We are about a month away from the one year anniversary of Pokémon GO, flashing us back to a time when the game quite literally took over the world during its launch. While its popularity has certainly declined since those record-setting highs, the game remains incredibly popular with millions of players worldwide. And in year two I think they’re all expecting more than what they got in year one.
Half of year one was about Niantic coping with the massive success of Pokémon GO, which far exceeded even their wildest predictions. They were trying to constantly roll the game out in new areas, all the while fighting to even simply keep it online, their servers buckling and often crashing under the weight of so many players. I remember I went to a live GO meet-up in downtown Chicago last summer with several thousand players that was literally dispersed because of non-stop server errors.
The problem is that these technical issues took up most of the year. The game actually began to lose features for a while as Niantic figured out their legal and technical limits. The nearby tracker was essentially erased from the game for a spell, and GO became impossible to play above a certain speed, even if you were just a passenger in a car or bus.
It took a long time, but finally the game started to add new features. The tracker returned and is now tied to PokeStops, and a new “buddy system” was implemented to allow players to train specific Pokémon.
And…that’s it, really. Other than minor tweaks, the PokeStop tracker and the buddy system really are the two biggest “feature” additions to the game, while “content” additions would include the admittedly expansive Gen 2, but that didn’t actually bring any new mechanics to the game other than a couple new berry types. Pokémon GO has recently settled into a routine of monthly (sometimes bi-monthly) events that give players bonuses and increase certain spawns, but again, every time these events occur, they’re not arriving with any sort of actual mechanical change to the game. It’s just a bit of content, and in some cases, more of an illusion of content.
We are allegedly supposed to be on the precipice of some pretty major changes to the game, including a gym rework that I’m hoping is expansive, but I’m not holding my breath. Everything I’ve seen so far mostly seems to be about making existing gyms less dull, ie. limiting them to one type of Pokémon per gym, and creating a new berry system that requires players to maintain their gyms so they can’t just sit on them forever. Both might be good ideas, but is that really going to change how gyms feel? Will the difference be significant? It’s hard to say.
Everyone has high hopes for Legendary Pokémon events, which may be centered around some sort of in-game raid activity, which would be truly the first major “in the world” change to the game since launch, given that the buddy system is more of an extension of existing egg mechanics. How these raids may work is still unclear, but potentially players may band together to take down/capture Legendaries.
This would be great, but again, I’m expecting a lot more from Pokémon GO in year two, and I think players are as well. Remember Niantic talking ages ago about PvP battling and trading coming to the game? What happened to that?
Pokémon GO has the potential to evolve into something truly great, and hopefully now that Niantic has less non-stop technical issues to deal with, we’re going to see a lot more in year two. But when I talk about adding features to the games, I don’t mean tweaking the gym system so it has slightly higher turnover, I’m talking about big things. I’m talking about adding NPCs that spawn in the wild or in weekly challenge events. I’m talking about mini-games that let you train your Pokémon in ways other than marching in a straight line for a hundred kilometers. I’m talking about real, substantial changes and additions to the game, the likes of which we really have not seen at all in the first year, with one or two minor exceptions.
Niantic has the resources to make this work now, it’s just a matter of taking all that revenue and turning it into something actionable to help expand the game and take it to a new level. They have arrived at summer once again with no serious competitors in this genre they essentially have all to themselves. Player interest is still high compared to most other mobile games, and fans are dying for new content and new things to do in the game.
Niantic keeps promising a huge summer, and I hope they deliver. Not just there, but in the entire year to come.