The CEO of the Pokemon Company Tsunekazu Ishihara recently spoke to Bloomberg about planned and upcoming features for Pokemon GO. Niantic has a very long way to go before the game fulfills its full potential, Pokemon trading and trainer battles included.
“We’ve only accomplished 10 per cent of what Pokemon and Niantic are trying to do, so going forward we will have to include fundamental Pokemon experiences such as Pokemon trading and peer-to-peer battles, and other possibilities," Tsunekazu Ishihara told Bloomberg in a recent interview .
It was more than clear that Pokemon GO was a broken game when it released in July of 2016. A simplified, broken and unfinished reskin of Niantic's previous title - Ingress.
Now the CEO of the Pokemon Company himself has confirmed that the game was probably about 5 per cent complete by the time it got downloaded to over a 100 billion Android devices worldwide.
If you think that calling Pokemon GO a Ingress reskin is unfair or inaccurate, then go and have a look at Ingress and what Pokemon GO looked like on launch. But at the time, nobody cared - because it was the closest anyone has ever managed to approach bringing the dream of being an actual Pokemon trainer into the real world.
Picture of a Pokemon Go festival
One thing that wasn't broken was the game's microtransaction system, meaning that you could still throw money at what was essentially 1/20 of a full release. That's the often mentioned games-as-service model for you, at its worst.
So, Pokemon GO will get trainer battles and Pokemon trading, eventually. Of course it will, because it was one of the core features of every main Pokemon release since the first Red/Blue cartridges. That insignificant little feature was, and still is, missing from Niantic's cash cow - right next to reliable GPS spawn tracking and little things like a properly implemented network solution.
Most user data I managed to dig up on the game suggests that the initial player count has dwindled down to some 5 million daily users. Niantic has most likely fished all of its Gyaradoses out of the Pokemon GO player pool by now. Gyaradoses in this case being what the microtransaction fuelled mobile games industry calls whales - players who make up the brunt of the free-to-play business model's paying customers.
So why bother with alacrity in development if you can only increase your revenue at a crawl at this point, no matter how much you iterate? If the game is truly only 10 per cent of what it's supposed to be, and it took Niantic over two years to get there, what are the odds of Pokemon GO ever catching up to the ever expanding roster of creatures and mechanics that make up the core ideas and systems of a Pokemon game?
A significant issue is also what I call the Pokemon Gen I Problem. What about all of the players who have zero interest in anything Pokemon related beyond Gen I, and are often even offended by what one of their favourite childhood memories has bloated into over the years?
A lot of these players are at that age where they can more than afford pouring money into Pokemon GO by now, and are ripe for some nostalgia driven impulse purchases. For any of you that may have lost count, there are over 800 of the critters by now, and anyone claiming that such an amount can have the same charm and be as carefully designed as the initial 150 needs to have their brain examined by a team of experts - or apply for a job with the Pokemon Company.
The game also still fails spectacularly at working properly when too many players happen to be close to an attractive spawn area at the same time. This wouldn't be a problem if Pokemon GO didn't lean so heavily on its social component, and if one of the more popular ways of playing wasn't taking a Pokemon walk in a large nearby park. You know, where you can usually find a lot of other players. Did Niantic anticipate this problem? They probably did. But it didn't matter, because money.
As the Pokemon GO phenomenon becomes clearer with the passage of time one thing is starting to become incredibly hard to ignore. The Pokemon Company and Niantic have set up a means of monetisation, pay-wall included, a long time before they bothered to address any of the questions above in a meaningful manner.
Talking about things like people trespassing, getting run over or mugged while playing the game, and other similarly unpleasant topics is still beyond the ability of the two companies, other than appealing to personal responsibility and slapping on a warning/disclaimer message. These are issues that a company should be ready to face with a bit more than the minimal necessary amount of planning, if that company is aiming to venture into unexplored territory with the design of their game. Even a lot of those above mentioned warning messages were quite rudimentary on launch. This could and should have been handled a lot better than it was.
There are many more questions that Niantic and the Pokemon Company haven't thought through quite enough before the game launched. What is troubling are the latter, microtransactive intricacies that they did manage to address, while ignoring the former ones, which are actually more important for the end users and their overall experience with the product.
All of this may or may not shed a new light for you on where the developers priorities were while getting one of the most talked about and popular games in recent memory out to market.
At this point, throwing money at the game is, as it always was - entirely your decision, but remember that Niantic have added more cosmetics to the game before they bothered to implement raids, and that while all of that happened, neither them or The Pokemon Company were hurting for cash .
Remember that and consider what the odds of seeing Pokemon trading and trainer battles implemented before another three or four batches of hats really are. Consider the message you are sending to the two companies, both worth billions, by paying them money for a product that is only 10 per cent of what it's supposed to be. Remember that the bottom line is higher on their list of priorities than the quality of the game provided to the people who keep the numbers below that bottom line from turning red.