Pokémon Go was a great experience. It really was. I wrote before about all the positive interactions I had with players, especially random people I met on the street. But as a game, Pokémon Go was quite lacking, and once I hit level 20 after a ton of grinding, my interest died.
Several factors contributed to this decline. The game’s concept is still amazing, and augmented reality has a bright future. But how do you sustain interest in a game that, fundamentally, isn’t that fun to play?
Now, saying Pokémon Go isn’t fun might be a little harsh. At first, the game was a ton of fun. Finding Pokémon in my front yard, in the supermarket, sitting on top of friend’s shoulders, in the park—that was exciting! As a kid, who didn’t imagine themselves walking through a forest, finding a Pokémon, and catching it? Pokémon Go made that fantasy a reality.
Many people complained about the substandard battle system in Pokémon Go, and those criticisms are relevant. But to me, the fun was in capturing Pokémon, evolving them, naming them, and helping them grow. Unfortunately, the game was severely unbalanced, and at times unfair, on all these mechanics.
To start, there are far too many Pidgeys, Rattatas, and Weedles, as this parody “Pokémon Go Rap” emphasizes:
Everybody learned early on that these Pokémon only had one value: to evolve them quickly to gain experience. Pidgeys and Weedles took 12 candies to evolve, giving players 500 XP. Rattatas took more candy, 25, but there are so many Rattatas I usually have a stockpile of candy in the triple digits.
Once people learned that these evolutions earned quick XP, they started to see the value in Lucky Eggs. This item doubles your experience for 30 minutes. The optimal game strategy is obvious: save your Pidgeys, Rattatas, and Weedles, use a Lucky Egg, then spend the next 30 minutes evolving everything in your bag, racking up thousands of XP.
Farming XP is essential to leveling up quickly. Like all RPGs, the amount of XP you needed for each level gradually increases, making leveling up slower. However, the higher levels are essential to finding better Pokemon.
And it’s in this grind that my motivation died. I did the Lucky Egg trick three times and made a concerted effort to hit level 20. That’s when you get access to Ultra Balls!
I also walked a TON. I logged 97.7 km, 2.3 km away from earning the silver Jogger badge. I hatched 27 eggs. Unfortunately, for all that effort, about half of the hatched eggs were useless Pokemon that I could find in the streets easily.
Everybody has their favorite Pokémon. Finding specific Pokémon, however, was next to impossible. It seemed like every other player but me had better Pokémon.
I wanted so bad to get all the Eevees. Eevee was always one of my favorite Pokémon. Every player that I met told me how easy it was to find Eevees.
Maybe not in my neighborhood.
I worked hard to get my measly 25 Eevee candy. The first evolution was Vaporeon, the second was Flareon. And I never worked hard enough to get the one I really wanted: Jolteon.
Pokémon Go also had a way of insultingly making your treasured Pokemon worthless. I would spend hours and hours catching Pokemon to get a new evolution. And then, after spending all that time getting your first version of an evolved form, like Butterfree, you walk outside and find a random Butterfree that has a higher Combat Power than the one you just invested in. Naturally, you send the weaker one back to the Professor.
A final issue that I had with Pokemon Go is that I was rarely able to compete in gym battles. It seemed like every time I found a gym it was already packed with Pokemon in the 2,000-3,000 CP range. I struggled just to get my Pokemon up to 1,000 CP!
This is why I never play competitive online games, like Call of Duty or MMORPGs. There are always players out there who invest more time than me, who are objectively better than me at the game, and I can never compete.
That’s not to say I expect to win all the time: but it would’ve been nice to win more than 10 or so gym battles.
I hear there’s a new update to Pokémon Go that adds a lot of neat features. I’m sure it’s fun. But right now, I’m not ready to go back.
I realized right away, within the first week of Pokémon Go’s release, that the joy derived not so much from playing the game, but with being a part of a fad. Don’t misunderstand me: I don’t describe Pokémon Go as a fad as a way of dismissing it! Fads are highly enjoyable, but by their very nature, they fade away.
It was fun to play the game when everybody else was playing.
It was fun to find strangers all over the city, in the park, in the airport, in the store, on campus, EVERYWHERE playing Pokémon Go. The game was an instant conversation starter, and each random conversation was a glimmer of hope that humanity is fundamentally goodhearted. While the faces of those strangers I met are starting to blur, those interactions will stay with me for a long time.
It was fun to discover new Pokémon for the first time, to get new evolutions.
It was fun to hear stories of kids catching 10 CP Pidgeots, and to see the little battle animation above gyms letting you know that somebody, RIGHT NOW, is near you fighting.
It was fun to meet a group of kids telling me to just go around the corner to catch a Spearow. I hadn’t seen a Spearow yet. I searched for it, and didn’t find it, but that’s okay. I felt like an explorer.
But the summer had to come to an end, and the school year started again. While my interest in the game is over for now, I don’t regret the dozens of hours I poured into the game.
For 20 years, Pokémon has seen fad after fad. When Red and Blue hit America, everybody in school was playing it. Then we were watching the anime. Then we saw the first movie in the theaters, and then the second movie, but I never saw any of the others. I played the card game for awhile, and then lost interest.
When Pokémon X and Y was released, I played that game for 4 hours a day for two months. It took me 100 hours just to complete the game because I spent so much time training my Pokémon, catching Pokémon, using Wonder Trade, and battling others.
Even the Twitch Plays Pokémon fad was a glorious 16 days.
And considering I never spent a dime on Pokémon Go, I can’t complain about the hours of enjoyment I had.