Love it or hate it, Pokemon GO was likely one of the most hyped games in gaming history. It’s not hard to understand why, either. Pokemon has remained a phenomenon for over 20 years now, with multiple generations being raised to catch them all. Stick an extremely addicting formula into a fun, light-hearted world that seems to lack all personal crime and parenting, you have a recipe for success! I know I wasn’t alone in wishing that I could be a real Pokemon master as a kid.
Pokemon GO seemed like the ultimate fulfillment of that fantasy. Not only did it allow us to catch monsters in the real world, it gave us that fantasy for free on a device everyone already had. Couple that with some cool marketing and their success was guaranteed. Even after the game released, it seemed like the hype would never end… until it did.
Little by little, people realized that while the game looked like Pokemon, it lacked any of the depth that made Pokemon what it was. You could catch most of the original 151 Pokemon but your ability to do so was mostly based on random luck. Location seemed to affect what you would see, somewhat, but not enough and if you weren’t in a city, you were pretty much SOL. There wasn’t any trading, battling or connecting with your Pokemon on any level. Sure gyms were a thing but holding them for any significant amount of time was impossible and didn’t really have much benefit even if you could. People had a lot of team pride in the early days but even that has proven ultimately meaningless beyond the already irrelevant gym battles.
The game didn’t have any real challenges for players to overcome and almost a year later, not a whole lot has changed. We’ve seen some improvements to Pokemon stats, gym battles are slightly more tactical and we’ve gotten another wave of Pokemon to randomly try and capture but the core gameplay hasn’t changed a bit.
That’s why I wanted to create a list of concrete things Niantic can do to improve Pokemon GO. At this point, nothing will bring back the hype they had at the start but there are certainly things they could do to keep players interested and even bring back several lapsed fans who want a good reason to catch ’em all.
I’m going to start with the obvious one which is to add the content that has made Pokemon, Pokemon, from the very beginning. Sure, gym battles could be interesting (if there were real stakes) but playing against or with friends in real-time is what people actually crave. Right now, due to continent-exclusive Pokemon, catching all available Pokemon in the game is nearly impossible since trading doesn’t exist. Players will do a lot to fill their Pokedex but traveling to every continent in the world just to fill that one missing space is a ridiculous expectation. If they do get a rare monster, let them show it off to their friends, not by passing a phone around but by actually being able to battle. This content is a no-brainer and should have been available from the start. Still, better late than never.
2. Pokemon Friendship/Affection
This is a small thing but one that has been part of the core Pokemon games since Pokemon Yellow back in Gen 1. Pokemon GO has made some small steps towards adding this via the buddy system but that’s not enough. Creating an emotional connection to fictional monsters is tough, I’m not discounting that, but it’s something that the Pokemon games have done very successfully since the beginning. Even when all we saw was their oddly-formed, pixelated backs, most of us couldn’t stand the thought of not keeping our starter Pokemon with us for our entire adventure, regardless of their fighting potential. We felt connected to our Pokemon.
Pokemon GO is fighting an uphill battle due to its basic game mechanic of candy-grinding. Players are encouraged to catch and dump Pokemon through the entire game which makes it hard to connect to individual monsters but that just makes it even more important that they include Friendship/Affection mechanics with meaningful results, a la Gen VI’s Pokemon-amie or the ribbons they’ve had since Gen IV.
These would both be modes they could add but another concrete addition the game could make is to expand upon the buddy system already present in the game. Right now, having a buddy Pokemon makes them show up next to your avatar in your profile and creates more candy if you walk with them. That’s all fine and good but what if each Pokemon or type of Pokemon had an added effect by keeping them as your buddy for extended periods of time? Maybe keeping Squirtle as your buddy makes you more likely to encounter rare water-type Pokemon or having Chancy gives you a higher chance (Pun absolutely intended!) to get rare evolution items from Pokestops. These bonuses would also increase, the longer you keep the same buddy Pokemon, encouraging players to connect with their Pokemon on a more individual level.
3. Make Teams Matter
There are several things that can be done to make which team you picked actually mean something. The teams are obviously meant to reference the different versions each generation of Pokemon has had. Why not have these versions actually reflected in-game?
From a cooperative standpoint, depending on your team, you may see exclusive Pokemon that only your team can get. Obviously this would require that trading be in-place so that you could trade Pokemon with your friends from rival teams to fill your Pokedex. This update would have to be put in place along with a new generation of Pokemon or current players who already caught the other teams’ exclusive monsters wouldn’t notice any change.
From the battle standpoint, there needs to be some visible competition on a larger scale. By this, I mean that there needs to be tangible benefits to holding a gym for your team. The first thing we need to be able to see is a percentage map showing which teams have control in different areas. In the US, showing team control by state or even county could give people added motivation to fight for their team. For every new bit of competitive content they add, they could make a team component that adds new camaraderie and competition. Any added depth at all will be a good thing at this point.
4. Added Solo Goals
It’s news to absolutely no one that players in a city have a very different experience with Pokemon GO than those in rural areas, or even most suburbs. With plentiful Pokestops, gyms, and biomes of Pokemon, city players have a much more varied experience than everyone else. This means that in order to keep those outside of the metropolis’ interested in the game, Niantic needs to add some content for them.
There is a ton of inspiration that can be gleaned from the core games for these, as the franchise was built as a mostly single-player experience. Content like the Pokemon Contests from Gen III which have Pokemon participate in pageants would be a fun way to have rural players invest in the Pokemon they have, rather than feel frustrated about the Pokemon they may not have the ability to find.
Once battles are finally implemented, having a single-player AI battle progression would keep things interesting for those who may not know players nearby or who may not be allowed by parents to opt into multiplayer content. Look at Clash of Clans which has a fun and relatively interesting single-player component for inspiration here. For more experienced players, implementing a Battle Tower experience would be a lot of fun and could be given both a single-player and multiplayer option.
Adding a Secret Base mode may be a little beyond the scope of GO but it’s a fun addition to Gen III and could give players some additional gameplay when they aren’t walking around catching monsters. Players could share QR codes with their friends to show off their Secret Bases which players could fill with furniture items they receive from Pokestops or rewards for the other competitive content. Perhaps by scanning someone’s QR code, players could then battle an AI controlled version of that player’s team as well, adding in the flags component as a sort of battle trophy you can place in your base or as a form of currency to get more furniture items.
As content of this type increases and improves, Niantic should also continuously update the game with more of the medals that are already in Pokemon GO. Many people are over the achievement rewards so common in gaming since last generation but a lot of people still invest heavily into these intangible rewards. Again, making players feel invested in their trainer is important and medals are an extremely easy way to do this.
5. Increased Catching Variety
Catching Pokemon has improved since Pokemon GO launched last year. What used to be an extremely static experience has now added some increased variation in Pokemon movement (bird Pokemon will take flight, ghost Pokemon may move side to side, etc.) plus berries have given some added options to players in catching Pokemon.
These improvements have been good but more is still needed. An increased range of Pokeballs to use can help increase the amount of strategy required. Things like Timer Balls or Quick Balls will entice players to change their strategy if it isn’t working out. Friend Balls will be useful when a Friendship or Affection system is put into place. While I’m not a fan of Pokeballs for individual types of Pokemon (that would make the inventory an extremely messy place), general Pokeballs like Heavy Balls or Fast Balls could force players to assess the type of Pokemon they’re trying to catch.
Making Pokemon slightly more unique would also be an interesting change to the formula. The core games have used Natures for a long time, giving each Pokemon a personality trait and having that slightly impact their stats. Since Pokemon GO keeps all the Pokemon’s stats hidden in the background, only letting us know a general CP stat instead, giving each Pokemon a Nature would help make battles more interesting.
Finally, this is something I’ve felt like the core games have been missing since the very beginning but Pokemon GO could finally implement this, they could give each Pokemon a slightly individualized appearance to set them apart. Every generation, I’ve hoped that they would implement this and every generation I’ve been disappointed. Yes, this will increase the art assets exponentially but it will go a long way towards varying up Pokemon encounters, something even more important in GO than in the core games. Here’s my pitch:
Currently, in both the core games AND in GO, certain Pokemon have slightly different appearances based on their gender. Male Pikachu’s have the ends of their tails perfectly straight while female Pikachu’s have their tails curved to look like the top half of a heart. Other Pokemon have some other gender-based differences. What if they were to add some other variations based on personality, rather than gender? This would give players more to connect with in their Pokemon, giving them a sense of personality that may be unique compared to their friends.
Fixing Pokemon GO will not be an easy task and, to be honest, I’m really not sure Niantic will ever be up to the challenge. However, if they do decide to rise to the occasion, Pokemon GO could still be one of the best Pokemon games ever made.
Have any ideas of your own to improve on Pokemon GO? Let us know in the comments.