Pokémon GO is a mobile game for Android and IOS devices that was released in 2016. It uses the camera and map in people’s phones to allow them to find pokémon everywhere they went, including in their own homes, and catch them by using the touch screen to throw pokéballs. It was certainly one heck of a nostalgia trip as it originally used the original 150 pokémon. People who grew up with the first generation pokémon were excited to celebrate a childhood passion while it was also a fun, casual way in for newcomers. Most gamers who grew up playing the Pokémon series, or watching the animé, had dreamt of one day having an open world experience with the franchise that made them feel like a real life pokémon trainer, and this was finally it.
Pokémon GO had become a huge phenomenon as soon as it launched. People were spending time outside once again. They were walking everywhere they went, hunting pokémon individually and in groups, and spending hours outside trying to gain the best collection of pokémon possible. Some, including myself, even got sunburns after staying out too long looking for pokémon. Members of each team (Team Mystic, Team Instinct, and Team Valor) would debate and compete as if it was some sort of real-world gang war. News networks were warning players not to wander into traffic, trespass, or wander into dangerous areas while playing. Stores and other businesses were advertising that they were Pokéstops so that more people would visit them in search for pokémon and items. People were meeting new friends while out and about playing it. This was absolutely huge for a few months, making it an instant pop culture staple.
However, even though it was hugely popular for a cellphone game, it wasn’t perfect. The glitches were pretty well known. The game froze very often, it showed your avatar in the incorrect place like in the middle of a body of water or down the street from where you were, it didn’t always load when trying to open the app, and it occasionally didn’t register that you activated a Pokéstop when you did. As obnoxious as these issues were, they were ignorable due to how fun the game was. However, one glitch came along that was bigger than the rest.
One of the most fun mechanics that was originally in the game, a tracking system that allows one to know how far away a pokémon is by showing between one and three footprints under each pokémon, stopped working correctly. The tracking added a lot of fun to the game, making it feel like a scavenger hunt. Players would shout to their friends that a desired pokémon was only one footprint away as they traveled in their direction, searching until they found that specific one. After the game was out for a while, the tracking somehow became inaccurate. The amount of footprints shown under a pokémon no longer represented how close you were to it, making the footprints completely arbitrary. Despite players hoping the issue would be fixed, Niantic (the company who made the app), decided on the worst possible solution. They decided to eliminate tracking altogether instead of actually fixing it. That’s like getting rid of all the tires on a car when one is flat instead of using a spare. The scavenger hunt feel to the game was completely lost. Players had to hope that pokémon would pop up randomly as they walked around aimlessly.
There was now no way to track pokémon, people were growing tired of the other glitches not receiving fixes, and people were eventually running out of pokémon that they hadn’t already caught in their area. Between features of the game not working and players hitting a wall with finding the same pokémon over and over again, people grew tired of it after a few months and stopped playing. The number of active players dropped significantly.
The Pokémon GO hype had died out just months after it started. Yes, there were some who still played it, but not nearly as much. Niantic, however, was still able to find ways to pull people back in. They eventually cleaned up the other major glitches. In-game events started happening, like all Pikachus wearing Santa hats during the holiday season and Squirtles wearing Squirtle Squad sunglasses for a limited time. and Gyms became easier to interact with. Niantic has now even included pokémon from up to the fourth generation and will be including more as time goes on. All of this got people to return to Pokémon GO. It wasn’t quite as popular as it initially was, but it still regained players.
However, not too long after adding some more generations of pokémon and making the game play better, the number of active players dropped once again. After having their fill of new pokémon that were added to the game, people were having a similar problem as before with running out of pokémon to find in their area. Catching the same pokémon again and again can get boring. The game can absolutely benefit from occasionally mixing up what pokémon can be found in a certain area.
More recently, Pokémon GO made another big comeback. There are plenty of new mechanics in the game. There are now tasks that a player can complete like catching ten pokémon, making a certain amount of successful curve balls, and spinning ten pokéstops. Completing these tasks gains the player experience points and items like great balls, potions, and egg incubators. Raid battles are now available, allowing players to team up against especially strong pokémon in order to catch them. There are more ways to customize your character avatar. Players can now even select a buddy pokémon to stand next to their character.
These newer mechanics aren’t the only reason for the comeback, though. On November 16th, Nintendo released Pokémon: Let’s Go Pikachu and Pokémon: Let’s Go Eevee for the Nintendo Switch. These updated versions of the original video games not only use motion controls to throw pokéballs to catch the pokémon, but they also allow players to transfer their pokémon from Pokémon GO to the Nintendo Switch to use in-game. With this excitement about being able to use pokémon from Pokémon GO in the new games, plus the newer mechanics, people are picking the phone game back up for more adventures.
Even though people are back to playing Pokémon GO, it’s probably only a matter of time until the active player count declines again. The game is a lot of fun, and catching pokémon is addicting, but it does keep getting dull after catching each of the possible pokémon in your area. I’m sure that Pokémon GO will continue to rise and fall on repeat as long as people still love Pokémon as a franchise.