributed to the company’s rise in profile that started with Pokémon Go. And let’s not beat around the bush: the Switch has been a real success, so it seems Nintendo are pushing from strength to strength. They even announced an in-development Pokémon RPG for the console at E3, something that will surely benefit from the burst of love the mobile game received, even if it does appear years later.

But what about Niantic? Whilst Pokémon Go experienced a big drop off in players over the New Year, Niantic devoted plenty of attention to improving safety, security, content and popularity issues on the game. It took a while, but Pokémon Go finally found its way to most parts of the globe, and the power it held to lure people to specific locations drew attention from multiple brands, including Starbucks and McDonalds, both of whom made deals to promote the game and use their restaurants and cafes as Gyms and Pokestops. Certain locations, particularly in Japan, even started serving Pokémon themed meals and drinks.

After breaking Apple’s App Store record for most downloads in a single week, Niantic also set out with the wearable version of the game, designed to make it easier to hunt for Pokémon without needing a phone in hand all the time, although by the time of its release in September, it probably didn’t receive as much attention as it could have gotten a month or so earlier.

Elsewhere, Niantic had to work with various locations to ensure security measures were met. Pokémon Go exposed a rather crucial problem with a virtual reality format designed to get people outside, namely that certain areas are not meant to be accessed. Yes, even when there are rare Pokémon inside.

“Suffice to say, Niantic is still putting full effort into the game.”

From high profile security sites to disaster memorials and places of religious worship; Pokémon Go seemed to get everywhere it shouldn’t. But at least it got people outside for a bit, even if they were glued to their phones 24/7.

Finally, Niantic set out to place focus on events, and as June arrived this year, there was the first announcement for a real-life Pokémon Go-fest, designed to bring people together to celebrate the anniversary of the game. Arriving on July 22nd for those of you still playing, the event is designed to encourage players to support those in Chicago who are trying to unlock perks for everybody around the world, with perks lasting longer the more Pokémon are caught in total worldwide during the time period. Anybody still playing can check it out and maybe benefit. Suffice to say, Niantic is still putting full effort into the game.

And what about the content itself? The chief complaints early in the game’s life were thus: not enough Pokémon, too easy for cheaters, bad setup for Gyms and Pokestops, and faulty mechanics. It seems Niantic have taken all of these seriously, and as the year pushed on, each was granted equal attention.

As far as cheaters were concerned, Niantic took a very serious stance on preventing people from using third party technology to make life easier. And by this I don’t just mean using map tools, bots and GPS manipulation, but also drones and other methods to avoid the actual going outside part of the game. As far as laziness goes, that’s pretty far up there. By now, any cheaters that are caught are either banned or have their gameplay experience significantly diminished, but in an age where technology is on the rise, it seems almost impossible for the company to keep up the countermeasures perfectly.

In terms of mechanics, Gyms and Pokestops were given a major overhaul a few times, now introducing new ways to play the game and show off what you’ve found, the most recent update arriving on June 19th. As well as this, back in February, Niantic added an enormous amount of Pokémon from the Johto region, one of the biggest demands from players early on. And whilst it might not mean much to the millions who’ve abandoned it by now, this shows that the company really are trying their best to retain the immense popularity it had upon launch, no matter how futile a task that may be.

So what about the future of Pokémon Go? Well, as the Chicago event in a week shows, Niantic have no desire to let the game slow down and falter, even if more and more people do keep dropping off. Whilst it’s hard to say exactly what they will do, it seems to be quite likely they’ll continue to enhance the mechanics and technological aspects they already have whilst seeking to add new features, such as an in demand trading method and one-on-one battle system. With every little addition that boosts quality, there’s a chance that Niantic may be able to strike further gold in association with Nintendo and other brands to respark what made Pokémon Go so popular to start with, even if it has practically no hope of reaching the lofty heights of its early life. And, of course, if all else fails, they can still release new in-game items and Pokémon… it’s not like there’s over seven-hundred to choose from these days…

Ultimately, Pokémon Go has shown that a new format of gameplay combined with a popular and much loved fad can surprise even the most stone-hearted of people, and yet it has also shown just how hard it is to keep a fanbase going in the broad world of video games. Virtual Reality is still quite up in the air in terms of potential and cost, but Pokémon Go has shown it can work to some lengths, even if it suffers the short-longed lifespan of most new ventures these days. To this extent, it simply must be deemed a success, on both developer and player standards alike.

Whether or not you will actually be able to ‘catch them all’, however, remains to be seen…

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