Last week, Nintendo and Niantic Labs, the developers of another augmented reality (AR) game called Ingress, released Pokémon Go in a gradual rollout of several countries (Australia, New Zealand, and eventually the United States), with the plan to go global eventually (just released in Germany and the United Kingdom). It was hyped for months and released to much fanfare — probably much more fanfare than Niantic anticipated, considering that there is 20 years of history behind the Pokémon franchise.
Like everyone else around my age, I grew up with Pokémon during my childhood. I watched the anime, collected the cards, and also played the video games when I could (I didn’t exactly have a lot of money to buy every game I wanted as a child). There’s a lot of history with Pokémon for me, and I was ecstatic when I first learned that Nintendo was releasing an AR smartphone game centered around Pokémon. Now that it finally arrived, I have to share my experiences with the game and AR in general over the past week.
It Brings People Together
A photo of Pokémon Go players at Santa Monica Pier in California taken by Travis GaffordCredit: NBC Los Angeles
Since I downloaded the game, I have been going outside much more. That’s a great thing though — this is much more motivating to me than even my Apple Watch, which I will admit that I have begun to slack off for quite some time now. I’ve been taking many more walks around the neighborhood in search of Pokémon, finding reasons to get out of my home and explore new places that I don’t usually go to, having an excuse to take a short walk multiple times a day to reclaim a gym, and finding others who share the same passion for Pokémon as me.
Over the past few days, I’ve gone to numerous parks in search of new and rare Pokémon, and unsurprisingly enough, so have tons of other people. As I wander around with my phone in front of me, following the AR map to the next closest Pokéstop, every time I look up, I’ll find dozens of others doing the same thing as me. Sometimes, you may even initiate or get pulled into a friendly conversation about Pokémon. And if there’s a rare spawn nearby, someone will likely yell it out so that everyone can congregate and have a chance to catch it, too.
Last night, after I hit up the third park of the day with my boyfriend, I noticed that there was a swarm of people there as well, and it was obvious why they were there: Pokémon Go. I saw groups of friends huddled together over their phones trying to catch Pokémon and give tips to each other, parents helping their kids find these cute little pocket monsters, and couples having a blast just chasing the virtual Pokémon together. But no matter who it was, I did notice one thing: seeing everyone come together to enjoy a game that is based on a 20-year-old franchise. I mean, people were giving each other tips on how to play, divulging locations of specific Pokémon, trying to capture and hold gyms, and all just having a good laugh. Though there will be moments when you can all share horror stories regarding all of the game’s problems, which I’ll get to in a bit.
In a time when there is a lot of depressing stuff on the news, it’s nice to see everyone just coming out and enjoying a silly little AR game together. And the magical part is even people who have never been into Pokémon before are joining in on the fun. My older sister, who has no previous knowledge of the older Pokémon games, has joined me and it’s amazing to see her get excited over new Pokémon finds and captures. Personally, I think you’re never too old to enjoy Pokémon or just have some fun.
A Rough Start
Even though Pokémon Go has only been out for the U.S. for a week, it’s been off to a pretty rocky start, despite all the good that it’s been doing. And while I love Pokémon enough to keep trying to put up with it all, in the long run, it can definitely affect the longevity of the app itself.
Before you can start your journey of becoming a Pokémon Master, you have to create an account so that your data goes with you no matter what device you’re using. There are two ways to do this: Google or Pokémon Trainer Club.
Personally, I used Google, despite the whole privacy fiasco. I did not have a PTC account and I did not feel like signing up for it, despite some bonuses that players may get for logging in this way. For those who weren’t aware, the privacy issue was due to the fact that Pokémon Go would have full access to your Google account information, including reading all of your email or sending email as you, and more. The 1.0.1 update that came out on July 12, 2016 fixed this huge security risk.
On July 13, Niantic Labs released a 1.0.2 update that fixes the issues with the PTC login, which essentially locked out players who wanted to play the game with a linked PTC account.
Even though both of these issues have now been resolved, it does leave a sour taste behind for some people in terms of trusting Niantic Labs with their data. In fact, I know I read that some people are already deleted the app because of this big security flaw and don’t have any trust left in Niantic. First impressions are always important, and Niantic already screwed up at this part for some.
Read about the 1.0.1 update
Check out yesterday's 1.0.2 update
Don't miss the release of Pokemon Go in other countries
Among the first two days, Pokémon Go was plagued with server issues galore. During the first weekend with the game, the server issues seem to have gotten ironed out, but there are still some problems that arise every now and then.
From what I’ve heard, it seems that Niantic was using the same servers as their previous AR title, Ingress, especially considering that many Pokéstops are portals in Ingress. While this may be all fine and dandy to them, let’s face some facts: Ingress does not have nearly as many players on the game as Pokémon Go, and it clearly doesn’t have 20 years of history behind it. To me, this left the impression that they underestimated the popularity of Pokémon, and have been rather underprepared for the game’s hype.
On the first and second day, I was constantly getting the dreaded “Our servers are experiencing some issues, please try again later” screen, getting logged off constantly and then having to login again with my Google account and 20-character long password only to see the servers were still down (recent updates have added a “retry” option so you don’t have to sign in), and a lot of slow loading times and server crashes while playing.
While the game still seems to be popular enough right now, who knows how constant server lag and issues will affect the game in the long run. Of course, one of the big reasons for the lag is the fact that some people in other countries that don’t officially have the game yet are playing, and just the overload of people on the servers constantly throughout the day.
It gets tiring having to press that “retry” button to attempt to login, or just have eternal lag to the point where you can’t interact with anything on the screen or load up the map. And the worst part is when you spend the time, gas, and energy to walk around to a certain destination and then you’re unable to do anything because the servers are down, and that’s the only time you have to play (not everyone can just go and catch Pokémon all day).
A week later, it seems the servers have improved slightly, but I still get lag and hiccups every now and then, causing me to restart and wait around on a slow loading screen. If I wasn’t so dedicated to catching and training my Pokémon, I probably would have stopped bothering by now. I can definitely see the server issues being more trouble than it’s worth for some, which may actually lighten the load on the servers eventually, but still, it tarnishes the fun when you have to wait to log back on.
Pokemon Go is still in its infancy, so I hope that Niantic can increase their server capacity to accommodate everyone who wants to play, otherwise the fun just isn’t worth the trouble (maybe).
Bugs (Not Bug Pokémon) and Glitches
If you’ve played the main Pokémon games, then you’ll know the excitement of finding that super rare or legendary Pokemon along your travels. You’ll also know how frustrating it can be when the game glitches up or you accidentally defeat the Pokémon without catching it, but it’s usually an easy fix of just restarting your handheld, given the fact that hopefully you saved right beforehand. Unfortunately, there are many more frustrations in Pokémon Go when it comes to bugs and glitches.
In all honesty, Pokémon Go is one of the buggiest apps I’ve ever come across, and believe me, I’ve gone through a ton of apps and games during my time here at AppAdvice. I’ll admit that it has gotten better over the last several days, but I still get some issues while I’m out playing.
The first major bug that infuriates me every time it occurs, which is quite regularly, is the “frozen Pokéball” glitch. This is when you find a Pokemon, throw your Pokéballs at it, and then hope for the best as it starts to shake and light up in the front. Except sometimes the shaking never even happens. In fact, the game will have froze up, thought you can still see the spinning Pokéball logo in the upper left corner, which indicates that the connection is loading or syncing.
At this point, you’ll have to force close the app entirely and then restart it, hoping that the Pokémon you were just attempting to catch was caught. Sometimes you’ll get lucky enough and find that Pokémon in your inventory, especially if the circle on the Pokémon was green. But if it was yellow, dark orange, or red, then that means you probably needed a few Pokéballs to catch it, and chances are high that you did not get it. This has happened to me dozens of times over the past week, and happens frequently on new Pokémon finds, especially rare spawns, which are the absolute worst time for this glitch to happen. That’s because sometimes the rare is super hard to find, and if the game froze and you restart it, that missed opportunity Pokémon may or may not be there anymore. And since you’ll be walking, riding, or driving to all sorts of places in your quest to be the best, yeah, it’s infuriating to say the least.
Another game-breaking bug that I’ve noticed is the dreaded 1HP gym glitch. This occurs as you’re taking on an opposing team’s gym, but you can’t progress as the enemy Pokémon may seem to be immortal with a single hit point left in their health bar. It was a frequent occurrence in the first few days, but I believe it’s less frequent now, though still frustrating. It’s either that or there’s so much lag in the battle that it isn’t registering, and sometimes battles just don’t happen because the game freezes as you are entering the battle. And another glitch with gyms is after one has been neutralized (took out all prestige of the team controlling it), sometimes the game says you’re magically out of range, which means that someone else can come in and swipe the gym from you, so all that hard work was for naught.
As you gain trainer levels, you’ll unlock better Pokéballs to use in your hunts. However, I have noticed that sometimes, as I’m using the Razz Berry item followed by a Great Ball, the Great Ball will curve to the right, when I am pretty sure that I threw that sucker perfectly straight. And then when I throw the ball to the left a bit on a hard-to-catch Pokémon, it doesn’t curve. Many Great Balls were lost because of this, and I was not a happy Pokémon Trainer.
These are just some of the major glitches that I’ve encountered numerous times each day on my hunts. I may not have mentioned all possible glitches in the game, but these are the most common that I’ve experienced myself.
The Future of Pokémon Go and Augmented Reality Games
Pokémon Go is only in its infancy stage, but from what I have noticed in the past week or so is that the game is truly bringing people of all kinds together to have some fun. Like I said, the world has been full of sad and terrible events, but Pokémon Go is a beacon of hope — everyone puts aside their differences and helps each other out in the never-ending search for Pokémon.
However, even though Pokémon Go is now the most successful mobile game of all time, I’m wondering if this is all just a fad right now because it’s still so new, or will it truly last?
As a longtime Pokémon fan, I think that this will be a game that I’ll continue playing for a long time, because the journey to be the best is not an easy one. Plus, if they continue to add new content and features to the game, it will keep the game fresh and fun, since the first generation of Pokémon only has 151 creatures, and at the moment, there are 721 total Pokémon spread out across six generations, with the Pokémon Sun and Moon games bringing in a seventh generation later this year.
However, as the first real augmented reality game that has truly taken off, there is still a long road ahead to keep it all alive, and perhaps even be inspiration to other types of AR games. Niantic and Nintendo need to figure out how to keep their servers from frying during peak hours of play. Because when some people finally have time to go out in hopes of finding certain Pokémon, and are only greeted by the inability to log in or connect, it’s pretty annoying. The game is also full of glitches that need to be fixed ASAP, because it gets old when the Pokéball freezes or the game just crashes every time you find something new — I know this from experience. At some point, if it never gets fixed, some may just not think it’s worth it anymore, and I don’t think Niantic wants that, right?
It may still be a bit too early to tell, but if Niantic and Nintendo don’t fix up the problems that plague the game, then who knows how long this fad will last. But with much more work and polish put into the development of the game, then it’s truly amazing what this one augmented reality game can do to bring people together.
Now, if you’ll excuse me…
I wanna be the very best,
Like no one ever was.
To catch them is my real test,
To train them is my cause.
I will travel across the land,
Searching far and wide.
Each Pokémon to understand
The power that’s inside.
I know it’s my destiny…