Pokémon Go(-GO) Redux
Niantic and Nintendo, the geniuses of the gaming industry right now.
Microsoft versus Sony, Battlefield versus Call of Duty and Forza versus Gran Turismo. These are some of the rivalries that can get people talking about console wars. “Game On or Game Over” is your place to get inside the minds of Nicholas and Andy as they seek to find the true meaning of gaming and tackle some of gaming’s most controversial subjects. Both are award winning authors – although the awards haven’t been mailed or created yet — but trust them. Would they lie to you?
Nicholas: Last week we were discussing the phenomenon that currently is Pokémon Go, and we covered quite a few points. We touched on reasons why the game is such a success, shared our opinions on the concept itself, and talked about both the positive and negative news stories coming out about it. That said, I still think there’s a lot we didn’t touch on last week, and it’s those additional points that I’d like to really deep dive into this time around.
To kick things off, there was a tweet I saw on my newsfeed which sparked the idea behind this week’s discussion. It was simple, “Pokémon Go is the worst game of 2016.” It wasn’t because the person hated Pokémon, nor was it because he hated micro-transactions. The reason for it was due to the constant server connection issues that have plagued the game since its launch just over two weeks ago.
Now we both know, as do our readers, that the gaming industry isn’t new to launch issues – as a matter of fact, we’ve discussed them time and time again in the past. It seems though that Pokémon Go is different. We’ve had instances in the past when certain games didn’t work entirely correctly (Assassin’s Creed Unity) or online didn’t connect (Battlefield 4), but with Pokémon Go, when these server issues happen, there’s no offline mode you can still play in the interim, instead the game is completely non-functional.
When issues like these have happened in the past, gamers have been quick to ask for a refund or compensation, but it doesn’t seem to be the case much with this one. So to start, have you experienced these connection issues, and why do you think we’re not seeing as much of an uproar from the community when they take place?
Andy: I think the biggest reason is because Pokémon Go is free. I mean I guess Nintendo could refund all those zero dollar purchases but it would take quite a while and be a lot of paperwork. When a game is a free-to-play title, I don’t think there can really be all that much complaining about servers being down, connectivity issues, freezing or whatever else the problems are that people are having. Personally, I have had some of the afore mentioned issues but never got that bent out of shape about it. Mostly because I didn’t pay a thing for the game, and won’t be doing any of the micro-transactions either so I feel like my voice doesn’t really matter because I have no real monetary interest in it.
Would it be nice if there were zero issues and the game ran smoothly every time? Well of course it would, but let’s be honest here, AAA games like The Division, Fallout, Battlefield and Assassin’s Creed have launch issues (and sometimes beyond). I’m one of those people that just accept the issues and if I like the game I’ll stick with it and if I don’t, I’ll delete it and move on. A mobile game is no different. I think it’s safe to say the developer very much under estimated the response the game was going to get. Look at me for interest, someone who has never played a Pokémon game in my life is playing it. I’m sure the servers are getting smashed.
It is what it is. If you get bent out of shape because a free-to-play game has a few issues then you really need to re-evaluate your priorities. No way Pokémon Go is the worst game of 2016 off the top of my head I can think of far worse examples; Mighty No. 9 for example. You know the game that was a Kickstarter success and had many promises and barely delivered on any of it. I want to flip your question back to you though, why do you think there hasn’t been as much hate spewed towards Pokémon Go as we have seen in the past towards other games?
Nicholas: I think the main reason is the very one you pointed out at the beginning of your response – the game is free. Sure, it’s frustrating to open an application/game and be told the servers are down and you can’t play, but when you haven’t paid a dime to access it, there’s really not much grounds you have to be angry.
This of course leads me to my next point – it seems like whoever I speak to, that the game is clearly not finished. There are regions in the world that have yet to gain access to the game, and there are features (and even Pokémon) that have yet to be implemented. In every sense it appears that this is more a testing ground that the complete full-fledged product. Sure, it’s ‘complete’ but it’s still not ‘complete’, if that makes sense. Do you think this is the other reason why it’s hard to get angry at the game, given that there’s still more to come?
Further to all this though, we’ve both spoken about the fact the game is free, but for a lot of people, it isn’t. Micro-transactions are the only source of income for the developers and Nintendo given that there are no ads (which I should add, is seriously awesome), and so far that’s netting revenue of $2 million per day. So there’s a number of gamers out there for whom Pokémon Go isn’t free. For these players, do you think server issues should be as insignificant in their eyes as it is for ours? What if you’re one of the people who’ve spent $100 on Pokécoins to buy items from the store. For them, should they be allowed to feel like they should be compensated when their now (non-free) game doesn’t work? If not, why?
Andy: Man, I don’t think I can jump on that bandwagon. Not for lack of understanding what you’re saying but just because I disagree with it. The game is, and will always be free. That’s not a point of contention. If someone chooses to buy $100 worth of Pokécoins to buy “stuff” in the game those things will still be there. Gamers have all of these double and triple standards that we apply to games. What happens when the servers for Dota or League of Legends go down? I’ve never seen people pine for refunds or compensation for those. There are two other mobile games I play fairly frequently; Marvel Puzzle Quest and Puzzles and Dragons. Both of those are free to play games with micro-transactions but I’ve never seen people demand compensation there.
Maybe that’s the answer, staring us in the face this entire time. Maybe there are different “schools” of gamers. One school is the console gamers who are rather entitled about getting what they want. When something doesn’t go the way they think it should they fire up the bullhorn and get the pitchforks ready. On the other side of the aisle are the mobile gamers – not the best term for them but I couldn’t think of anything else. Those who are used to the free to play model. They also understand that sometimes things don’t work and the developer is trying their best to get them working. Because really, when things are down the developer is making zero money. So it’s in their best interest to get them working, and working smoothly as fast as possible.
Is this the Occam’s Razor type of answer? Could it really be something as simple as that? Meaning that there really are two schools of thoughts for how gamers react to outages, bugs, etc.? The more I think about it the more I am giving credence to it. How many times have you seem gamers who play free to play games demand compensation for issues versus the number of times you see it for console games? Maybe we’re onto something here. What do you think?
Nicholas: That’s an interesting point actually, and one that I’ve not considered before. I suppose it depends on what kind of environment you’re used to. What I mean by that is, if you’re a predominantly PC gamer, you’re used to the restrictions that DRM and always-online connections brings, and while you mightn’t like it, you’ve accepted that those kind of issues occur from time to time. If you’re a console gamer though, you’re used to buying the game, popping it into your console and playing it. So you’re not used to the idea of patches, updates, etc. In the case of mobile gamers, if you’re the kind of person who really only plays a bit of Candy Crush or Angry Birds on the commute to work, it doesn’t really mean much of the app doesn’t work. You would kind of shrug it off and go to Facebook or Twitter. With Pokémon Go, sure it’s an established franchise, but at its core it’s still a mobile game, and I think despite the issues, generally people only see it as a fun game, rather than something more ‘serious’ (if I can use the term) like your AAA console titles.
If we can move on from the negatives, there’s a great success story regarding Pokémon Go that I’ve love to get your thoughts on. Yes, we all know how quickly the player base has exploded with this game, but something I don’t see being discussed nearly enough (if at all) is the financial impacts that this title has had for both Nintendo and Niantic. I mentioned before that the game is raking in approximately $2 million a day from micro-transactions, and the shares for Nintendo have absolutely skyrocketed (Note: Nintendo’s shares have since fallen after investors have realised that Nintendo did not develop the title themselves.). All with very little advertising it seems.
There must be marketing teams (and companies) scratching their heads on how a simple mobile game with just a small amount of marketing has become a complete success overnight, and on a scale we’ve never witnessed before. What do you believe is the key to Pokémon Go’s success, and how has a company like Niantic been able to create this global phenomenon, almost so easily?
Andy: I think it’s two-fold. The first is that it’s already an established franchise with a huge following of fans. Second, it’s a very simple and assessable format. It’s not complex at all, it’s easy to pick up and start – but most importantly even though it’s a Pokémon game you don’t have to come into it with any previous knowledge. Essentially Niantic is playing two separate groups of people and both groups are meeting in the middle. It’s almost like the movie ‘The Perfect Storm’ in that you have these two forces that meet and create this huge up-swell. That’s Pokemon Go in a nutshell.
Piggybacking off of that though, is the amount of free media coverage they are getting. You don’t have to have an advertising budget when local news outlets, national news outlets, bloggers, internet sites and everyone else is talking about the game. You literally can’t buy that amount of coverage. That falls back into the classic line of advertising is that word of mouth is the best form of advertising you can get. When a friend of mine talks about a game, or anything for that matter, that they really like I am much more likely to take a second look at it than I would be if I saw any type of paid advertising for it. Honestly, my 69 year old dad, who is not a video gamer at all and may not even know who Mario is… knows about Pokémon Go. It has literally crossed so many boundaries and generations that it’s simply awe-inspiring.
Talking about how much money the game is making, with some reports like you said in the 2 million dollars a day range is just mind boggling. That adds up to almost three quarters of a billion dollars in a year! Will it hold that monetary figure for a year? Who knows. It doesn’t really matter though, because it’s a simple free to play mobile game. Numbers like that are not even talked about in board meetings unless many beverages were shared beforehand.
You have made no secret in the past about being a Pokémon fan. I believe you even mentioned seeing a trailer, or some type of video, of Pokémon Go before it came out. So you were more prepared for this than I was. Are you surprised by the general hype this game has created? The ability for a free to play game to transcend all forms of media and get people talking about it? Can you think of another game that has ever had this type of reaction from people?
Nicholas: My knowledge of Pokémon Go literally extended to only knowing it existed as a concept, and that was about it. As far as gameplay was concerned, whether it would for free or any of the other features were completely unknown to me prior to downloading it and trying it out for myself. So to answer your question as to whether I expected this level of attention – absolutely not. We’ve seen major launches in the past, think Grand Theft Auto V and the attention it received before, but nothing has come close to the sheer hype and coverage that Pokémon Go has received. Like you’ve mentioned, it’s unparalleled and I don’t think anyone could have to be honest.
As far as any other games coming close, again, not really no. There are games that break gaming records sure, any you’re bound to see someone playing a game like Candy Crush on the train to work each day, but none of that compares to what we’re seeing now with Pokémon Go.
As we wrap this one up for the week, I think there’s one final topic to discuss. Not too long ago we were speaking about the dead-zone between now and when the NX launches for Nintendo. It seemed like they had almost given up on their fanbase for the rest of 2016 and once again it prompted people to ask whether there was a future for the gaming giant. All of a sudden, Pokémon Go releases and not only is the most discussed thing on the internet, but through licensing Nintendo has the potential to make a nice profit – off an unfinished game too!
It seems like Nintendo are consistent in being behind these unconventional, yet incredibly successful business decisions, which goes against any of the moves that the other gaming giants think of. Just consider the Wii as well – an average console, but one that netted them an absolute fortune. Do you think the success of Pokémon Go only further cements the fact that Nintendo are running in a race of their own, and arguably, one that is more genius than their competitors? Is there any other way to describe their success?
Andy: I really do think Nintendo marches to the beat of a different drum than most other companies. Sometimes that works in their favour; the Wii is a great example. Sometimes that works against them; the Wii U is a great example. They have made some iconic games in the past, and they’ve made a few that should have been nixed preproduction – but the same can be said for almost any company. Let’s face it though, when Nintendo hits a homerun it goes far.
Your dead-zone comment is interesting too. I’m not convinced Nintendo looked at Pokémon Go as any sort of stop gap between now and the NX but it sure played out well for them. Admittedly I’m not a huge Nintendo fan, not that I dislike them in any way, I just haven’t played a Nintendo game in a long, long time. But, that seems to be par for the course with them they release a bunch of mediocre games and then drop one absolutely amazing title and get people talking positively about them then they fall back into their rhythm.
With the success of Pokémon Go, I’d love to see Nintendo completely embrace the mobile game market and really entrench themselves in that space. Maybe even release some of the classics like Donkey Kong, Super Mario Bros., or what have you on mobile platforms. Reach those gamers who may have missed a lot of their games. Re-engage those gamers who slowly faded away from their brand. Once you light that fire there’s no telling where it will go. Case in point, I discussed last week how much I love Pokémon Go without ever playing Pokémon before. I am now considering getting a 3DS to play Pokémon. I would have never thought about doing that before. Think what would happen if found out that I still love Mario games. Maybe it’s best that Nintendo treats Pokémon Go as a one-off and never releases another game via mobile devices. Yeah, I think that’s safer for me in the long run.