Expect the world's most popular mobile game to evolve – and fast
Last weekend, Pokémon Go hit the phones of almost 10 million players in a matter of hours. Surpassing Tinder and Twitter with more than 20 million active users, it's officially the biggest U.S. mobile game ever. As we stand in awe at the influence that this late-Nineties phenomenon still commands, one question lingers – what's next?
Even if this augmented reality game turns out to be a flash in the pan, it will remain a singular moment in pop culture. As it stands now, though, Pokémon Go is missing most of what made Pokémon... well, Pokémon. That's likely to change, though – and soon. Here's a look at what's currently missing from Niantic's smash hit.
Trading is a core element of Pokémon, the idea being that these magical beasts are rare, and no one person can hope to "catch 'em all" without help. That was true back in 1996, when Pokémon was originally released in Japan as two separate games for the original Game Boy. Since the roster of 151 Pokémon was spread amongst both games, those who hoped to collect the entire menagerie were required to trade with players that owned the other version. In Pokémon Go, the challenge is on a different scale entirely. Such is the enormity of the task that most people won't ever be able to find each of them in person. This has lead to an intrepid Reddit community known as the Silph Road (a tongue-in-cheek reference to the Silk Road). Niantic, the game's developer, is evidently well aware of the challenge. "Pokémon trading is coming. It's not in this release," CEO John Hanke told Glixel, "but it is something we're working on and committed to."
Swapping items is also a big part of Ingress, Niantic's other location-based mobile game. Ingress is the precursor to Pokémon Go that helped Niantic gather its huge database of population destinations and served as the foundation for its location-based augmented reality. Because everything in Pokémon Go and Ingress ultimately revolves around location, it's likely that trading will be limited to people in your immediate area.
That helps sustain scarcity – you won't be able to immediately get a Pokémon only found in China – but you can easily find people who have what you don't. It would shift the whole game into one of the largest six degrees of separation experiments ever.
Pageants and Pics
While the franchise was conceived around the concept of battling monsters, it's evolved a lot in the last 20 years. This is particularly evident in some of the more recent games. Whole areas of 2014's Pokemon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire are dedicated to beauty pageants for the cute critters. Meanwhile, some players devote themselves primarily to the games' breeding elements, in the hopes of selecting for weird and rare traits. And let's not forget that once upon a time, Nintendo produced a game all about going on safari to take pictures of Pokémon.
Why not expand on this a bit further with Pokémon Go? Instead of walking just to find new Pokemon, go on walks with your existing set, show them new places and locales, and even "teach" them so that they can learn new tricks and skills. Pokémon came up in the Nineties, around the same time as the Tamagotchi craze, and while the latter eventually faded out, Pokémon's proven that the digital pet concept has staying power.
Many Pokémon Go players have already fashioned their own sort of meta-game out of using the game's augmented reality features to take and share the funniest pictures on message boards. There are screenshots, for example, of fish-type Pokémon superimposed onto a seafood buffet. The technology is already there thanks to the game's photo tool and the potential is limitless for this kind of play.
Nintendo has been diligent in its nurturing of the franchise, with consistently popular games appearing each year. Every so often, the company will launch a new "generation" of games with about 100 new creatures to capture and collect. Ever since the third generation (which consisted of Pokémon Ruby, Sapphire and Emerald), Nintendo's been pretty cunning about how it introduces new monsters to its audience.
It's not uncommon for old fans to not immediately take to newer Pokémon. One of the ways that Nintendo forces players to acclimate is by locking off the classic Pokémon until relatively late in a new game, as was the case with the recent Pokémon X and Y. Pokémon Go may have started with the iconic, beloved first generation of 1996, but don't be surprised if Niantic skips to the most recent one at its first opportunity. It'd be a clever promotional tactic for Pokémon Sun and Moon, both of which are due out in November on Nintendo's 3DS handheld, and will debut a new crop of monsters.
Like most other free-to-play games, Pokémon Go relies on microtransactions, whereby users pay small fees to unlock items, bonuses, or features to aid their play. The tactic has worked pretty well so far, making Pokémon Go the top-grossing app on both iTunes and Google Play. But Niantic looks to have even bigger plans.
Gyms and "PokéStops" are the foundation of Pokémon Go. They're real-life locations where players tend to congregate, drawn from GPS data and centered on local landmarks. PokéStops are where players resupply on essential in-game items and gyms are where they do battle to capture territory for their teams. If you've encountered hordes of Pokémon Go players buzzing around a specific location in your town, it's likely a gym or PokéStop.
Niantic has a history of partnering with businesses eager to increase foot traffic, creating sponsored locations in Ingress. And according to a New York Times story, Niantic will soon be doing the same with Pokémon Go. Restaurants and shops will be able to pay Niantic to include them as destinations, and if these early days are anything to go by, it'll likely drive swarms of players to their doors.