Almost a week ago, I wrote an article on the now booming Smartphone game Pokémon Go, and talked about how it is, I believe, an important moment in history due to the fact that it is plummeting Augmented Reality technology into center stage of mainstream society for arguably the first time.
Now that a few days have passed and we as a society have begun to settle into a Post-Pokémon Go world, I thought I’d take the time to talk about a few things I’ve noticed from my obsessive playing of the game and what I think needs to be figured out by designers if the game is to have long lasting appeal.
As with every Top 5 I do, these are my personal views and do not necessarily reflect others, or even the truth (although isn’t truth about art subjective anyway?) so please don’t bite my head off if you do disagree, although I do welcome conversation in the comments below!
5. Bugs and Hackers
If you’ve been playing Pokémon Go, you’ve probably had some sort of an issue along these lines already. For me, it tends to be the GPS being unable to locate my position in certain areas around town. For others, there’s server overloads. I’ve also encountered pretty regularly, frozen Pokéballs after capturing a monster, where I have to exit and reset the game to fix. Once, I even had an Abra explode into giant size and float above the front of my camera so that I was unable to hit him with Pokéballs at all. The news in Pokémon as of Saturday as well is that of the hack – Apparently a cyber collective by the name of PoodleCorp have claimed responsibility for an attack that resulted in players being unable to access the game in Northern America and Europe. The Independent reports that PoodleCorp claimed responsibility over twitter, advising that it was just a warm up for something worse in the future. If the creators of Pokémon Go want a long lasting appeal with this game, they will need to figure out better security measures to stop hacks like this, as well as ways to fix any bugs and handle the overloaded servers.
4. Pokémon Battles
This is one I’ve heard from a good few people online. In the ‘90s TV series as well as the multiple games, Ash and his friends battled their favourite trained Pokémon against the wild ones in an effort to catch them. In Pokémon Go, this concept has been thrown out and replaced with the augmented reality aspect of being able to throw with the flick of your finger against the screen, a Pokéball which captures your target if you hit it correctly. While it is important to show off the augmented reality components of the game, I can’t help but wonder if there’s a better way to do this so that the original premise of Pokémon battling one another is left intact. Having designed story content for augmented reality games before, I have a good idea of what the technology is currently capably of, so something like two Pokémon battling it out on the camera in front of you isn’t far-fetched at all. With Augmented reality, you can create Pokémon that are spatially aware of what is around them, which means not only would your favorite little guy know exactly where the wild Pokémon is hanging out, he’d be able to dart around objects, such as trees (or more so in my case – Office dividers and Computer monitors), to deliver that final blow.
3. Graphic Quality
A good friend of mine working in the Transmedia industry said to me once regarding augmented reality: We are at Pong. What he meant by this, was that the level of technology currently available for augmented reality games is still in its infancy. His reference to the 1972 arcade game in which the player bounces a little white dot across a table tennis arrangement to score points, gives us a good analogy by which to look at augmented reality with.
We are at Pong. Because we are at Pong, graphic quality is pretty sub-par in Pokémon Go, simply by the nature of it. Number Three on my list is simply the suggestion that as the technology advances, the creators make a conscious effort to upgrade the graphic quality of the game. This is important because not only will it make Pokémon Go nicer to look at and easier to play, it will also further demonstrate the technology to the world as being something important to pay attention to.
2. Variety in Locations
I may be putting my foot in it here with this one, but I’m just going to ask the question. Has anyone else noticed Pokémon Go seems to favor the affluent? I am by no means a rich man. Oh I know, the “glamorous” life of a professional writer, surely I get paid ridiculous amounts to do what I enjoy, right? Well, unfortunately, not so far. I flat with four other people in a low income neighborhood with garbage littered down the footpath (much to our disgust) and predominantly surrounded by families that are on the lowest rung of society. Playing Pokémon Go in my neighbourhood results in collecting a proverbial SHIT TONNE of Ratattas, Pidgies and Zubats – the commonest of all the Pokémon in the game. It’s gotten to the point where we don’t really bother playing unless we are somewhere else now. On the flip side, I bus to work every day. I travel through nicer neighborhoods and have noticed a considerable increase of awesome Pokémon in those areas, whereas bussing through other low socio-economic areas, the Zubats and Ratattas return. I don’t mean to suggest Pokémon Go is racist or favors the 1% in any way, but I strongly believe that when your main market is young adults in their mid-twenties who grew up with Pokéfever, you probably should tailor your game towards their general income level. While in app purchases are fairly affordable, there’s no point if all the great Pokémon exist only in the nicer locations. We need more variety throughout the city; otherwise, we just stop playing.
The last one on my list and number one is story. If you’ve been reading any of my other articles, you will know I’m all about story. I believe it is the single most crucial thing for any game to succeed long term. You need narrative to connect with people emotionally. Why else do you think the TV series sparked such a storm in children’s hearts and minds during the ‘90s craze? I recognize that with a game like this, that focuses on its augmented reality components and the famous line:”Gotta catch ‘em all!” a traditional narrative probably won’t work. However, there are other, more non-linear ways to tell a story, and that’s what Pokémon Go needs to incorporate. I have spoken about Storyworld before here and here, but for those of you who are new – a Storyworld is an encyclopedic collection of information about the fictional world that your stories take place in. In the case of Pokémon, obviously there is already a massive Storyworld created from the shows, the games, the comics, etc. so we don’t need to write one from scratch. What does need to be done however is figuring out a way to engineer the mythology of the Storyworld into OUR world. If players are able to interact with story content from the mythology that has been incorporated into our real life, then we would have a non-linear narrative that theoretically would have thousands of hours of play time in it, as well as being able to be approached at any time by anyone in any order, and that’s my number one suggestion: Hook us with narrative. If Pokémon Go can hook us with fun, exciting gameplay and GREAT narrative through the use of the pre-established Storyworld they have at their disposal, then this game could stay around in the collective consciousness of the public for years, just like the shows did in the late 1990s’.
So what do you think would help the game improve and stick around for longer? Let me know below.