Last July 2016, then-unknown developer Niantic, Inc. launched a little game called Pokemon GO. It uses augmented reality (AR) technology and geolocation to turn every Pokemon fan’s childhood dream of being able to catch virtual monsters in the real world a reality. It wasted no time breaking records on its way to the top of the food chain, recently breaking 650 million downloads just last month. Let’s take a look at how Pokemon GO is doing now, less than 10 months after its release. How are the features holding up? Does it still have a long lifespan? And why is the market still isn’t populated with similar AR mobile games?
The Johto Pokemon arrived last month
After months of begging by fans, Niantic finally released new Pokemon to hunt, catch, and hatch last month – the so-called “Johto Pokemon” or the second-gen Pokemon. More than 80 new monsters went live at the same time, giving players a reason to flex their fingers again on Pokeball throwing and Gym battling. However, the huge update also came with a potentially game-breaking nuisance: evolution items. These special items are needed to evolve certain first-gen Pokemon into their new second-gen evolutions. The problem is, they were frustratingly rare to get from Pokestops – how does a less than 1 percent drop rate sound? Thankfully, Niantic has addressed the problem, making evolution items a sure drop once players complete the 7-day “First Pokestop of the Day” Streak.
Still no Legendary Pokemon in sight
Pokemon GO’s first ever trailer teased the inclusion of Legendary Pokemon – Pokemon typically more powerful than the rest. So far, they have yet to make an appearance in the game, unless you count the Articuno bug that made rounds last year. All five first-gen Legendary Pokemon – Articuno, Zapdos, Moltres, Mewtwo, and Mew – are still missing-in-action. The good news is, Niantic has promised that these uber-special monsters are set to arrive before 2017 is over. The bad news is, their inclusion could break the game, considering how powerful they are and the likelihood that virtually everyone will have access to them. Once they get released and every player has the chance to catch them, expect Gyms to be populated with Legendary Pokemon.
Gym battling is still boring as ever
Battling in Pokemon GO is way simpler than in the main Pokemon games, which have a turn-based battling system similar to RPGs. To get your Pokemon to perform one of its two moves, all you have to do is tap and swipe on your device’s screen. It’s practically devoid of any kind of strategy. Meaning, if you want your fair share of Pokecoins that are acquired by holding down Gyms, you will need to overpower your way through rival Gyms. You can’t win using carefully planned tactics like in the main Pokemon games. Things haven’t changed much, though. The battling system is still the same since launch. But a revised system or potentially a full overhaul could be on the way. Niantic big boss John Hanke said that they do have plans to make changes to Pokemon GO’s overly simple battling system. No word on when that’ll be, though.
Trading and PVP battling? Nope, still not available
Trading and PVP battling are huge ingredients in the main Pokemon games, which promotes interaction between players around the world. Trading allows players to swap Pokemon with another player, usually for Pokedex completion purposes. While PVP battling allows players to, well, battle other players. Sadly, Niantic has yet to include these two features in Pokemon GO. But like the previous two features above, Niantic has said that trading and PVP battling are on the way. However, in the case of the former, don’t expect it to give you a helping hand in filling up your Pokedex if you live in a rural area. According to Niantic’s Senior Product Manager Tatsuo Nomura, trading won’t be done online. You will need to be physically near other players to trade Pokemon, which sucks if there are not many people who play the game in your area.
Pokemon GO is still lacking in other gameplay features
Aside from Gym battling and filling up your Pokedex either by catching, evolving, or hatching Pokemon from eggs, there’s not much to do in Pokemon GO. There are no side-quests, no mini-games, and no additional features to extend the gameplay. Heck, the game doesn’t even have NPCs aside from Professor Willow you can converse with to pass the time. Niantic has been trying to keep things interesting by launching special events that grant temporary in-game boosts, like certain Pokemon appearing more often and bonus EXP. But they don’t cover the fact that Pokemon GO doesn’t have anything beyond its base features.
Shiny Pokemon ahoy!
Just recently, it was discovered that Shiny Pokemon – Pokemon with noticeably different colors – are now in the game, but only in the form of Magikarp and Gyarados at the moment. They arrived alongside the recent Water Festival event. In the main Pokemon games, Shiny Pokemon are extremely rare to encounter. This will likely apply in Pokemon GO once the Shiny variants of the other Pokemon arrive, giving perfectionists an excellent reason to go out and hunt Pokemon even more.
— Pokémon GO (@PokemonGoApp) March 24, 2017
Long lifespan still on the horizon for Pokemon GO?
In case you haven’t noticed, most of the points above pertain to areas where Pokemon GO is lacking. This makes us wonder how long the game will be able to last in the market if those issues remain unresolved. All we can say is this: Niantic seriously needs to add more content to keep players engaged. Those special events simply feel like fillers and don’t really add anything to the game. If Niantic continues to churn out lackluster and unimpressive content over the next few months, interest in the game will continue to go downhill. Even releasing the anticipated Legendary Pokemon won’t be enough. Major changes need to come to Pokemon GO if Niantic wants it to remain alive beyond 2017. To answer the question posed in the article title: Yes, Pokemon GO still has gas left in the tank, but it’s almost empty.
Why isn’t the market populated with more AR games?
With the way Pokemon GO has taken over the world by storm, you’d think more noteworthy AR mobile games would be available by now. This isn’t the case, though some have tried to blatantly clone Pokemon Go like the Chinese mobile game City Spirits Go. There’s also the recently released mobile app called Snatch which utilizes AR technology in a unique way to reward its users with actual money and other real-world items. So why is it that no other big-name game developers armed with popular intellectual properties have taken a swing at AR-powered mobile gaming yet? Well, the simple answer is, the Pokemon franchise is built exactly to fit with AR and geolocation. There are other game franchises that could make use of the same technology, like Digimon and Yu-Gi-Oh! But they are not as popular as Pokemon so they won’t be entitled to the same launch pad Pokemon GO came with. AR technology in mobile gaming is still relatively new. Let’s give it more time.
That’s it for this mini-update on the current status of Pokemon GO. In summary, the game is still alive and kicking, with millions of players still playing the game. But unless Niantic presses the right buttons in the coming months, the game will continue its descent to normality and eventually, extinction.