The Gradual Death of Another Trend
Come on, Niantic. Do you even want us to play anymore?
By Emily Suvannasankha, University of Central Florida
Since penning my last article on Pokémon Go, the game’s popularity has really been scraping the dumpster.
Glorious were the days when I could stride down any sidewalk on campus and count more people furiously flicking at their phones than not.
Now I walk to class casually bagging a Pidgey with my right hand, abducting an Eevee with my left, hitting up all the PokéStops on the way—except this time, I’m alone.
The disturbingly large fleets of Pokémon hunters that used to emerge with the night cicadas? Gone. The smash-hit game that had everyone and their great-uncle’s mistress in a rabid tizzy for Bulbasaurs just a few months ago? Dead.
Or so naysayers would have you believe. I assure you, Pokémon Go isn’t really on death’s doorstep; after all, I still play it every day, and everyone knows that I am the Hippest Fool on the Streets. (Yes, that’s my official title. I had it engraved on my Hello Kitty lunchbox.)
That said, plenty of normal people still boot up the ol’ Gyarados screen these days too, not to mention all the certified nerds who never put down their phones in the first place.
But of course, it’s undeniable that I am one of those unfailingly endearing parade-rainers who comes out of the woodwork to tell you why everything’s bad. Woeful pessimism’s an integral part of my identity, and I’ve accepted it.
So without further ado, here are three pretty good reasons why Pikachu’s currently huddled in the coat closet growing mushrooms with his tears.
1. The Casuals Are Jumping Ship
Remember when Pokémon Go was so popular that even the university cheerleaders who’d never laid eyes on a Pokéball in their lives were downloading the app? Boy, are those days a thing of the past.
A gigantic chunk of the reason why it seems like everyone suddenly dropped PoGo like a flaming spud is that back in July, the novelty was real. College students were dragging their begrudging friends outside at 1:00am every night to battle gyms for those sweet, sweet experience points. Parents were tossing the kids in their tote bags and hauling them to the park to “play,” while Mommy and Daddy camped out at the nearest PokéStop and farmed Jigglypuffs.
Two months ago, augmented reality was still worthy of such spirited exclamations as “Susie, look, there’s a Nidoran♂ on my knitting needles!” and “HEY EVERYONE, IT’S A CHARMANDER! RUN!” It was a better time, really.
But even though the game hasn’t totally croaked, the hype sure has. Now it’s old hat to spot the odd Magikarp on your frying pan in the morning, no one wants to flop their lazy limbs out of bed for their 86th Pidgeyfest and even the Team Instinct ribbing is getting markedly less hilarious (although I refuse to cease the mockery myself).
Nowadays, most of the people still playing Pokémon Go are the dedicated fans who would stick around no matter what—clearly, since the poor saps are still here after witnessing the shit show that is Niantic’s customer support (or lack thereof).
The massive swarms of toted-along girlfriends and “just curious” grandpas have almost completely vanished, simply due to lost interest. This decrease in filthy casuals would have surely happened anyway, even if Niantic hadn’t dropped the ball, stomped on it, taken a flamethrower to it and made a mimosa out of the ashes.
The Poké-scene may feel lonelier now, but at least there’ll be fewer weak-ass CP 10 Rattatas polluting the gyms from now on, right?
2. The Game is (Still) Broken
Okay, so PoGo was a glitch-filled mess from day one. But by now, two full months later, most of the bugs should have been ironed out, yes?
Ha. In your dreams. (And for that matter, mine!)
For starters, the whole “tracking system” disaster has, if possible, only gotten more hopeless over time. When Pokémon Go first came out, players could track a specific Pokémon by the number of paw prints under its picture. Three paws meant far away, two meant nearby, one meant pancaked on the bottom of your flip-flops. A simple, elegant mechanic that made Poké-hunting just a little bit more thrillingly realistic.
It worked for about a week. And then Niantic pulled a royal fuckeroo and let the feature glitch out, never showing less than three paws for any Pokémon, no matter the distance. This tomfoolery went on for actual months.
So what did the fan base do? Why, they used their own wit and wisdom and created beautiful, precise third-party tracking sites, of course! Players could whip out their (second) phones to decipher exactly where that rare Venusaur had spawned—and exactly how fast they had to sprint to get there. It was a beautiful time to be a human.
Until Niantic pulled the rug out from under those brilliant bastards and started whipping out cease and desist orders to shut down the unaffiliated tracking apps. Peculiar that big businesses haven’t yet realized that hackers will never go away, so why not embrace them?
Now there are no paw prints at all, meaning no clear method of chasing rare spawns whatsoever. (Well, actually, when there’s a will, there’s a way. Shh.) Lots of people who were intrigued by the treasure-hunting aspect of the game have become impatient and disillusioned with Niantic’s failure to fix this initially integral feature.
These days, Pokémon trainers are more like blind poachers, fumbling around in the dark for a Charizard’s wing.
3. The Abundance of Pidgeys
Allow me to state the painfully apparent when I say: People are bored. Pokémon Go ain’t new anymore, and Niantic hasn’t made any truly significant updates to the game since it came out two months ago. Not even the introduction of a new generation of critters could resuscitate its popularity back to what it once was.
But it would certainly help.
The thing about PoGo is that once you dive in, you’re in it for the long haul. Evolving a menacing Gyarados, for instance, demands that you squat by the nearest coast and pound 400 floppy-ass Magikarp into a sculpted serpent of fish meat. (You’ll never look at Gyarados the same way again.)
Most annoyingly, to keep progressing your avatar’s level in the game requires more and more grinding—and I’m not just referring to the hallowed Pidgey guillotine. Jumping from level 26 to level 27 takes approximately the same amount of experience points as the first 20 levels combined. And without those constant level-up showers of free hyper potions, incubators and self-esteem, trainers’ enthusiasm tends to wilt.
Similarly, many would-be players who spent their whole summer in, say, the middle of the woods and missed out on the wild honeymoon phase of the game have simply given up. From an outsider’s perspective, there’s no point in wading through the sea of Rattatas and trying to catch up to all the dorks (read: me) who trigger-fingered the download button the minute PoGo was released.
So if Niantic adds some long-awaited features, such as trading Pokémon and battling with friends, the game may not kick the bucket completely. The revival of novelty would drag back a good portion of the casuals, keep the solid fan base happy and might even make up for all the suspiciously brown feathers and purple fur stuck to people’s shoes.
To be fair, the most dramatic update to PoGo by far is coming soon: The “Buddy System,” which allows you to tote around your favorite Bellsprout on your head like a newsboy cap. Or something like that.
Whether the team at headquarters is planning on fixing the full harvest of glitches and feature deficiencies still mucking up the game or not remains to be seen. I, for one, am not reserving my exhalations.
In essence, most people initially booted up the app just to see what all the hoopla was about and then promptly abandoned their newborn Squirtles within the first month. The inherently repetitive gameplay required to advance in Pokémon Go is clearly not for everyone—those of inferior Poké-resolve have simply been sifted out at this point.
But there’s hope for my nearest and dearest timewaster yet. As long as Niantic gets its shit together, that is.