Over the weekend, Pokémon Go developers Niantic ended up with Exeggcute all over its face as it stood in a rather large Miltank pat of a PR disaster.
In Chicago, the company held the first ever Pokémon Go festival, which also served as the first ever opportunity for players to catch the legendary bird Pokémon in game. So 20,000 fans descended on the city, with the intention of using all their phones at once, only to end up breaking the cell towers.
Obviously this ruined the event, and Niantic has tried to make up for it by refunding attendees and offering them in-game currency to make up for the disappointment. But this shows another problem that long term Pokémon Trainers have experienced with Go: the game still feels a bit broken.
Since the game was first released last July, I’ve still continued to play on and off. My partner is far more obsessive - she currently has well over 200 monsters in her Pokédex. So one of our favourite things to do is to go on walks, and fill our Pokédexes en route.
What makes it frustrating though is that even a year on, as a piece of software Pokémon Go feels a bit broken.
The biggest problem is performance, because the game uses 3D objects, running it on your phone is a resource hog. Even my iPhone 7 Plus's battery will drain pretty quickly. What's worse, though, is that it needs so much processing power, switching back and forth means that the game has to repeatedly start up from scratch.
This is particularly frustrating, as multitasking is important when travelling. When I’m walking, I might want to switch to Google Maps to check my route, or to Twitter because I’m a hopeless addict. But if I do this and then go back, I’m looking at a loading screen all over again. Massive resource-hogging games might make sense when sat on the sofa, when I’m not going to need to check where I’m going. This gets so annoying that often when walking, I’ll just give up on playing all together - as I know that by the time the game has re-opened, the Growlithe my partner has just spotted will be long-gone.
In addition to this, the game still appears riddled with bugs, as it fairly regularly crashes or requires restarting. When the app is loading, even if the 4G signal is pretty good, it’ll take an eternity for the Pokéspots and monsters to appear.
I can only imagine how annoying this is for people who aren’t lucky enough to have such a high-spec phone.
The Old School Solution
So what’s the solution? Essentially, I think Niantic need to learn a lesson that Nintendo, and its competitors, learned a generation ago.
Before the smartphone, came the Game Boy. The handheld had a surprisingly long shelf-life: it launched in 1989 and was only really phased out once the Game Boy Advance launched 12 years later, in 2001.
In that time, its dominance didn’t go unchallenged, and instead it saw off a number of rivals. Most notably there was the Sega Game Gear and Atari Lynx. Both rivals were much more powerful than the humble Game Boy and both even sported a colour screen - a luxury back in the 90s.
So how did the Game Boy best them? One of the reasons was that the Game Boy was less annoying: A set of batteries would last something like 20 hours, compared to just four in the Game Gear. It meant that if you wanted to game, you would probably be able to. You wouldn’t have had to think about it and have checked you were charged up earlier.
So sure, the Game Gear certainly looked pretty, compared to its Nintendo rival - but Nintendo won out anyway.
And this is what Niantic should do: ditch the 3D, ditch the resource hogging, and instead go back to a much simpler interface, that still retains the core gameplay mechanics. Sprites served us well for two decades - we don’t need to see each monster rendered in 3D. If it’ll cut load times so that we can dive straight in, we’ll want to play even more.
If Pokémon Go didn’t drain our batteries, we could play for longer too - and spend more real money buying virtual Pokémon Gear with microtransactions while we're at it.
And if they’re worried about saving face? Simply add this as a “pro” mode and default on the existing mode for casuals.
And then once the game is stable, perhaps think about adding some of the new features suggested here.
C’mon Niantic, you know it makes sense.