Words On Wednesday

2016-07-20 Pokemon GO

Pokemon GO is finally here, and it is nothing short of sensational. Two weeks after the initial release, here’s how things stand so far.

What is it?

As the name implies, it is a Pokemon game, and Nintendo’s first mobile release, as far as I’m aware. The general premise of the game is that players physically explore, in attempts to find geocached Pokemon around the world. As you catch Pokemon, your avatar levels up and gains access to increasingly useful items.

Beta Period

Prior to its international release, Pokemon GO was in a beta period for quite a while. Japan had initial beta access, obviously. There was a small beta window for North America that I applied for, but was unable to get in. Even though Niantic had previous experience with this sort of game with Ingress, it’s still good to run a beta period to iron out any kinks and get some public feedback.

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Initial Release

As is often the case with international releases, Pokemon GO first launched the full release in New Zealand at what I assume to be the local midnight on July 6th. I first heard the news on reddit early that morning.

I learned then that most international releases begin in New Zealand because it is the first time zone past the international date line. Typically, when a release starts here, it continues around the world releasing at the same time in every time zone. As such, we assumed that everywhere in the world would be getting it that day.

Comments on reddit were abuzz with redditors from all over the world chiming in when they were able to download the game. Several people got their hands on an Australian .apk version of the app, to install it even without Play Store authorization. Some of us were cautious that such activity may result in a ban, so we waited for the official release.

I started by checking the Play Store page for Pokemon GO every 5 minutes or so. As the day went on, this frequency diminished. After I got off work at 5pm, I figured I would either start checking again in the morning, or hope that somebody would text me that the game was available. Fortunately, a coworker alerted me to the game’s availability around 9pm while I was sitting in the Cookout drive thru.

As far as I’m aware, the game is still unavailable in most if not all European countries. Maybe Niantic wanted to make sure they could handle the server load from a place as large as North America before the fully opened the game to everyone? I’m not exactly sure what their logic was, but I do feel sorry for the European countries who can’t yet play.

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Server Issues

For the first few days, the servers were down more than they were up. It appears that Niantic estimated an audience similar to the player base for Ingress. Clearly, they were horribly mistaken.

Pokemon has a HUGE following, both from those new to the series, as well as the twenty-somethings who played the first few generations as children. It’s a household name, and there is Pokemon merchandise in nearly every possible area. Games, manga, anime, cards, apparel, and everything in between.

Not only is Pokemon big in and of itself, Pokemon GO was released as free-to-play. Not “Hey, pay us $40 for this cartridge game.” Not “Pay us $10 for this mobile game.” No, FREE. People love free stuff, especially with a name like Pokemon.

Niantic should’ve taken their initial estimates and doubled them, then doubled them again, and then a few more times. I don’t think they could’ve possibly over-prepared for the release. Maybe even lease some servers to handle the initial load before the casual players ween off and they’re left with just the moderate to hardcore players.

For probably the first 3 days, getting into the game was an effort in futility. If you did get in, chances were slim that anything would actually load. If by some miracle or ritual sacrifice you were able to get in and actually play, good luck staying on for more than about 30 minutes. Several would-be trips to take gyms or hatch eggs were cut short by the fact that I couldn’t even get on.

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Other Problems

Some of the biggest issues people are having besides server problems are due to deviations from the core Pokemon series. Two of the biggest tenants of traditional Pokemon games are trading and combat. Trading, for the time being, is completely absent. Combat is present, but only inasmuch as you can attack gyms. For right now, there is absolutely no way to battle one on one with other players, whether on your own team or opposing teams.

Both of these functionalities could easily be deferred to future updates. Honestly, that’s probably a better idea until Niantic fixes server issues. Any new features are only going to add more strain on the network, which is already tremendously fragile. Their biggest priority should be making the game work flawlessly, even during peak times. I should never see the server issues screen again, with the exception of maintenance.

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Summary

Overall, Pokemon GO is a huge success so far. Aside from the server issues and staggered release schedule, people seem to be generally content with the game. I know several people personally who have dropped $20, $40, or even more on in-app purchases. With Pokemon cartridge games usually retailing at $40, I’m sure that Niantic has already covered the cost to create the game by a huge margin. Now, they just have to keep it afloat and make sure they don’t screw it up.

I’m eager to see what future updates bring. Assuming they fix the server issues completely, there are plenty of enhancements I would love to see in the game. Trading and 1v1 combat would be awesome. I’ve heard some theories that Niantic might bring in second generation pokemon next, which may even open up another 3 teams corresponding with the 3 legendary dogs. If they do create new teams, would they allow people to reselect what team they want to be on? If so, that would be a great way to create seasons within the game, so one team doesn’t maintain dominance over the entire course of the game.

Pokemon GO is certainly here to stay, at least for a while. Maybe over the course of a few months, Nintendo and Niantic will fix what’s wrong with the game and make the good things better. A game popular enough to bypass Twitter and Tinder in number of daily active users is sure to make waves. As for me, I’m going to keep trying to catch them all. I grew up playing Pokemon, and I don’t plan on putting it down any time soon.

Meta:

Words: 1138 | Characters: 6392 | Sentences: 67

Paragraphs: 24 | Reading Level: 11-12th Grade

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