Pokemon GO – what’s the big deal?

I was skeptical from the beginning, months ago, when I first heard about Pokemon GO. Now everybody is playing it and it tops the rankings both on Google Play and iTunes. Naturally, (being a geek) I was able to play it before it was officially launched in UK.

So ... what's so special about Pokemon GO?

Pokémon Go is a free-to-play location-based augmented reality mobile game developed by Niantic and published by The Pokémon Company as part of the Pokémon franchise. 
Niantic are no strangers to me, I am playing their game Ingress for more than 2 years. I expected Pokemon GO to be an improvement and to bring new things but ...

Location-based gameplay

While the concept itself seems very futuristic, it has been around for years in Ingress (and some other games).  It was there if anybody wanted to try it but it seems it lacked a bunch of monsters to run after. The map in Pokemon GO is a skinned version of Ingress as you can see below. The two images are captured form the same position on the map and, as you can see, only some Ingress portals were ported to the new game as pokestops.
Ingress

Ingress

Pokemon GO

Pokemon GO

Virtual reality

When you catch a Pokemon you have the option to do it in a virtual reality environment. The image of the pokemon will be superimposed over the camera image giving the impression that the monster is part of the real world. Again, that's not new, here is how McVitie's used it in their iKitten app.
iKitten

iKitten

Pokemon GO

Pokemon GO

Anyway, as soon you level up a bit, you realise that turning this feature off makes it much easier to catch the beasts. While in AR mode they will try to snap to different surfaces in the real world and move all over the screen. With it turned off, the pokemons will stay in the centre of your screen.

Free-to-play but pay-to-win

Yes the game is free to play but it offers in-app items that will help you level up without walking at all. You can literally sit in your bed, buy some pokeballs, incense, potions, lucky eggs and voila: use incense and they will come to you, combine it with some lucky eggs and double your points.

IMG_2234

You will probably not catch any rare beasts this way but that's not a requirement for levelling up. Which brings us to another useless thing in the game:

PokeGyms and battles

Considering the huge number of players and the existence of three factions, is almost impossible to control a gym for large periods of time. It takes a lot of time to fight and win a Gym and for what? Increasing its' level? Yes, maybe, but the paying players will have stronger pokemons most of the time and will be able to easily take over it. Having pokemons in gyms will give you a small amount of pokecoins as a reward from time to time but not enough to help you compete with the paying players.

There is no kind of  ranking system that will motivate you to fight for your team, making the gym level and the team colour not really important for a player.

Players and communities

These need some work as well. Currently you can only see other players' name and level. There are a lot of badges you can unlock but what's the use if you are the only one to see them? You cannot contact another player and I don't think it will ever be possible due to personal security reasons. There are a lot of children playing Pokemon GO and you don't want your local paedophile to use the game for catching other things than pokemons, do you?

Teaming up with your friends and going hunting can be fun but there's no actual strategy involved, no planning and no clear objective other than capturing a gym. And that's not a good enough objective - see above.

Another feature that is missing is trading pokemons with other players. It is rumoured to be introduced soon and I can see a lot of players selling beasts and making good money out of it.

 


 

I've played it for about a week and I got to level 15 with ease in two or three days. I have 50 pokemons in my pokedex and a backpack filled with items.  I'm bored with it now and don't see myself engaging more with the game in the future.

Anyway, there are some things I like about Pokemon GO: first of all it's a gold mine for Niantic. A piece of that cake is bound to go into improving Ingress even more. Second, there will be a fair number of  Pokemon GO players that will want to "evolve" sooner or later from playing with furry monsters to making fields and conquer the world.

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