You have probably seen a lot of Pokemon GO articles lately, but I have to tell you, I may be one of the most qualified people to comment on Pokemon GO. So when I break it down, you will get unique insight into how to build amazing games and Pokemon.Let me state this for the record:
- My son is the #1 ranked US TCG Pokemon Player, having recently won the Pokemon National Championship. (I am the only Pokédad with two players in the top 50)
- I am a writer for SixPrizes.com, the premier Pokemon strategy site.
- I was the VP, Product for Verve Mobile, the premier location-targeting mobile ad network, for four years. I have built iPhone & Android apps that were used by more than 10 million MAU.
No one more closely stands at the intersection of Mobile Geo-location and Pokemon than I. It is just a fact.
Here are some interesting attributes about Pokemon GO:
- Niantic has an amazing competitive barrier to entry because they have a very tight relationship with Google giving them access to Google Map data (the Founder/CEO is the guy who built Google Maps at Google and Google is an investor)
- Further, using Ingress, Niantic’s first foray into the augmented reality space, has given them a four year head start in building augmented reality data infrastructure. This is significant. It’s not like Disney can fast follow this stuff.
- Pokemon is a good brand. Whereas people like Rovio and SuperCell had to build brands, people already had a relationship with Pokemon. There are better brands – if you built an AR app where you had to fight Stormtroopers and de-activate tractor beams, that app would be bigger than god. I don’t know how Game of Thrones would work, but I know there is a 30% likelihood that a fan boy just read this and spontaneously orgasmed. But Pokemon is good. You probably save $100 million dollars. Minimum. Also, Pokemon has debugged their brand. You wouldn’t want to spend that money if you didn’t have that stuff nailed. Pokemon had already nailed it before Niantic had to blow it out.
So here is some thinking on why Pokemon GO is a well-designed game:
- Pictures facilitate viral spread. Here the Pokemon brand is a powerful brand asset, but also AR just looks super awesome. It is so easy to take screenshots on phones and consumers are already so well-trained. And posting pictures drives virality. You have to admit, these pictures are just 100% comic gold. How could people not see them and love them.
- The Game Mechanic implies skillful-ness: Frankly, much of the game mechanic is similar to Angry Birds. You can throw curve balls, you can get “Nice/Great/Excellent” grades for throws. So you want to get better at throwing Pokéballs. People who are better at throwing Pokéballs are better at the game. I already know people who have “a system” for excellent throws consistently. You need this. Don’t tell me when you read this you don’t want to know what it is.
- Pokédex creates a “gotta catch ’em all” challenge. Much like Candy Crush, you always want the ones you don’t have. Knowing that there are 151 Pokémon that you could be catching gives you something to grasp for. When you see a rare or ultra-rate Pokémon pop up on your radar, you suddenly have this, “I should stop everything I am doing and go get it, I don’t know when I will see it again” feeling. If you have catch a Dragonite you think, “I should post this on Facebook, what I just did is hard.” And you are not wrong. I wish I had a Dragonite.
- It channels your inner child. If you were a young person in the 90’s to now (e.g. 30 and under), then you grew up watching Pokémon. And the game is very good in that respect. Ash is a 10 year old boy who leaves his family to explore the world and become the greatest Pokémon trainer of all time. The odds that people were small children and dreamt of throwing Pokéballs to get a Pokéfriend are high.
Now let’s talk a little about the gameplay.
- I think the economics are not quite perfected. Anyone that talks to me about this stuff knows that I have played a few MMORPGs in my day and I am a nut for economic systems. Now, obviously, I don’t know a damn thing because Pokemon GO is already the #1 grossing app in the app store so it is working, but I think there is a disequilibrium in the market as illustrated by this photo: Clearly, lures are too inexpensive and/or Pokespots are too densely populated in the greater Manhattan area. Maybe the goal is for lures to be virtually throw-away, but I could see a model where there is “surge pricing” or maybe even smarter would be restrictions on how closely together lures could be placed. That would put pressure on people to use lures and drive people together.
- Pokespot disequilibrium: Pokespots were driven by data gathered from Ingress, but Ingress users were a much older/younger target market (almost uniformly in their early 20s, I suspect). The result is zillions of Pokespots in urban centers and literally no Pokespots in the burbs or rural areas. I suspect this will be rectified as they use the massive new data set they are getting from Pokemon users.
- The Battle Mechanic is “meh”. Current game design encourages a near constant change in Pokegyms. It is OK. I suppose it is nice to know that no matter what trainer came along and conquered the gym, almost anyone who is simply motivated to sit there for 5 minutes can take it away. You get to attack with 6 Pokemon and most gyms have only 1-3 Pokemon defending them. It takes a ridiculous amount of time to build up a gym that holds 4 Pokemon and I have never seen a 5 Pokemon gym, but clearly it would take just such a gym to stave off constant attacks.
- Game mechanics are in their infancy! Good news, there is tons of room to grow. How much? Well, there are ~800 Pokémon now but they only started with 151. So that is something. If they announced tomorrow that there are 200 more Pokémon out there, people would lose their ever-loving minds. The hunt would be on. Similarly, I am sure there will be more battle mechanics.
Finally, let me give you my two cents of sage advice from one Pokémon master to another:
- Want to level up fast? Here is the best trick: You probably have caught a few Rattatas and Pidgeys at this point. Keep catching them. Catch all you can. When you have a lot – I mean a lot – then activate a Lucky Egg, which gives you 2x experience for 30 minutes. And start evolving them. Evolve the Pidgey to Pidgeotto, but do not evolve the Pidgeotto to Pidgeot. This takes a lot more eggs but gets you no more experience. (Of course, you get a bump for filling out your Pokédex, so if you have extra eggs and want to evolve Pokémon that you haven’t created, go for it. I busted out a Vaporeon, a Flareon, a Beedrill, a Butterfree and a Dodrio. That drove big numbers for me. But you get tons of experience for evolving Pokemon so just sit there and spend literally 30 minutes evolving Pokemon. I found I could evolve one every 75-90 seconds or so. I literally acquired ~50k experience in a single 30 minute session. I had heard that this was a good system, but it blew my mind how effective it was.
- I have heard activating incense around a lure is a good way to catch really rare Pokémon. I cannot yet verify this.
- Don’t waste your Stardust. You may have noticed you can’t buy Stardust so using Stardust to buff your Pokemon is probably scarcest resource in the game. Now, conventional wisdom works like this: Until you hit something like Level 20, your Pokemon suck. Because a Pokemon’s CP is kind of soft-capped by your level, you simply won’t see and catch super powered Pokemon until then. Whatever you caught at Level 11, you probably will throw that Pokemon away at level 16. #truth. So putting Stardust into your 500cp Golbat is a waste. It just is.
- DONT WASTE YOUR STARDUST. When a Pokemon evolves, it’s moveset changes and some attacks are better than others. Don’t know what attacks are good? Maybe you shouldn’t be wasting your Stardust then. Google a bit! But if you are evolving a Pokemon and he evolves with the wrong moves, investing in him is meh. So definitely don’t Stardust before you evolve. Current best thinking is that the current CP of the Pokemon does not effect the outcome of your Pokemon, only the “potential max”. So don’t be wasting your Stardust before you evolve and check the moveset of your Pokemon.