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Why Pokémon GO is Already the Best AR Game You Can Get

Why Pokémon GO is Already the Best AR Game You Can Get

I knew what they were doing, and I was pissed. Getting up a bit earlier than usual, I was out the door and walking around the block on a brisk Los Angeles morning. It wasn’t for fresh air or exercise. It was for Pokémon. From the lightly overlaid Google map displayed on my phone, I could see that the Pokémon gym behind my apartment was currently being taken by a different team. I could see the perpetrators. Their pocket monsters were too powerful however, so I had to keep walking, but the urge to retake my turf was overwhelming.

My experience and many like it succinctly explain why Pokémon GO is going to be the best augmented reality (AR) game made to date.

Be the very best, like no game ever was

Pokemon Go device 3

No one will say that Pokémon GO is perfect. It’s been out for less than a week, and the roll out has been terrible. Find any place where players are talking about it and you’ll find complaints. Freezing, crashing, an inability to connect to servers, slow downs, glitches, data wipes, and lag. On one hand, maker Niantic should have expected this — they have made giant AR games before, and Pokémon is about as big as game franchises get. On the other hand, these complaints stem from the fact that so many people are trying, and figuratively dying, to play.

All of the franchise’s strengths are now actualized in Pokémon GO. It just feels right.

Pokémon GO is similar to Niantic’s previous game, Ingress, where players join teams to battle, level up, and explore using real geographic locations. GPS positioning determines where important in-game locations are, and that information is overlayed onto reality using a smartphone’s screen and camera (hence “augmented” reality). In Pokémon GO, GPS data from Google is projected onto a smartphone with a sheen of Pokémon-styled textures. As a player moves about the world, she can interact with “Pokéstops” for items, battle at gym locations to take over territory for her team, and catch pokémon along her route.

What makes Pokémon GO an AR game is mostly the catching pokémon part. A pidgey appears from the grass near your character, you tap on it, and a “real” pidgey will show up on your phone, perched on something your camera can see. This is the true selling point of the game, and why GO is already the best AR game.

To train them is my cause

Pokemon GO Img 7Pokemon Go Img 1

Pokémon GO is going to define the AR gaming landscape chiefly because of its familiarity. You probably have to like Pokémon, or at least know what it is, to enjoy this game. But the game is targeted at exactly those people who all know what the franchise is, and have probably already been playing its games for 20 years.

The game is deceptively simple. All you need to do to play it is walk and tap. Underneath those simple mechanics though, are more features for dedicated players. Battle mechanics, gym alliances, evolving, farming, hatching — the tools are there for players that need a bit more than what Pokémon Snap was, for example. And because the response to the game has already been enormous, expect Niantic to add and improve on these features.

The feeling of being a “real” pokémon trainer is why Pokémon GO will succeed.

While Ingress was known only to the people who played it, Pokémon GO, at least for the last few days, has been inescapable. Every corner of the internet is already filled with articles and photos and memes. The game has come out at the perfect time for what it is: a community-centered game that is free, easy, addictive, and eminently meme-able. All the experiences in Pokémon GO are sharable in a way that was impossible just a few years ago. It makes everyone want to at least try it, which will add to the community, adding to the game itself.

Then there’s the nostalgia factor. If your first phone was a smartphone, you have never lived in a world without Pokémon in it. Most of the people who would play an AR game have likely been playing pokémon games, or have been aware of them, for their entire lives. So of course another, more accessible Pokémon game would scratch the nostalgia itch. It feels good to catch a pokémon that you remembered and valued. I did a fist pump when I caught a high “CP” growlithe this morning. It’s a feedback loop of exploration, discovery, and completion that Nintendo has perfected over decades.

All of the franchise’s strengths are now actualized in Pokémon GO. It just feels right.

gotta catch ’em all

Pokemon Red

The feeling of being a “real” pokémon trainer is why Pokémon GO will succeed despite a still-unstable roll-out, glitches, and overloaded servers. Take the first games, Pokémon Red and Blue, released in 1996. What did you do? You walked your character around the world, randomly encountered monsters, caught them, and then used those captures to topple gyms. Pokémon GO does exactly this, but you are doing this. You are physically exploring, battling, and leveling up. The game uses the effort it takes to get off the couch and run to the park as an incentive to keep playing. Finally, a feedback loop for gamers that doesn’t fit a Cheetos-dusted stereotype.

AR games are in their infancy. No doubt that another game will be released that runs better and utilizes smartphone tech more efficiently. But I do doubt than any upcoming AR game will be so immediately popular that I can leave my home, walk less than a block, and see at least two other players. And be compelled to interact with them.

That gym will be mine.

Images: Niantic, The Pokemon Company

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