What Can Developers Learn from Pokémon Go?

"IMG_0731.JPG" (CC BY 2.0) by DarrellR
“IMG_0731.JPG” (CC BY 2.0) by DarrellR

It’s stating the obvious a little but the one thing that Pokémon Go did that set the app apart from its competitors was to offer something new. Innovation is a rare and wonderful thing and, while the uptake of a new concept isn’t guaranteed, a novel idea has a better chance in the market than one that’s already out there.

More Than Blind Chance

Three recent articles on bgo.com intimated that skill-based games like Candy Crush and Pokémon Go are the future of both the gaming and casino industry as they appeal to ‘millennials’, people born between 1980 and 2000. The company claims that slot machines, with their accessible but luck-based gameplay, will need to offer a skill-based experience to survive the next generation of players.

Makers of slot machines have begun adding minigames to gameplay to complement and vary the action but it’s far more likely that an element of player control – i.e. using skill to determine the outcome, rather than blind chance – will become the norm in the future. However, it’s not inconceivable that popular console genres like first-person shooters will one day take the place of slot machines in web-based casinos.

It’s perhaps no surprise that casino companies are already adding imagery of characters like Lara Croft to the reels to make the old-fashioned slots experience more interesting to younger people. The bgo article also cited Pokémon Go’s unique augmented reality (AR) gameplay as part of the game’s allure and an inspiration for the casino sector going forward.

Augmented reality is – or was – quite a small part of mobile gaming and it’s probably fair to say that many users’ first experience with AR was in Pokémon Go or Niantic’s previous effort, Ingress. The app isn’t the best use of AR – it’s a little gimmicky and drains battery life far too quickly – but it’s a good advert for AR’s potential as a gameplay device.

Anime Series

It’s a little bit of a cynical point but Pokémon Go’s success owes a lot more to the popularity of the franchise’s anime series and its associated games than any particular feature of the app. What Pokémon Go does so well is appeal to people’s imaginations – wouldn’t it be great to be a Pokémon trainer?

If Pokémon Go was an original IP, it’s hard to see how it would have enjoyed any success at all. The app has been a buggy mess at times and Niantic’s handling of the community in the wake of Pokémon Go’s release was amateur. You only have to look at the almost comically awful reception to Hello Games’ No Man’s Sky to see the effects of poor communication on a developer’s reputation.

Pokémon Go had a number of early connectivity issues caused by its enormous success. The app’s staggered launch, which continues to this day, frustrated players in countries Niantic left out in the cold, even if it did build extra hype for the title in the same areas. There’s also the thorny issue of the ‘nearby’ feature.

"Gotta catch ’em all" (CC BY 2.0) by KaiChanVong
“Gotta catch ’em all” (CC BY 2.0) by KaiChanVong

Mapping Apps

Indicating a player’s distance to a Pokémon with an icon of one, two or three footprints, the nearby function was removed from the game shortly after Pokémon Go was released in Europe. The decision proved deeply unpopular with fans, especially once Niantic began banning third-party mapping apps providing an alternative.

The removal of a feature that many players considered the heart of the game, leaving them unable to track monsters in a game about tracking monsters, was due to a bug in the app – that’s understandable. However, the fact that it’s taken four months for the company to roll out a successor (and then only in a few places) is not quite so easy to forgive.

Pokémon Go is simultaneously a lesson in the value of innovative technology for a popular brand, and how not to run a customer-facing business. It got a lot right – for example, it champions the kind of skill-based gameplay that appeals to millennials, the same favored by Minecraft, Candy Crush, and Call of Duty.

It’s also the perfect example of the kind of experience companies like 10bet and Instacasino are trying to create with their live dealer games. The value of Pokémon Go-style AR in casino is debatable (a company could conceivably create a poker table in somebody’s living room with a device like Microsoft’s HoloLens) but a competitive, multiplayer AR experience is an idea worth exploring.

However, in 2016, no company should have to be told to communicate with their user base yet it’s a trait that keeps rearing its head in the video game industry, whether through ignorance, immaturity, or simple arrogance on the part of the developers.

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