Hear Me Out: Pokemon Go Was A Terrible Idea

Hear Me Out: Pokemon Go Was A Terrible Idea

Look, I promise this isn’t just a clickbait title about how the things you love are terrible because that’s how media works these days. I liked Pokemon Go. Maybe I still like it. But more and more it seems like a bad idea. It’s the worst idea because it’s so good. Bad ideas are just bad. They just made an NFT game where you need one of those ugly monkeys to play, and it involves swimming through a river of monkey excrement to fish out a key another ugly monkey just pooped out. That’s a bad idea. But it’s also harmless – no one is going to copy it. Pokemon Go is the worst idea because everyone thought they could copy it.

Pokemon Go claims to have been inspired by an April Fool’s gag, a story I have always considered to be part of the general marketing more than it is part of the truth. But it underlines why Pokemon Go works – it was an idea first, and a game second. ‘I wish I could catch Pokemon around my town’ is a real thought many of us have had long before Pokemon Go came out. It fulfilled a very obvious desire with the biggest IP in the world.

On its own, Pokemon Go is an excellent idea. I played it religiously at launch and kept up that dedication for around four years. The subsequent two years I have bounced in and out of the game, but that’s not its fault for any particular reason – it’s still a fine game. Battling, raids, and maxing IVs are now the order of the day over just collecting, so it’s no longer for me. No matter. That’s not why I think it’s a bad idea.

The problem is AR games are still a new medium, and they’re both novel and potentially extremely profitable. That you can not only play a game on your phone, but use your phone to play it in the real world, is more magical to many than the amazing shrinking horse testicles of Rockstar. Meanwhile, phones are highly accessible – no games console comes close to selling what phones do collectively. And looking at Pokemon Go’s numbers ($6 billion as of last summer), it’s easy to see why people want to make a game like it. The problem is these games stink.

It’s not just a question of know-how, either. Many of these failed games were made by Niantic, who created and still maintain Pokemon Go. Clearly this company can make a successful and enjoyable AR game. Unfortunately, it cannot do it without Pokemon. Though Pokemon Go builds off Niantic’s previous game Ingress, it stands alone for how perfectly suited it is to AR. People want to see Pokemon in their city and catch them, and playing never feels like a chore or as if it has been forced into the mobile platform. You tap creatures and throw a ball with a swipe of a finger. That’s pretty much it.

Pokemon Go was an idea first and a game second. Every follow up has been a game first. Every conversation for these AR games began with “it’s like Pokemon Go, right? But for our thing!”, and you just can’t make another one. Harry Potter, one of the few franchises with the cultural might of Pokemon, tried and failed badly. The Witcher has attempted it too. As have many other smaller games on smaller scales, and none of them work. The simplicity of Pokemon Go is that it’s already what I want to do. I want to click on a ‘mon and then catch it with a simulated throw of a Poke Ball. I don’t want to battle wizards or ooglebogs out in my town square. No one does.

It’s not devs rushing into an area they don’t understand. Niantic understands AR. But perhaps it doesn’t understand AR gaming, and that’s a huge difference. Every game since has been a misfire. That’s because the biggest problem at the heart of it all is the idea.

Niantic has three versions on the go right now. One is Peridot, currently in beta, where you collect creatures that are like Pokemon but aren’t actually Pokemon, but you can clone them or breed them or something else weird at every PokeStop. Sadly that sounds like the best idea yet. Then there’s Pikmin Bloom, which has flower planting mechanics or something. There’s also NBA All-World, which is Pokemon Go but with basketball players. Sure, why not? Harry Potter didn’t work but I’m sure a sport only played to any serious level in about four countries will do the trick.

Pokemon Go is a great game but it has led to too many people thinking they can make their own version by swapping out Pokemon for their own thing. But they can’t. That’s why I think Pokemon Go has been a terrible idea. It has convinced developers, and possibly players, that the only AR game you can make is Pokemon Go But For A Different Thing. It’s not true. It has never been true. Pokemon Go only works for Pokemon Go. Until someone figures that out, the whole AR medium is doomed.

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