Friday, September 11, 2015

Gotta Catch 'Em All

By now I'm sure most of you are aware of Pokémon Go, the recently announced ARG being developed by Niantic. If you've previously heard of Niantic it's probably due to their current game / tech experiment Ingress. Where Pokémon Go will have you traveling to various locations to catch Pokémon, Ingress has you travel to locations to capture portals and establish territorial control fields by connecting them.

I played Ingress for a while, starting last year when I first got a smartphone (yes I'm a late adopter). It's a fascinating and compelling game, but in the long term there wasn't all that much there. Part of the problem is that where I live is not at all a pedestrian friendly city, so playing required driving around to get to various portals. The other problem, which ultimately was why I decided to stop playing, is that Ingress is an entirely PvP game. Players are all on either a blue or a green team and compete to control territory. In practice, one team seems to dominate in most areas with the other scrabbling for resources. A PvP game that requires traveling to real life locations also opens up the possibility of stalking and actual conflict; a combination of serious players being serious and stories of real life altercations between players was part of what led me to stop playing.

Having a portal by my house sounds like an utter nightmare.

I'm hoping that Pokémon Go will be more of a fully cooperative game. Obviously there will have to be some sort of duel mechanic, but if Niantic avoids players having to compete over resources I think it will be for the best. I'm actually curious if there will be resource requirements to catch Pokémon. Will it be necessary to find / purchase Pokéballs, potions, and so forth? It seems like a logical part of the game; we'll see if an how its implemented.

The thing I really liked about Ingress was how it led me to discover interesting places that I never knew existed in my own hometown. Pokémon Go has the opportunity to do the same for a wider fanbase. In Ingress portals are supposed to be associated with unique points of interest. New portals get submitted by players, and there's some gaming of the system that goes on. I know of a 'memorial wall' portal nearby that's really just a wall near enough to where a number of serious players work that they can guard and collect resources from the portal throughout the day. In Pokémon Go I would assume that Pokémon will simply be placed by Niantic; hopefully a lot of them will be in places that are interesting in and of themselves. Not having the territory control aspect would also remove a major limit on placement; there's no real downside to having a lot of similar Pokémon all near each other.

One of the fascinating things about Ingress is how popular something that is ultimately an ongoing experiment in gamifying Google Maps has become. The fact that it's free obviously doesn't hurt, but there are massive community meetups and events, and many players travel hundreds or thousands of miles to capture out of the way portals. Imagine now combining that with a proven IP with tens of millions of existing fans. If done well, this has the potential to be the new biggest MMO ever.

I'm hoping that Niantic has learned the proper lessons from Ingress and that, combined with the greater resources associated with a true commercial game using a proven and massively popular IP, they'll put together something truly impressive. For now I'm cautiously optimistic, and I'll definitely be keeping an eye on the project. Maybe a year from now I'll be out catching Pokémon.

1 comment:

  1. This looks like it could be fun if it works as shown. Might give it a shot.