By: Niantic, Inc. (Nintendo)
I admit I was already getting bored of Pokemon Go, considering I spent the first few weeks walking around for hours a day, caught over 2000 Pokemon and filled my Pokedex with over 100 different species. New York City, especially Manhattan, is packed with Poke Stops and gyms. So even if I’m still missing 40+ Pokemon from my Pokedex, there’s no shortage of common Pokemon. I could probably catch Pidgeys and Rattatas all day long if I want. And that’s more or less what I did for the first week or so — I caught every Pokemon that crossed my path, or at least tried to.
Sure, the game had problems from the very beginning. My very first disappointment came when I realized that choosing a Charmander as my starter didn’t mean that, as in the Game Boy games, he would grow with me and I would eventually have a Charizard fighting by my side. Instead, I would need to catch lots more Charmanders if I wanted to ever evolve him. And even then, there isn’t much to do with the Pokemon I catch. They mostly just fill my Pokedex and then sit in my bag doing nothing, while I try to catch more of them. You don’t get to use them to weaken wild Pokemon you encounter or battle other players, or even non-player characters. The only use for the Pokemon right now are bland gym battles that serve almost no purpose.
The app has also always been a battery hog and it aggravates me to no end that eggs can’t incubate while I walk unless I keep my iPhone’s screen on and waste more battery. The tracking was never perfect, especially with all the lag and constant crashing. The server issues have since improved greatly and, even if they’re not perfect, I appreciate all the fixes they made since that first week.
The game also seemed a lot fairer than I expected for free-to-play. Normally I wouldn’t let myself get sucked into a game with micro-transactions for consumables. I know how they work, starting off enjoyable and getting more and more frustrating the longer you play, pushing you to spend some money on consumables to relieve some of the agony. As I’ve heard others put so well, the game becomes more about avoiding spending money than playing the game. Still, I like Pokemon and I already walk a lot, as walking and biking are my main modes of transportation. I already played games while walking, but none of them were meant to be played that way.
Also, the items you can buy didn’t seem to affect the game that much. With lure modules that can be bought by one person but benefit everyone, it seemed the game would meet the perfect balance to allow both non-spenders and spenders alike to get the most out of it. Sure, it’s always been very grindy, since you don’t actually train your Pokemon so much as turn them into food for the other Pokemon you catch. But that’s not something money can fix. Even the most useful shop items, such as lucky eggs or incubators, are not necessary to enjoy the game. Despite that, Pokemon Go has been the highest-grossing iOS game since its release in the U.S. So it seemed it worked out for them without being too aggressive about the in-app purchases (IAP). But after a certain level, the game started showing its free-to-play colors. I noticed that the higher my trainer level, the harder it got to catch Pokemon, even weak common ones. I started wasting more balls and for the first time, I had Pokemon flee on me.
Thankfully, the game starts giving you stronger balls to use, but they’re much rarer than regular poke balls. If you waste them on common Pokemon, you could end up without any when you encounter a rare one. So the more I played, the more frustrating the game got. But still, I continued playing. As I mentioned in my early impressions, I started to enjoy bumping into other players and chatting with them, even hunting down a rare Pokemon together. When tracking still worked to some degree, I tracked down a Ponyta with a complete stranger I just met. The Pikachu we tried to find disappeared, but it was fun running around like we were on some treasure hunt. That’s never happened to me before with any game. I never got into Ingress, Niantic’s first augmented reality game. But even if I had, I can’t imagine it would have been nearly the same experience, simply because far fewer people were playing.
Plus, I admit it’s pretty cool seeing friends who never play games posting screenshots on Facebook of the Pokemon they’ve seen, and being able to discuss the the game with them.
I went to Central Park a few times and collected a ton of Pokemon I’d never seen before while chatting with other players. At first, the experience was addictive. I stayed until nearly midnight because I just couldn’t get myself to go home. It seemed like the best place to spend my evenings. That is, until the two nights I went and had a completely different experience. Instead of an energetic crowd of players shouting out their team names or rare Pokemon they spotted, everyone was just standing around in little groups, quietly catching whatever popped up, with barely a word. Previous nights I could ask where the rare Pokemon in my Nearby list was and just about anyone I’d ask would answer either with some idea or an exact location for it. If they hadn’t found it themselves, we’d go looking for it together. It was intoxicating. But I stopped going to Central Park because that wasn’t happening anymore. There were no flash mobs chasing after a reported rare Pokemon. If I asked where the Pikachu nearby was, I got a bunch of mumbles instead of enthusiastic help. I decided it was no longer worth my time to go there.
So I thought I’d go back to just playing while walking, like I had been doing from the beginning. The battery saver option was broken for me, so I decided to just forget about eggs and try to let the game fit into my life more — I’d walk around and just check here and there to see what Pokemon are around. The tracking was broken at this point, but third party sites like Pokevision had sprouted up that show you the exact location of a rare Pokemon. It meant that I didn’t have to devote my entire life (or iPhone battery) to the game but could instead let it work with me.
That all changed this past weekend with the latest update, version 1.1.0. First, instead of fixing the battery saver or making the eggs incubate even with your screen locked, they just removed the battery saver option altogether. While it didn’t bring improvements I would have liked for both hatching eggs and battery usage, it at least didn’t make those issues worse.
But with that update, they also removed tracking altogether. You can argue it was already broken, so no big deal. But they forced all third party sites like Pokevision to shut down, the result being that there is no way to find a specific Pokemon that shows up in your Nearby list. Big groups like the one at Central Park are less affected by this than players who prefer to walk around and explore. It’s beyond frustrating to see a rare Pokemon on your list, know you have only fifteen minutes max before it disappears, and have no idea how to find it. You’re basically out of luck unless you randomly bump into the Pokemon.
One might argue that they should just remove the nearby list altogether so as not to taunt people with Pokemon they can’t have. I would almost agree, but at the very least, the list lets me know that there’s a possibility of bumping into that Pokemon, so I’ll keep the game open instead of just sticking my phone in my pocket for a while. If all I see are Pidgeys in the nearby list, I feel better about putting my phone away. But still, it gets worse.
Niantic “rebalanced” a lot of the gameplay aspects. I took a walk along the water yesterday and, besides the one Dratini I caught, it was incredibly underwhelming. I used to bump into Magikarp and Psyduck with almost every step I took. I think I saw maybe two Psyducks and one Magikarp yesterday. And, despite a full Nearby list the entire time, I went long stretches without encountering a single Pokemon. Not very exciting.
And when I do manage to find a Pokemon, they’ve implemented what might arguably be the worst change so far. Pokemon are now even harder to catch and flee even more often than before. They also fight back much more frequently, causing me to waste more Poke Balls. And, while the game does seem to recognize a Curveball more often now, executing them successfully is much more difficult. Many Pokemon have been starting off further back (instead of close up and then moving back after the first failed catch). A huge percentage of my throws that would have successfully hit the Pokemon in the past now either under- or overshoot the Pokemon, leading to tons of wasted balls. I’m throwing the same way I was before the update, but when I expect the ball to hit, it lands in front of the Pokemon instead. And then I overcompensate when I try to get it to go further. Everything seems really off now, like they’re punishing players for having mastered the curveball. I even had an orange-ringed Bellsprout flee on me after a single Razz Berry and Great Ball. Considering how easy it is to waste balls now, I’m not going to use my precious Ultra Balls on something as common as a Bellsprout, and I shouldn’t be expected to.
I also wasted about 15 Ultra Balls on a Venusaur that happened to spawn right in my apartment. I caught it, but together with the few wasteful Bulbasaurs I encountered, my Ultra Ball count went from about sixty or so to single digits in one day! I haven’t experienced anything like that since I was in Central Park, catching about a Pokemon a minute. To be catching only a few Pokemon throughout my day and still wasting all my balls just makes the game feel like a complete waste of time and energy. Considering the entire game is catching Pokemon and nothing more, making it less fun to do is not going to get people to stick around. I’ve already started ignoring most Pokemon and only using regular Poke Balls on any but the ones I absolutely must have. That is, if I bother at all. It doesn’t feel worth the time or battery drain in its current state.
I also can’t imagine the reasoning behind the rebalancing. As of this moment, you can only buy regular Poke Balls in the shop. Those are still abundant enough that I get over 200 at a time and have to trash some. It’s the Great and Ultra Balls that I run out of, and those cannot be bought in the shop. I can only assume that this was a setup for sometime in the future when they’ll add those to the shop. If that’s the case, then they really pushed the game from community-building to pay-to-win.
UPDATE, August 4, 2016: I rode my bike for about 15 miles yesterday with the game open in my bag and my egg only incubated about 1km. There have been reports that the server is only refreshing every 10 seconds now instead of every 5 seconds, explaining the missed Pokemon while moving. I have a feeling something similar is responsible for the game not tracking my movement anymore while on a bike. So that’s another quiet change they made that’s frustrating.
I’m afraid that if it stays like this, I’ll simply lose interest altogether and eventually forget the game even exists. At least my battery will thank me.
And on that note, I leave you with this joint message from me and Weepinbell:
What are your thoughts? Have the changes affected your enthusiasm for the game?