Pokémon GO has taken the world by storm. It’s boosted Nintendo’s stock by over 25% and it hasn’t even been released worldwide. With over 10 million daily active users and growing it’s quickly become the newest mobile gaming craze, and one that looks to stick around a lot longer than Flappy Bird. Having only just been released in Canada on July 17th, we here at the ToB Podcast are about a week behind the phenomenon that’s been sweeping the US. But now that it’s here and I’ve had just under 48 hours to sink my teeth into it I’m ready to document my experiences going forward. Stay tuned to this blog post, as I’ll be updating it as the days go by with my latest thoughts and new screen grabs as I try to catch em’ all.
July 27. 2016
With San Diego Comic Con taking place over the weekend I wasn't able to update the blog but now that SDCC is behind us I can get back to what really matters; catching Pokémon.
I spent the last week playing pretty casually. Starting it up here and there (when it would actually start) to see if I might luck into a rare and exciting Pokémon, only to be disappointed with another 50 Pidgeys. Of course I did stumble across a few new ones. I found a Bellossom, a Coughing and an Omanyte. But that was basically IT for new Pokémon that I found over almost an entire week. Disheartening to say the least. Fortunately, all those Pidgeys didn't go to waste.
As I promised I tried the “Pidgey Exploit” and it worked as advertised. For those unfamiliar, the idea is to catch as many of the abundant, easy to evolve, Pokémon as possible. The most common being Pidgey as it only requires 12 Pidgey Candy to evolve. Here’s where the “exploit” comes in. Every time you evolve a Pokémon, regardless of how many candies it requires, the player receives 500 XP. So to grab a whole pile of XP in one fell swoop all you need to do is equip a Lucky Egg which doubles all earned XP for thirty minutes. So for every evolve you're now getting 1000 XP. All you need now is a few hundred Pidgey Candies and the dedication to sit and evolve as many of those annoying bird Pokémon as you can within the thirty minute time frame. Once it's all over you should be looking at thousands of extra XP. I jumped from level 9 to level 13 using this method. All that being said, the “Pidgey Exploit” is no secret and many of the higher level players have probably used it at least once. The problem I have with it is simple; it's not fun. For most people the point of this game is to try and catch as many different Pokémon as they can, maybe get all 150. No one is out there trying to see how many Pidgeys they can get. By the 5000th Pidgey you no longer get excited about something new. Instead you get annoyed that this game still can't fix basic problems like the “Three Step Bug”, which would let you actually hunt specific Pokémon.
Which brings me to my next point; I still can’t believe how buggy this game is! Just today, when I played for about an hour (which killed my entire battery), the game froze or crashed on me four times! That’s not even counting how many extra times I had to close and relaunch the game when it got hung up on the loading screen. Every time I need to relaunch Pokémon GO my hate for it grows. I want to keep playing but if the game makes me want to throw my phone in the river I might need to start looking elsewhere for my mobile entertainment.
I’ll be back soon to discuss some of the news that came out of the Pokémon GO Comic Con panel.
July 22, 2016
Me and Pokémon go have a strange relationship. I want to play. I’m determined to catch em’ all. But I’m deterred by the games constant crashes and its immense battery drain. For instance, I got a ticket to see a football game last night (which is why I didn't update the blog yesterday) and this should have been prime Pokémon hunting time. I had to walk to and from the stadium, never mind walking around the concourse, but Pokémon GO eats SO MUCH of my battery that I couldn't risk killing my battery before the end of the game and lose my only ability to contact my friends. It was a conscious decision I had to make and I chose being social over catching Pokémon. The sad thing is, I shouldn't have to choose. Pokémon GO is supposed to be a social game. I should be able to play and still maintain contact with the outside world. But unless I plan on only being out for two hours, it's just not possible.
I also learned some interesting information regarding egg incubation and distance tracking. It was a widely held belief that the game tracks your distance using a combination of your phone’s GPS information and pedometer. The truth is the game only checks for distance travelled periodically and calculates the straight line distance between where you were and where you are when the app pings the server. What does this mean? A couple things actually. Firstly, running on a treadmill to hatch eggs won't work. Secondly, depending on how frequently the app is refreshing your location, walking around your block or even jogging on a circular track might also be ineffective. As far as I understand, your best bet when it comes to hatching eggs in the most efficient way possible is to walk/run in a straight line. This will maximize the straight line distance calculation. For the record, I’m not very pleased with this news.
As far as my Poké-progess; I did't get much done in the last two days. That being said, I am gearing up for a big “Pidgey exploit” in the next day or so. I have a whole slew of Pokémon ready to evolve and once I activate that Lucky Egg and go to town for that 30 minutes I’ll be back here with more of my thoughts.
July 20, 2016 - 4 days since launch
Day four and I managed to get in about an hour of hunting before the servers crashed. The story I’ve heard is that Niantic, the developer who was once apart of Google, pushed an update to fix “minor text issues” and that's what caused the crash. Whats even more bewildering is that the update had no fixes for any of the major issues that have been crippling the game since launch. Not the least of which being the “near” feature which remains completely useless.
It's absolutely shocking to me that despite the countless technical issues surrounding Pokémon GO it remains insanely popular. Any lesser mobile game would have been abandoned days, never mind weeks, after launch if they were hampered with as many issues. I suppose server issues can be forgiven based on how many people are trying to access the game every day. But some of the other issues aren't as easy to forgive. Just today I had some Pokéball freezes and countless crashes. Yet the game trudges on and its popularity only seems to grow.
As far as my days exploits, I was pretty happy when two of my 5 km eggs hatched into two new Pokémon. A Growlithe being my newest prize. I also caught a whole pile of Caterpies which was another common Pokémon that somehow I had yet to run into until today. I’ll also mention that I used an incense for the first time today and I’ll be honest I didn't notice much of a difference in terms of Pokémon spawns.
If the servers get back online I’ll be back with more updates soon.
July 19, 2016 - 3 days since launch
Day three and now that I’ve had to chance to speak with some more established players, (half my hockey team) I’ve managed to expand my Poké-knowledge and my collection of Pokémon.
One of the questions I had answered today was; what does it mean when a bunch of flower petals are pouring out of a Pokéstop? Turns out this means someone has put a lure there and it’s attracting different Pokémon to that location for up to half an hour. Obviously I had to test this out. I went for another bike ride this morning and jumped from lure to lure and it made a huge difference. I bumped up to level seven pretty quick and caught a whole slew of new Pokémon. The funny thing about lures is that they don’t just attract Pokémon but also attract other players to these same locations. Without even having to look at my phone I was able to tell exactly where someone had put a lure because there was never less than 3 people standing around clearly playing the game. People have criticized Pokémon GO for being just another reason for people to stare at their phones, and though that’s definitely a fair criticism, at least people are now doing it outside as with the added bonus of being more active. Plus it’s a bit more social than your average mobile game and I’m sure people are making friends over Pokémon GO at this very moment.
I’d also like to follow up on a complaint I made yesterday about the “nearby” feature that doesn’t seem to be working. I did a little bit of research and it appears as though this may be a server issue that’s fairly new. There’s a good article about it over at Forbes. Regardless, it’s still broken and makes hunting for specific Pokémon almost impossible. Hopefully this is fixed soon.
Finally, I’ll leave you with a quick recap of my daily Poké-adventure. Thanks to the lures I was able to grab a few new Pokémon that I hadn’t even seen in my useless “near” window. I grabbed a Jynx and a Tentacool as well as hatched a Doduo. I also managed to fill up my item bag so going from Pokéstop to Pokéstop seemed less important all of a sudden. Check out the mini photo gallery below to check out my progress.
July 18, 2016 - 2 days since official Canadian launch
I have been following the release of Pokémon GO since its BETA in the US a few weeks back, but only peripherally. I was more interested in what this release would mean for Nintendo’s mobile strategy going forward. I’m admittedly a lapsed Pokémon fan since the days of the original anime and the first Game Boy games. So this AR (augmented reality) game seemed more gimmicky than I was really interested in. But the more I read the more the game started to grab me. Only the first 101 Pokémon? Well that had me intrigued. I couldn’t name a single Pokémon after the first wave and, as so many outlets have knowingly pointed out, it’s an easy nostalgia grab for those in my age range of mid to late twenties. But that alone wasn’t enough to get me hyped for a mobile game. Another hurdle; I haven’t played a game on my iPhone (it’s an iPhone 5 so, yea, it’s a bit old) in probably over a year and that includes solitaire. It’s no easy sell to get me to buy into a new mobile game. I suppose what really caught my eye was the day of its official release in the US and within hours the hype had already started to build. By the end of the week, having seen countless mainstream media reports (most of them usually citing the same “girl finds dead body” and “terrible people take advantage and mug unsuspecting players” stories), I was beyond curious as to what was so captivating about this Pokémon game. Finally, before it was even officially released in Canada I was floored when half my hockey team showed up late for a game because there was an Onix just outside the rink. It was at that point I vowed to at least give it a shot. I mean, if it had reached my hockey team, not at all your typical audience for this type of game, it must have something going for it. Besides, it’s free-to-play, what’s the worst that could happen?
Fast forward to today, I’ve now had the game for two days and it’s been quite the experience. The first day it was already after 5 pm by the time I’d made room on my phone and downloaded the game. Having already made plans to see a movie at 7 I didn’t have very long to figure out what was what. I quickly designed my trainer (named TowerBabbleCast for those looking to add me to the inevitable friends list) and I was off to catch my first Pokémon. To my surprise and delight I got to choose from three familiar starters; Squirtle, Charmander and Bulbasaur. Being a former owner of Pokémon Blue for my Game Boy color when I was young this was an easy choice for me and quickly tapped on Squirtle. This was my first chance to engage with the actual catching aspect of the game, the part that used my phones camera to superimpose an image of the Pokémon on my screen. I was at first a little surprised how difficult it was to get the timing and distance right when throwing the Pokéballs (something I’m still not great at) but being your first Pokemon it gives you enough time to figure out the basics, at least. At that point I had about 20 minutes or so before I needed to leave for the theatre so out the door I went and started walking to the nearest icon on the map. Luckily one of them was only about three minutes away and I had found my first Pokéstop. A spot on the map, located in the real world, usually at a local landmark or park. In this case it was a park but I found one 2 minutes later at a church, then a mural, then a statue, and so on. There are also Gyms but we’ll get to that in a bit. So I collected the free Pokéballs from the Pokéstop and looked for the next one. The amazing thing about this game, and it was at this point that I noticed this, is that in most cases Pokéstops were usually just far enough apart that you could reach a new one within a couple minutes so it you were constantly incentivized to venture further, but not so far that it didn’t seem worth the effort. So right from the jump there’s a really compelling gameplay loop and that’s before you even start catching wild Pokemon. Which was the next thing I did on my way to Pokéstop number two. Apparently my neighbourhood is infested with Zubats and Rattatas so those were the first things I caught. It had taken me longer than I thought to walk around the block so I quickly jetted off the movie theatre where there were two more Pokéstops right next to each other (one of them being a giant Batman statue that hung from the theatre ceiling). By the time the movie was starting I had leveled up to level 2 so, being the responsible movie goer that I am, I put my phone away and didn’t get back to the game until this morning.
Day two was much different. Being between jobs meant I thought I could squeeze in some time with the game before I needed to pour myself back into the job hunt. Little did I know I would end up biking around the neighbourhood for almost three hours! I started by retracing my steps from the night before but this time with a lot more speed. Then I began diving into the menus (a lot of this game isn’t laid out to by a tutorial so there’s a lot of trial and error and maybe a bit of googling required to fully wrap your mind around the whole experience), where I discovered that I could incubate and hatch Pokémon eggs by walking a certain distance. There’s another hook; you can hatch Pokémon that are not native to your direct neighbourhood only by walking a certain distance each day. So there I was, pedaling from Pokéstop to Pokéstop with the odd stop here and there to catch a Pokémon or two (lots of Pidgeys and even more Rattatas!). Until I realized my battery was at 10%. Time to head back but I was only at level four and I knew that I could start battling at level five so I hurried back, recharged, and back out the door I went to get to that next elusive milestone. I did manage to catch a couple more interesting Pokemon though; a Pidgeot, an Evee, and a Kingler were the gems of my budding collection.
I did run into a few issues though. The “nearby” section seems to be completely useless. The closer a Pokémon is the less footprints it’s supposed to have next to its picture, to a maximum of three, but for me it was never less than three and the “nearby” Pokémon seemed to change willy-nilly. I wasted 20 minutes trying to hunt down a second Squirtle with no discernable progress and just gave up.
The other problem I had was when I finally did reach level five and took my Kingler to a nearby Gym, the battle was over in seconds. There was no tutorial on how to actually train your Pokemon just a vague choice as to which team you wanted to represent when trying to take over a Gym (I stuck with Blue by the way).
So now I’m at a strange impasse. Do I want to keep wandering around my neighbourhood hoping for the rare non-Rattata/Pidgey to expand my collection or do I keep trying my luck at the gym with the same crappy Pokémon. I’ve had fun today and it added purpose to an otherwise mostly boring bike ride, but I’ve gone on walks and bike rides before. There's no harm in more exercise, but if the game stops being fun so goes that added incentive.
I’ll be back soon with more thoughts and updates on my progress!
Not long after I did my last blog update my phone met an untimely end. Needless to say when I got a new one I chose not to re-download the game. Which is in and of itself is a pretty damning indictment of how I ended up really feeling about it. But beyond that I dont really miss it. The odd time I see people hunting for Pokemon I'll consider re-downloading it but that's where it ends. I reached level 20 and once you get there the slog really begins and I don't have any desire to invest my time in that way. Not to mention, I kind of enjoy having a full phone battery for once. If I had any regret it would be that I never did catch a Blastoise or even got close to evolving a Squirtle to a Wartortle. But I suppose I'll have to live with that.
If you want to hear me talk more about Pokémon GO just subscribe to the Tower of Babble Podcast to get my and my co-hosts opinion on all things Pokémon and so much more.