SBox Stories: One Year with Pokemon GO

On July 6, 2016, players from Australia, New Zealand, and the United States first got their hands on the popular AR game, Pokemon GO. A venture between Google, Niantic, and Nintendo which used scraps from a similar Niantic title called Ingress, Pokemon GO would quickly go from a nifty little idea to an overnight global phenomenon. It’s hard to even fathom that the rise of Pokemon GO was a whole 12 months ago, but time sure does fly when your trespassing on someone’s backyard trying to catch a Squirtle.

I’ve been playing the game since the day it came out in America and am still a semi-active player of the game to this day. I’ve had some fun, witnessed the game’s many ups and downs, and engaged in general tomfoolery with the game from the very beginning. In honor of the occasion, I thought I’d walk you through my personal experience of playing the game the passed 365 days. At the same time, I’ll share my thoughts on the state of the game right now and what I think about the game’s future.

Curiosity Killed the Meowth

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Before the game was released, I like many others had heard rumblings and general news about this upcoming Pokemon game for mobile. The concept of bringing the Pokemon experience into the real world was a promising one, one that fascinated me from afar. Admittedly, I wasn’t as hyped for the game at the time as most hardcore fans of the games/anime/cards were, but I was looking forward to seeing how such a crazy idea would work. I didn’t even think I was gonna download the game at first.

Then came the late night of July 6. I was laying in bed on my phone as I always do, when I heard the game was just made available in the US a few minutes ago. Again, not that excited for the game still, but I thought to myself how interesting a topic it would be for a blog post the next day. So, out of curiosity I downloaded the game at 1 AM. I created my profile, read through Professor Willow’s tutorial and before you know it it was time to pick my first Pokemon, a Bulbasaur. Little did I know that I couldn’t go back for the Squirtle and Charmander, so there I was at like 1:30 at night wandering the house to find them to no prevail.

By about 2:30 I went to bed, dedicated to venturing the neighborhood the next afternoon, which I did. I took my dog for a walk and caught myself a few Pidgeys and Weedles before retreating back to the solace that is my air-conditioned home. Note to self, Florida is too damn hot for spontaneous walks around the neighborhood. It was a pretty good time all-in-all, but it was an encounter I had with a Staryu I almost caught before the servers gave up on me that drove me to keep playing further.

Hooked on a Farfetch’d

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I never thought it would happen, but I became hooked to this game in no time at all. It soon became tradition for me to launch the app around the late afternoon (because any earlier and I’d melt into a caramel chocolate pool) and search the neighborhood for the goods. I’d explore every crevice of my neighborhood, dodging everything from mosquitoes to potential alligators along the way, and when our munitions were depleted we — my brothers and I — would jaywalk across the unnaturally long street to the nearest PokeStop, where we’d hang out and use Lure modules for upwards of a half-hour before returning home. Ah, those were the days! Back when getting a Rattatta or a Caterpie was actually exciting and didn’t fill you with absolute rage and contempt. Good times!

Though it wasn’t just my household that got in on the action. PokeMania caught the whole world by storm shortly after, creating by far one of my favorite periods of time ever. Those first 2 or 3 months of Pokemon GO was incredibly fun to witness. Friends new and old would gather with news of the game on their tongues, Facebook was filled to the brim with Pokemon memes, YouTubers performed Let’s Plays and live streams of the game, businesses were holding events to pull in players looking for one specific Pokemon, and news outlets were announcing new additions to the game as well as wagging their finger at the potential dangers of playing it (because of course). One personal highlight for me was seeing Jason Paige, singer of the original theme song, perform the song again. I don’t know why, but that got me all giddy inside.

Some of my favorite moments of the game came fairly early on. I remember my sister, who isn’t a gamer, downloading the game a couple days in and us all walking down our street on the pursuit; a very rare moment for me, admittedly. I remember going to Universal Studios where the game was absolutely filled with PokeStops and Pokemon. Caught my first Geodude over there.

Another time, I, my 2 brothers and my brother’s friend were being driven down the neighborhood when my PokeEgg was about to hatch. I said, “My 10k egg’s about to hatch. Gather!” We all huddled together to witness me getting my hands on a Hitmochan. In fact, almost every time I hatched an egg with someone around was a good time, especially when my youngest brother was there to see. I can still remember him looking at my phone and saying “Huh! Machop?! Oh that is bullshit.” Cracks me up every time.

By far my favorite memory with the game was when one of my friends just got into it and we both went to that was supposed to be riddled with Pokemon. I remember we got ice cream, found a spot perfectly nestled between 2 Lured PokeStops and a spawn point to spare, and just chatted while catching everything in augmented sight. We both caught a Haunter that day. It was quite lit.

It was such a unique time to be alive, especially for a nerd like me. To see the entire world become nerdy before my very eyes was simply wonderful…

Prepare for Trouble

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… but it didn’t last long. Problems started to encompass this beautiful day from day 1, causing the game to notoriously lose over 60% of its userbase by early October. I was heartbroken to see this happen, but I completely sympathized and understood.

Some debate about why Pokemon GO fell off so quickly and where things went wrong for something poised for success. If you ask me, there are a small number of reasons for the game’s decline, starting with the technical issues. That infamous error screen was a huge problem for the first few months of the game and turned players away from the game almost immediately. It’s what drove my sister away for sure, because every time she’d try to join us for the game it didn’t work, and you can give something so many chances before you just give up.

The frequency of new, non-Pidgey Pokemon was also far too small to hold some of the hardcore Pokemon fans for long. That problem was not helped by the fact that the game only had Gen-1 Pokemon, 3 of which weren’t even available in their country and 5 of which were completely unavailable. Players who wanted to catch their favorite Pokemon or have enough candy to evolve their existing Pokemon lost interest as a result.

Then the game started getting a little too inaccessible to players as all the sudden Niantic started cutting features. Remember when the capture rates were raised for no reason or when you could no longer flick PokeStops while on a car ride (for an admittedly good reason)? When the 3-step feature disappeared and Niantic started killing off sites like PokeFinder which served to help players get around it, all with little to no statement from Niantic, that was the point of no return for me and many others.

To top everything off, though, the game by its third month was in desperate need of something new to keep players invested. The novelty of AR Pokemon hunting got repetitive and old very quickly as there wasn’t much else to do in the game other than flick catching Pokemon and playing in gyms. This is something I believe could’ve been fixed with either a 1-v-1 battle feature or a timed event during the month of September. Waiting until Halloween to introduce the first event was way too late to draw as many players back in. A simple introductory event in the month of September would’ve prolonged the game’s high at least a bit longer.

It didn’t help that most of what players craved after the game’s launch was very far off. Introducing the Buddy System in October? Gen-2 Pokemon in February? Updated gym battle in June? Legendary Pokemon in July… maybe? The game simply took too long to develop features that kept players interested.

As a result, players of Pokemon GO became way fewer and further between. By November or December, I was the last Pokemon GO player I knew. I did stick around, but in a much smaller capacity than before. It became less something I was addicted to and wanting to return to over and over again and more of a side-thing to do during a long car ride or to pass the time while I was waiting on campus for the next class. In part, my main motivation was to complete the Pokedex as much as possible, not far off from my trophy hunting roots. The game basically became a much more empty and lonely experience from then on, one I was just becoming less and less involved with over time.

The Reign of Mewtwo Will Soon Begin (?)

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Towards the end of the game’s first year, things began to look up for the game for the first time in a while. In June, an update was released that improved the game’s repetitive gym system that changed everything.

Gyms are now much more community based than ever before, encouraging cooperation and teamwork in order to defend gyms, win prizes, and gain access to high powered Pokemon. Players can now place their Pokemon among 6 unique Pokemon in a gym, each with a motivation meter that dictates how long it stays in the gym. PokeCoins are earned much faster the longer the meter stays full, and the meter can be filled by passerby players who give them berries.

A few times per day, a gym will hold events called Raids where teammates compete in a co-op battle against an abnormally powerful Pokemon. Beat that Pokemon, and players will get exclusive prizes and an opportunity to catch that said Pokemon with special Pokeballs to ensure you’ll have a chance.

The move has been positively received from what I can tell, and has served to reignite the game now more than ever. This is especially due to rumors of these Raid battle being the basis for how the yet to be released legendary Pokemon… again maybe. Nevertheless, this has definitely made the game much more approachable, which is a good step in the right direction for this game.

I haven’t gotten a chance to participate in a Raid yet, but I am willing to give it a go and see how it improves the experience further.

The Future of Pokemon GO

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This next year of the game that once ruled the world will definitely be an interesting one. From this point forward the game will have to find new ways to keep the current users on their toes and keep them wanting more. Hopefully the addition of new Pokemon towards the end of the year (preferably) and features like actual competitive multiplayer will accomplish that just fine.

Will the game ever be as popular as it once was? I’d say never say never… but it’s very unlikely. The game would have to undergo a massive change with a massive ad campaign to reignite former players to that point ever again. Perhaps multiplayer battles would be a good start, or perhaps some interplay with an upcoming mainstream Pokemon game. Imagine if the Pokemon you caught in GO could cross over into a game on the Switch or 3DS. It’d definitely increase player activity. Or hell, maybe even a sequel app that enables such features could give the game a bit more steam.

I believe Pokemon GO has a future for at least another year. I’ll definitely be interested in seeing how Pokemon GO evolves over time, finding an identity passed a cool, new novelty. Which leads me to one final question: Will I be around to see such an evolution take place? Well… well I gotta catch ’em all, don’t I?

Do you still play the game? What are some of your favorite Pokemon GO memories? What will convince you to give the game another chance? Sound of in the comments section below!

I’m SBox180. Thanks for reading!

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