Just a year ago, Pokémon Go was the phenomenon everybody was talking about. Businesses were using pokestops in their marketing strategies. People were meeting new friends out hunting for Pokémon. You couldn’t browse the news without something Pokémon related coming up. A year later, however, and the game has certainly seen a decline in users. There are no more stories of incidents that happened while looking for Pokémon on the news. The news of changes to the game itself only appear on niche sites aimed at gamers. The bubble seems to have burst. And, while this may have felt inevitable in some ways, it is kind of sad when you consider what a technically impressive feat the game itself is.
Niantic, the developers and owners of Pokémon Go, have made some interesting changes to the game in recent months. While these are talked about in the mainstream media far less than they would have been in summer 2016, they’ve actually made the game a lot better. But are they enough to bring people back into the game?
One addition people were expecting far earlier than it happened was special events. These are when you have a better chance to catch a given Pokémon due to the time of year, or when certain Pokémon are only available for a fixed time. At Christmas, there was an event where players could catch special Pikachu with Santa hats on. This was fun and cute but basically useless.
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This week, there is an event where players have a chance to find and catch legendary Pokémon – creatures that were not in the game before but are an important part of Pokémon lore. This has incentivized some former players to come back to the game as it is quite an exciting addition, but unfortunately the legendary bird Pokémon only seem to spawn in big cities and a lot of players in other locations are frustrated about this. Additionally, it is almost impossible for a lone player to catch a legendary Pokémon, so getting one is dependent not only on being in the right place at the right time, but also on there being a sufficient number of other players there. This would have been no problem in August 2016, but in 2017, can be a bit of a problem.
Events have sparked some interest and made some former players fire up the mobile game again, however they alone haven’t managed to ignite a revival in the original Pokémon Go user base.
Improved Gym Battles
One of the original gripes players had with Pokémon Go was with the combat system. Taking a gym felt grindy, you couldn’t heal your Pokémon during fights, and so when you won a gym someone else could just snatch it while you were healing the Pokémon you wanted to leave there to guard it. Niantic has made a lot of changes to how gym battles work, and they are far better now. They also reward the player with more coins, making it easier to get hold of some useful in game items without spending real world money.
The developers were always committed to making it possible to play Pokémon Go without spending money, and this was done quite well – using money really only saved you time on hanging out at pokéstops or walking miles to hatch your eggs, so a player who spent cash didn’t have an advantage. Now that players are rewarded with spendable coins for taking gyms in an amount that can actually be used for something, the game has improved a lot, and the way gym battles work is also much less annoying.
Players put off by the old combat system may now find the game more fun, however it seems like many are not aware of the changes and aren’t being enticed back in to the game by them.
The Second Generation
Mobile games usually have a pretty packed update schedule, and there is a lot of competition on the market as you can see from the selection of great games on Mobile Gamer Hub. This made some users a bit confused as to why Niantic took so long to release the second generation of Pokémon into Pokémon Go. The characters had already been designed and had appeared in the Nintendo games and the Pokémon anime many years ago. However, players were baffled as inconsequential updates, such as the ability to get your gym leader to rate your Pokémon, were implemented long before the Gen 2 characters made an appearance.
A lot of people lost interest in the game due to having almost completed their pokédex with the original characters, and finding it too hard to catch the remaining few. By adding a new generation of Pokémon, the developers were able to give people a whole new range of things to catch and evolve, and this made the game interesting again for those who had already caught most of the first gen.
By waiting too long to release the second generation, Niantic however, are faced with a niche rather than mainstream market. If they had made this improvement to the game earlier, just as usage started to dwindle in around September 2016, they could have probably kept a larger percentage of players on board. By doing it later, they pleased the die hard fans, but were not able to win back the original audience.
The ups and downs of the Pokémon Go game are well worth studying if you are interested in marketing or game design, but it becomes clear that Niantic were not good at leveraging their initial success. What they have now is a much stronger game in terms of engagement and mechanics, however because they waited too long to make key improvements, many of their initial fans lost interest and have now moved on to other games or simply forgotten that Pokémon Go used to be fun. It will be interesting to see whether they can regain the hype with future changes, but it doesn’t seem likely