Tobold's Blog
Friday, July 22, 2016
Pokemon No Go

It is rare that general media report about a new game coming out. But Pokemon Go made a big splash, bringing Nintendo's Pokemon brand to mobile phones and in a game with newsworthy features like augmented reality, which can provide funny screenshots that even non-gamers can laugh about. Add some stories about people having accidents due to walking while watching their screen, getting into trouble trespassing to catch a rare Pokemon, or moving from virtual gym battles to real world fisticuffs, and you got enough to fill a newspaper during the dull summer period. The game getting to nearly 10 million players in a few days helps too. But is it actually a good game?

Personally I don't think it is. First of all the game has some serious technical problems. If you consider it as some sort of MMO you'll probably not be surprised that there are server problems at launch. But even if the game runs you'll quickly find out that Pokemon Go is pushing the envelope of what a smart phone is capable of. The battery drain is enourmous, and it is also consuming quite a lot of data. I am currently on holiday, and while a game that requires you to walk around and visit real world landmarks sounds like a perfect fit for a holiday, it isn't if you consider expensive data roaming charges.

But what about the game? Well, there isn't actually much game here. You walk around and find Pokemon, which you catch by flicking a virtual ball at them. You get those balls and eggs by walking to real world landmarks marked on your map. You can also get Pokemon from those eggs, which you incubate by walking around. And then you can exchange your lowel Pokemon for "candy", which you use to level up your higher level Pokemon of the same type. Finally you can walk to a gym and beat up other players' Pokemon to capture that gym in a system that gives a whole new meaning to the term "open world PvP".

I would imagine this focus on running around a lot has health benefits, unless you walk in front of a bus while catching a Pokemon. But as gameplay goes it isn't terribly interesting. Catching Pokemon with the augmented realit camera on looks cool, but the actual gameplay is trivial enough. And the PvP is of the absolutely worst kind, with a strong impact on the combat power (kind of level) of your Pokemon and new players pretty much unable to capture gyms from hardcore players several hundred levels above them.

After playing for a few days, enough to form an educated opinion, I uninstalled Pokemon Go. Unless you are a huge Pokemon fan, I can't really recommend the game. However you might want to try it a bit for free to see for yourself what all the fuzz is about.

A bunch of people in my office are playing this game....enough so I had to set some rules on it. None of the people obsessed with PG that I know are "gamers" in the sense you and I are, and they find this game fascinating. My wife and son, both of whom are gamers of their own sort, love this game.

This is definitely a game....possibly a very good one, but not for the target demographic you and I occupy. I think that for this game to occupy a space where I'd find it enjoyable, it would have to move away from the vastly larger space of general interest it currently occupies. Right now, I have co-workers who find my obsession with FPs multiplayer and titles like Destiny or Elder Scolls Online to be mystifying, but they are playing PG like it's the be-all and end-all.
"as gameplay goes it isn't terribly interesting" - for you. As Nicholas comments above, however, different people have different criteria.

Gamers tend to have a tighter definition of what a "game" is than non-gamers. To regular folks a "game" can be just about anything you do for fun that has some element of structure to it. Flipping balls of waste paper into a bin is a game. Counting all the yellow cars you see on the way to your aunt's house is a game.

By the standards of non-gamers I'm certain Pokemon Go meets all the requirements of a game and the evidence so far would suggest its a game a lot of people are enjoying.
I played a lot of Ingress, the previous game that Niantic put out. I think a big part of the appeal of that game was that it was kind of a "sandbox" game. You could determine your own objectives to some extent, and most of the things you could do constructively would require you to go out into the world and visit a specific location. In Ingress, you got extra experience for linking two "portals" (located in the same world locations that the pokestops and gyms are now), and even more experience for closing the last leg of a triangle. Your ability to do this was affected by whether nearby portals were owned by your team or the enemy team. So there was some strategizing involved, since often you would want to visit a particular location in order to advance your goals.

The "goals" were largely self-defined, of course. The only real metric was leveling up, just like in Pokemon Go. One thing I don't like about PG is that the locations are all more or less interchangeable. There's no need to travel to a specific location, instead of just sitting around farming one stop or several. The territory battles for gyms are visible, but there's no major consequence for holding a gym or not holding it. The XP from fighting isn't even very good anyway.

I think, though, that the real appeal of this game isn't so much the rules, as the "Wow, that's cool" factor of playing a game with your physical body, interacting with real life locations. That's fun enough for me to keep playing for a while, even if it doesn't last forever.
I'm having a fair bit of fun with it. I would say that taking gyms is a lot easier than you'd think. Mainly because the attacker has so many advantages. Always having 6 pokemons versus the defender usually having two or three. Being able to pick your matchup favorably in Pokemons paper rock scissors style weaknesses. Not needing to defeat all the defenders to actually reduce the prestige. Being able to actively dodge attacks when attacking. Still not saying its a great system but the experienced player gap is fairly small beyond your first few levels.
Dude! If you're walking around looking for Pokemon, you're doing it wrong!

You need to drive around in your car. Now, NEW Pokemon won't spawn for you if you go more than 20 MPH, but existing stuff will show. So when you get to a Pokestop, you just slow down and drive on the lawn or whatever to get as close to it as possible.

Disclaimer: Do I play the game myself? Hell no! This is the stupidest, most unsafe thing I can imagine doing with a phone. I'm just glad there is no cell coverage on my property so I don't have idiots looking for virtual critters here.
Golf: no longer the gold standard for spoiling a good walk!
It is not a top quality game. It is Pavlovmon. You walk and your phone vibrates, giving you a reward so you walk some more.
In my opinion it fills the niche similar to Zombie Run only for walkers. The base game is walking. PokemonGo is just an expansion mode for people that find the vanilla product unmotivating, giving them a little extra something to do.
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