Alright, so in the first Pokémon Go article I wrote, I talked about what it was, who was playing it, and the fact that I ran into a goddamn rattlesnake. Part two explored Pokémon as a cultural phenomenon. I wanted to discuss what made Pokémon popular in the first place. In this third and last installment, I want to talk about the actual game Pokémon Go, and review the game. The question I’m posing, is Pokémon GO actually a good game?
The short answer is no.
Games for mobile platforms, ie your phone, have exploded in the last couple of years. There are actually too many games for both the Android platform and the IOS platform. Thousands and thousands and thousands of games, most being lousy and poorly thought out. When people started making games for phones, companies and programmers saw that there was a large market for apps, and started going to work. We now have a berth of apps for phones, so many that even if you deliver a quality product, there’s little chance of success.
Now, there’s a reason I’m not particularly a fan of games for the phone. A lot of these games are free to download. You don’t have to pay anything to play these games! You would think that’s some sort of bonus, but most of these free games fall under the ‘pay-to-win’ category. The games are often difficult, but if you choose to spend some money, you can gain access to more of the game faster. You can get potions to heal you, or buy more rounds of a puzzle game instead of waiting, or buy upgrades for your little virtual farm.
Mobile game companies have figured out some pretty heavy psychological aspect of human beings while making these games. Video games operate on the same principle as sports, work, hunting, or pretty much anything. Move towards a goal, face a challenge, then succeed or fail. If you succeed, you get a little dose of happy brain chemicals like dopamine, and you turn to face another goal. Score a touchdown, get a dose of dopamine. Complete a task at work, get a dose of dopamine. Your brain rewards you when you achieve victory. The insidious thing about these ‘pay-to-win’ games is video game companies have figured out that the brain still rewards the player with dopamine if you pay to level up instead of achieving it.
Like most people, you probably haven’t dropped any of your hard earned cash on these free games, and most players don’t. There’s a few people that do spend some money of these games, anywhere from $20 to $100 dollars. The companies aren’t interested in those people, or the people who spend zero dollars. The people they’re interested in are what the industry calls ‘Whales’. You see, Whales will spend thousands of dollars on pay-to-win games. These people aren’t playing a game, they’re addicts who are being taken advantage of.
Pokémon Go isn’t as insidious. Yet. You can still buy upgrades to make the game a little easier, but for the most part it’s still pretty balanced. But this game hasn’t even been released in Canada yet, and it’s only a week old, so there’s plenty of time to upgrade the game into something that might target these Whales.
The other issue regarding Pokémon Go, is it requires what us gamers call ‘Grinding’. ‘Grinding’ is the term used to progress your character’s development by continually repeating the same task over and over again. For hours. There’s a difficult boss you can’t beat? Go out and fight low level monsters for hours until your good enough to face the boss. In the new Pokémon Go, in order to evolve your ‘Mons, you have to catch enough of that particular ‘Mon to level it up. And that doesn’t take effort or skill, it just takes time and a lot of walking around. Some people have figured out a work around. In order to fool the game into thinking they are walking about, cheeky gamers have attached their phones to ceiling fans or stationary bikes. The game thinks you’re moving, and rewards you accordingly.
Because of this, Pokémon Go as a game fails for me. I don’t actually have a phone powerful enough to play it, and I’m not going out anytime soon to rectify this. There’s enough good games out there, that you pay for with money, that are fun all the way through, and aren’t confused with chores. Because if you’re attaching your phone to a bike in your living room, and pushing the wheel occasionally with a stick to trick the game into thinking you’re playing, well, how much fun is that exactly?
At the same time, it’s the most downloaded app. Ever. And it’s getting people out and about, getting exercise and meeting other people, even if it’s to talk about Pokémon. So in the scheme of things, even though the game isn’t for me, it wasn’t designed for me. It was made for Pokémon fans, and there’s obviously a lot of them. Who cares if it’s not a great game, it’s a great way to get in shape and meet some people, especially for those who struggle with that already.
The Illustrious Mr. Charlton
p.s. To all game developers; Are you making a game? Or a gimmic?