THE TRAINER BLACKED OUT: A Writer’s Thoughts on Pokemon Go
This is a follow-up to a blog article I wrote February 10, 2016 called Gotta Catch ‘Em All: A Writer’s Thoughts on Pokemon Go. For the original post, click here.
On June 6, 2016, after several months (for some people, years) of anticipation, Pokemon Go was released on mobile devices with the promise for trainers to be given a world to explore and become a Pokemon trainer as many of us dreamed of being when we were growing up. For fans across the globe, the moment the game was announced, people began losing their minds. Even non-gamers who weren’t as interested in the Pokemon phenomenon were enamored by the time the Superbowl trailer hit. The world collectively geeked out over the wonder of transforming the world into a game map using augmented reality.
To watch the Superbowl ad that stole our hearts, click here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2F46tGehnfo
Niantic had already created a game of similar structure to this previously, called Ingress. While the game had received quite a bit of attention from the internet community, there was no way the fanbase could compete with the one brought in by their partnership with Nintendo. Because of this, as those of us playing the game the first few weeks experienced, there were several server lags and for a few days, all of the servers completely crashed due to the unexpected volume of usage. Once they figured that out, things slowly improved, although even to this day the game still has problems. The biggest starting promises for features of the game that would be available at launch were to 1. Allow players to catch pokemon and fill out their pokedex, 2. let players battle their friends, 3. include duels with Legendaries, and 4. give players the ability to trade with friends and family.
Out of these four key promises made by the game creators, and after 11 months on the android/iphone market, only ONE of these features is currently included in the game.
I’m sorry, what?
Yep. For those of you who never picked it up or who left the Go community because of the frustration this caused, three of the four biggest elements of the pokemon games (PVP battles, trading, and hunting down Legendary pocket monsters) have still not been added to the game, and because gamers can sniff out a glitch and betrayal of their favorite IPs from a mile away, the entire gaming community took notice. During the first month when the game experienced the most glitches, server problems, account errors, loss of saved information, and the like, the Ingress support team refused to release any statements addressing the community for almost a month. Even then, the first posts from the team included a single line apologizing for server errors (but not giving any further information) and announcing the release to additional countries, the first of which being Germany. In these early posts for the first month and a half of the game’s life, none of them addressed fixes to the game’s problems, and more often than not, people’s emails to the company about the problems they were facing went ignored. At its peak in mid-July of 2016, it is estimated that over 45,000,000 people were logged into the servers and playing the game. Now, a little less than a year later, after all the frustration the company has caused, the game’s daily user number has dropped to a measly 5,000,000. That means that the daily community usage dropped 89% between July of last year to now.
In order to keep some of the members of its fanbase from feeling so betrayed for these elements not being present, Niantic began creating events tied to the time of year that trainers were playing. The first one I noticed was the Halloween event where Ghost and Dark type pokemon were far more common and in less than a week, I had a Gengar AND Marowak with candy to spare. I would be lying if I said I didn’t participate in these events when I could, and it still urks me to this day that I couldn’t find a Christmas hat Pikachu during December.
Jus lookit that cute widdol guy…
However, in order for any game to succeed, the company can’t just hold a few in-game events and think that will rectify the glaring problems with the core gameplay mechanics. Because it can’t. If there are major issues with the game’s functionality, story, or overall structure, even if additions are added to the game in order to try and patch up the ugly areas, in the end, the game will still not recover from the damage that has already been caused.
As much as I would love to spend this entire time critiquing Pokemon Go, featuring the world’s favorite electric mouse, Niantic is not the only company who is guilty of releasing a game before it’s ready to be seen by the world. While some games have recovered and still kept their audience despite being glitchy, such as Elder Scrolls: Skyrim and Fallout: New Vegas, others were not so lucky. Now, several other games have such a notorious reputation for their maker’s mistakes that they will never be enjoyed as the games they could have been due to a release that came far too early or an incomplete release that required DLC in order to actually play.
Now what’s so bad about that, Nerissa? What is so bad about a game releasing additional content or patches later down the line?
Personally, I have a HUGE problem with any company that uses patches and DLC as a crutch. While downloadable content can be a great way to expand upon the story that player’s fell in love with during the main campaign, as we were able to experience during Rapture at Sea (Bioshock Infinite DLC) and Left Behind (The Last of Us DLC), too many companies have been using it as an ex machina, pulled out at the last minute to save the company from all blame and ill-will.
Here’s why: Do you remember when release dates and midnight release parties were the crux of our existence, giving us something to look forward to for months at a time? I remember when I was a teenager and the sixth Harry Potter book came out. I was so excited to read it and decided to spend the night before the release at Border’s. The place was completely packed – there were costume contests, trivia games, How-To-Brew-Butterbeer classes, live readings of sections of the previous books filling every corner of the bookstore, which had been transformed for the evening into Diagon Alley. For a nerdy kid like me, I was in heaven and hopping in line and getting my copy of The Half-Blood Prince at 12:27AM dressed as Hermione Granger was a sacred experience. I will always cherish that memory.
For die-hard fans of any series, getting the copy of a book, movie, or game in your hand and getting to rush home to enjoy it for hours on end after years of waiting…It’s indescribable. If there’s a release I am truly looking forward to, my friends are completely okay with the fact that I will more likely than not go missing for a few days as I hole myself up in my room to play the latest release for hours on end. When Last Guardian came out after nine years of waiting, I got the collector’s edition day of and was able to beat the game within three or four days. This one didn’t interfere with the rest of my life much, but I, being the huge Legend of Zelda fan I am, knew that I was going to need some extra time for Breath of the Wild. When it came out, I not only gave my standard hibernation warning to my friends, but I even gave it to the Wyvern team, knowing that I would need a few weeks to be the Princess’ appointed knight before going back to the grind. Jonathan was great about it and left me to play the game I had longed for so.
The die-hard fans are the ones who are going to be waiting anxiously to get all of the custom game merchandise and the game itself and chances are, they’re going to want to get it the day it comes out. Now that video game creators have come to rely more and more on releasing games sooner rather than later then adding patches as they are reported, rather than allowing time for beta testing to do its job, it’s slowly depriving the die-hards of the beauty of that first-time experience. If players really want an untainted, fully debugged experience nowadays, you typically have to wait until the Game of the Year edition of the game is released a few months later. And that’s a horrible thing to do to your fanbase.
Take one of the most recent culprits of this: No Man’s Sky.
Oh boy. Here we go.
The main selling point of the game was that, in this science fiction world, a procedurally generated science-fiction galaxy was laid out before you to explore, discover new life, mine for materials, and more. Due to the popularity of the Mass Effect series, people expected this to be a game with rich characters and story to occupy this infinitely vast world.
And what players got…wasn’t that.
I have seen gameplay of No Man’s Sky and while it does look beautiful, the game has received an onslaught of criticism for the lack of…well, any point or meaning to travelling through this universe. Players are encouraged to planet-hop and if you get far out enough into the edges of the galaxy, you can even name undiscovered planets and make your mark on the worlds. Which is pretty cool. But other than that, there is very little plot, very little driving the action, and from the way my roommate described it, it is “a great Minecraft-for-adults to play while you’re waiting for something else to do.” On top of that, for many players, save data would be continually corrupted, sometimes the game would give you incorrect in-game prompts, making it hard to tell whether you had docked or were still in space, players would lose items or sometimes their entire inventory would wipe, and players frequently got stuck inside the terrain, making it impossible to move or be removed.
The company heard these complaints, addressed them, and while they made sure that the world as a whole functions more smoothly, from what I understand, no additional story elements or in-game guidance have been added in the 24 patches they have released while the game was already out.
There are too many other games to count that make it onto this “released a broken game in the hopes it would get better” list: Superman 64, Sonic ‘06, Mass Effect: Andromeda, Ultima IX – I could go on. Even Battlefield 4, which had earned critical acclaim for many of its elements, had such broken multiplayer that even with patches, it was never able to recover in its user numbers. But in the end, as much as we’d like to point fingers at one or two titles, a majority of the big-name companies rely on releasing further patches post-release date nowadays so we need to treat this as the larger issue that it really is. We, as gamers and on the whole, are a pretty smart group of people and companies can’t expect us to wait and hope for a game to get better with the next patch or purchasable DLC. And while my love for the Pokemon series and desire to be a trainer will go on, Niantic needs to realize that they only have a certain amount of time to win back the community’s trust before one by one, the trainers black out.
-Nerissa Hart, Writer and Director of Marketing, Wyvern Interactive LLC.
The images in this post are not the property of or made in association with Wyvern. We do not claim ownership over any of these characters or photographs.