Pokémon GO: The Biggest One-Hit Wonder or the Perfect Pokémon Paradise?

Pokémon GO was supposed to change the game. Despite the nock about it being a mobile game, or some questions regarding the playstyle before the release, Pokémon GO was going to be an open-world manifesto.

Pokémon has always had a dedicated fanbase and the one request has been a massive Pokémon world where dozens if not hundreds of players can interact with each other. Pokémon GO was going to meet that dream.

It wasn't far from that product. Even though players logged onto a buggy, bogged down server with a scattering of Pokémon over the real world. The concept was still fascinating and tens of thousands flocked outside to catch their favorite Pokémon. No one can quite describe the phenomenon that was the opening day and weekend or even month of Pokémon GO. While it may be common to see flocks of people with their heads buried in their phone, it was amplified by 10 as every street corner had a huddle of individuals all playing on their phone.

To better describe the journey of Pokémon GO, I'm going to share my experiences and also talk to Rachel Quirico, esports host and gaming influencer, a dazzling individual who's face is all over gaming culture. She has loved the game and Pokémon since its inception and has been involved with projects with Niantic Labs. She has been a fan since the word Pokémon echoed the hallowed halls of her middle school bus and where, Mary Griswold, a childhood friend would lend her the subtitled VHS tapes. She would drag her parents to all the local mall tours and Toys R Us Pokémon Leagues. She describes herself as a Pokémon hipster and I believe it. I asked her what she knew of Pokémon GO before it was launched.

"I work in the gaming industry as a host and interviewer, and I had a friend at Niantic leading up to the Pokémon GO launch, so by the time I was invited to the field test before Pokémon GO's launch, I knew enough about the game to be absolutely off-the-walls excited," Quirico explained. "The field test opened right before E3 2016 and that event was the hardest I've ever worked to keep my mouth shut. I was so excited by the AR and IRL gameplay and that it was Pokémon!!! I knew that if my heart sang like this, there would be many more who felt the same."

She wasn't wrong. Hundreds of thousands downloaded the game and many of them were content with the style and progress the game provided. And I was initially as well, but as any gamer or lover of pop culture knows, everything is vying for your attention. Social media, T.V. shows, movies, video games, books, and podcasts are all beckoning for your time and you have only so much to give and Pokémon GO wasn't giving back what I was giving in, but where I stopped, Quirico wisely kept on going.

"My expectations for Pokémon GO gameplay were in line with what was available when it came out. I did have the impression that the full release of the game was a little rushed and could have benefited from a beta test period...but I also wouldn't trade the first few weeks of the world playing Pokémon GO for anything," she exclaimed.

"Everyone had access at once for free, and maybe the servers had a little trouble with it, but once you were online, you were part of a global phenomena. My best friend and I ran around the streets of LA like children, taking gyms and following shouting hordes towards rare spawns. Two security guards stopped us at a gate once, but when they found out we were playing Pokémon GO, they ushered us through and cheered us on. Everywhere we looked around us, other people were playing too. It was magic."

I had a similarly magical start to the game. I was living in Brooklyn, New York at the time of the release and it was unpleasantly common for the city to be bustling during the commute, however, Saturdays and Sundays were known to be a bit less chaotic. That first weekend was something special.

It felt like everyone was playing. My wife, who had no interest in games or mobile games was right next to me as we spent five hours walking the streets of Brooklyn making conversation with so many people. Everyone had the same reaction, "It feels like I'm a kid again." "I've been playing nonstop after everyday of work." "This is the first video game I've played in years." Every type of person was out and about and it truly felt like Pokémon GO had mastered a type of mobile game that was currently missing. But then the weeks went by and fewer and fewer players were out when I did my daily trips.

My wife lost interest, coworkers that gave it a shot had all stopped playing and I was going along just fine until the dreaded step-radar was added. Pokémon were suddenly incredibly difficult to track. For most players still chugging along, the common encountered Pokémon had all been caught and they were more of a nuisance. Everyone desperately wanted something to do. Gyms required no skill and it felt more like a massive grind for many players. You wanted to power up your favorite type of Pokémon, yet they rarely spawned and when they did, it was a complete guessing game. You had to go in any direction to try to figure out when the footsteps were either increasing or decreasing. And in that time, you had no idea when the Pokémon was going to despawn as many of them only stayed on the map for 20 to 30 minutes.

I had better things to do with my time. Frustrated at the mechanics and disappointed that Pokémon GO wasn't what I wanted, I moved on and suspected many others did the same.

Boy, was I wrong.

Quirico never stopped playing and has played "nearly every single day since the field test." And when asked if she was the only one in her circle still playing, she had a much different experience.

"While I reign undisputed as the Pokémon monarch in my circle, my friends have maintained independent interest in the game. While my local friends don't all playing every day, they keep me updated on recent catches and events, and we often get together for Pokémon GO Community Days which have been super popular in my neighborhood. Back on the east coast, I get in-game gifts daily from some high school and college friends and it really makes me smile every time."

I wasn't so lucky to have close friends, significant others or even neighbors that still played, but that's not what drew me back in. Niantic Labs didn't sit on their laurels and pull in the cash. The company was constantly evolving the game and adding more interesting and dynamic content. Raids were introduced and the radar system was improved. I felt that my time was well invested in playing again and it so happened social media was going to solve my lack of playing companions.

I found multiple Facebook pages where I could post raids or ask questions and I generally enjoyed my time with others as we talked about Pokémon GO. I quickly realized that while I may have stopped playing for decent period of time (about six to eight months) the game was thriving and the community was only growing.

Did Quirico have any of the same problems?

"Since I was so invested, my biggest gripes about Pokémon GO in its early stages were things that stopped my friends from playing with me: troubles logging in on busy server days and error-ing out when a gym was almost conquered. Those small factors were overwhelmed by the positives though. All of a sudden my posse of sedentary gamers started making plans to meet up in Santa Monica or downtown to go...walking....for hours at a stretch," explained Quirico. "We saw new parts of the city, my boyfriend and I visited nearly all our local parks, and I met lots of our neighbors out at raids. Pokémon GO turned me from someone who would get grumpy over a wrong turn and an extra block of walking into someone who went outside and walked for fun, and it's a change in my lifestyle I've maintained thanks to the game as well."

The positives were countless and I became hooked again. I joined the local discord and found my true calling when trading was introduced. Since I travel for work, the possibility of catching regional Pokémon and bringing them back was exciting. I had found my niche. My time away from the game left me drastically behind others in the community and I wanted something to call my own. Bringing these type of Pokémon to group raids or Pokémon community days was delightful and gave me a bit of purpose when I was 10 levels below most of the group.

Yet, something was missing for me. I still wanted more. I wanted that full MMO experience and I wasn't the only one.

"My two biggest dreams for Pokémon are an immersive MMO-style game and a return to the Pokémon SNAP! rail-shooter photo-critique gameplay. I think the launch and continued success of Pokémon GO and the enthusiasm that greets every Pokémon Direct announcement are proof that fans will always be ravenous for Pokémon content. The movie Detective Pikachu also expanded the visual experience of the Pokémon universe to much fanfare, and showed us the brand could successfully balance its adult and youth audiences. Pokémon Home was recently announced which will allow players to transfer and store Pokémon from all one's games and devices. How is a World of Pokécraft not the next step!? Take my money!"

I couldn't agree more and we're getting close and closer to this dream. Everything Nintendo is bringing to the table by connecting all the universes and platforms, an immersive world seems just around the corner. But should Pokémon GO be that project? I thought at first it should be, but after talking to Quirico, I'm content with where Pokémon GO is and the future of the franchise.

And while the future does look bright, I wanted to know how Pokémon GO had surprised Quirico over the years.

"My biggest surprise has been how many Pokémon GO interactions I still have throughout a day. Sometimes it's looking up from spinning and Pokéstop and seeing a mom pause on her walk with a stroller to do the same, or deciding to take a walk to the park only to discover I'm just in time for a raid with some of my neighbors. And on Community Days, when I go to the park or the outdoor mall and see all the families in Pokémon shirts enjoying a day out, people excitedly informing strangers about rare spawns, the solidarity of including as many interested players as possible in a raid group. The game is not just a vehicle for Pokémon-based gameplay or light exercise or whatever. It's also teaching people to talk to each other again, albeit on a small scale."

Pokémon GO has found its niche. A global phenomenon that connects family and friends, children and parents, young and old. It's not a MMO universe that requires hours of grinding or Pokémon SNAP!, instead, dare I say, it's an even better product. Niantic Labs has introduced trainer battles and an intricate friendship system since the inception and the game is trending up.

What seems to be the most surprising bit of this revelation, is the creativity of Niantic Labs. While I wrestled through what Pokémon GO was and what I had imagined for it, I was blind to what Niantic Labs had created. This AR-universe encapsulated a childhood fantasy and created a whole new genre of game which has clearly found a foothold in mobile gaming. With the introduction of Harry Potter: Wizards Unite in July, and the plethora of copy-cat games that were launched since, Pokémon GO was the first successful AR mobile game and that shouldn't be overlooked.

For anyone out there that stopped playing, or never started, there is no better time to start than now. You have yearly seasonal events, the introduction of new legendary Pokémon, PokéFests, community days, active communities on Facebook and Discord, trainer battles and Pokémon trading. The game is ever evolving and doesn't look like it is slowing down any time soon.

Niantic Labs created a masterpiece and its legacy will be felt for years to come.

Photo courtesy of Niantic Labs