It's obligatory Pokémon Go article time!!!
But there's a good excuse: It's the summer games drought, where publishers decide not to release any games because we're all out getting some sunshine in our free time and no one else can say otherwise. The climate does make a great case for Pokémon Go, though, so that's what I've mostly been playing over the last month.
In a way, Pokémon Go is the all-encompassing idle game. You walk around your neighbourhood or areas unknown in the chance that a rare Pokémon might come into proximity, or hoping that one of the nine nearby Pokémon will pop up on your map, ready to battle and capture.
Your phone then gives off a satisfying buzz, you prod the Pokémon on the map, catch the critter and then it's off to look for more. It never really requires your full attention, but the heavy reliance on random Pokémon spawns combined with the social pull for groups to play or discuss the game makes for a game that’s nearly irresistible to leave alone. You're not only always making progress; you’re increasing your chances of being able to do so in the first place.
I’m still unsure whether playing Pokémon Go has made my journeys more exciting yet. Discovering new Pokémon in the same old areas is always exciting, but on the flipside it can all feel like busywork if you’re playing on your own and the novelty of the AR feature wears off. In particular, evolving Pokémon for experience points is often a long and cumbersome experience, and it can be disheartening to visit gym after gym of more powerful Pokémon than your own.
What makes Pokémon Go a bit more unique in the realm of games-as-a-service apps on mobile is that it’s compelling without the need to rely on tempting you back with superficial rewards.
There are no daily log-in bonuses, and a new player can quickly get accustomed to the game without being "trained" through a long and arduous tutorial that points the player towards all the different things they can do. Many of Pokémon Go's mechanics are left entirely unexplained to the player, which gives the experience the same sense of adventure as your first main Pokémon game.
Because Pokémon locations are all shared among players, it doesn’t feel as cynical as other games in the genre can. Niantic simply doesn’t – and can’t – discriminate directly between players in an obvious, direct way.
While Pokémon Go is undeniably seen as a social experience, the game actually lacks any sort of direct social features, too. There’s no way to spam your friends’ social media feeds with invites to the game for in-game currency, neither is there any way to directly compare your own achievements with friends’.
Social interaction is mostly driven from within the game’s intrinsic mechanics – I’ve lost count of the number of conversations I’ve had with others, comparing our roster of creatures, or what we managed to capture over the weekend. It almost feels like a return to purer times as a result, where games weren’t actively trying to use their current playerbase to convert new players, or existing players into payers.
While I've unknowingly sunk many hours into catching dozens of Pidgeys and other common Pokémon in the name of levelling up and making progress, there's a lot to appreciate about Pokémon Go's design, and it certainly feels less cynical than other games on mobile.
Perhaps that's reflected in the spending patterns of players -- Macquarie Securities claimed that the majority of purchases in Australia were driven by a large number of players
rather than super-engaged big spenders. Maybe I was wrong to point my finger
at The Pokémon Company after all...