There’s no denying that the summer of 2016 belonged to Pokemon GO. The mobile game emerged from nowhere to become a cultural touchstone – breaking down traditional barriers and becoming the envy of the videogame industry. At its peak, over 60 million users worldwide couldn’t wait to catch ’em all. Yet a year later, the game is but a shell of its former glory. Niantic’s inability to get a grasp on the beast they unleashed has led the game to become a walking disaster – bundling its own major events and raising the question – is there much point in carrying on?
The problem is that Pokemon GO became a byword for inconsistent performance. In the shadow of the game’s launch, it’s understandable that the huge swell of users lead to server issues. But these server issues never really went away. Instead they hung over the game – pushing out frustrated users and creating the sense of a game that was never going to reach its full potential. The game peaked at around 60 million users back in the summer of 2016. Now, the active number is somewhere south of 5 million.
Recently, Niantic and Nintendo held the very first Pokemon GO Fest – intended to serve as a showcase for the game in a better state. The most loyal and dedicated players came from across the globe to celebrate the game, and hope for a bright future. Yet the event was blighted by all manner of technical issues, server outages and the kind of issues that users have been putting up with during the games first year of launch. The reality is that what should have been a celebration turned into a wake for the game.
Really it raises the question – is there much point in Niantic and the Pokemon continuing the shambles? The hype and hysteria that surrounded the game has largely evaporated. Mainstream audiences view the game as “last years fad”, unwilling to return because there’s no point. Fads fade with time – and Pokemon GO was very much riding that wave last Summer. It’s unlikely to get second wind, meaning that right now is probably as good as it gets for fans of the game.
It wouldn’t be entirely unusual Mobile games are a very different beast to their console counterparts. Typically their development cycles are more fluid, long-ranging. Games remain in production as long as they generate revenue – with a slew of updates and new content to keep this momentum going. Eventually though, even the most mature of mobile games is shuttled off its coil – ready to make way for the next big iteration. When Pokemon GO released its Second Generation update earlier this year, it pointed to an attempt at rekindling interest in the game. The addition of legendary Pokemon only adds to this narrative – but it doesn’t fix the wider problems the game is currently battling.
Add in the laundry list of promised features haven’t materialized yet – and there’s a sense that the game just isn’t going to ever reach the lofty goals it set itself. Features like trading, user gyms and more have been missing in action since the game first arrived. Adding them now would only serve to showcase how lacking the game was when it originally arrived. Imagine if they’d taken the time to refine the game, and deliver the features gamers wanted – out the gate. The game would have enjoyed so much success. But by failing to get those features out the door, it caused a disservice to the game.
Maybe its time for Niantic to return to the drawing board. As proven with the early success – Pokemon as a brand has the potential to strike big among wider culture. But Pokemon GO isn’t the game to do that now. By continuing to focus resources and development time onto a game that most have already moved on from, Niantic is only providing a disservice to those gamers who want this kind of experience. Pokemon GO was an excellent experiment, but there’s oh so much more that can be done with the idea.
By continuing to try and breathe life into this incarnation of the game – there’s a sense that the game can never be what Niantic or the Pokemon Company desire. As with all major games in the mobile space – there’s always space for bigger and better offerings. If it means a better experience for gamers and a chance to enjoy the experience gamers have been begging for – all the better.
What do you think? What kind of future does Pokemon GO have?