How do you mess up the launch of a huge franchise like Pokémon? It’d be hard to, really, it’s one of the most popular gaming franchises out there and when a new game is out, all people want to do is pick it up and play.
Which is exactly how Niantic and Nintendo screwed this up.
As we speak, it still seems like the servers are down. There are thousands of third-party installed APKs on Android, and the rest are clamouring in fear of bans, bugs and of fearing being left behind in a persistent world, being the have-nots in a world of haves.
I put the blame for different parts of this diabolical launch with each of the respective companies. Firstly, Niantic really do know better than the server issues suggest; they have experience of Ingress and the millions of consecutive users that it entails. I put the blame here firmly on Nintendo, who have historically had low quality server capacity for online games and been criticised for this in the past. The giveaway for me is that it’s no coincidence that the Pokémon Trainer Club login is also down, leading me to the conclusion that the game, whilst running on Niantic servers (probably sharing Ingress data, really), the authentication goes via Nintendo, and its here that I expect everything has fallen over.
However, I’m not giving Niantic a pass here either; you guys grew out of Google, and have experience here – why the hell did you allow Nintendo to go with a phased rollout by region? That was NEVER going to work, in 2016 is a flawed business model, AND you know that APKs on Android can easily be extracted and sideloaded. It was inevitable that those outside the regions would install it, and if you wanted to keep it to particular regions you should have just GPS locked the game. Which is why I think all this talk of banning those early adopters is baloney. Paranoia is rife when the servers are so unreliable; you may think you’re banned because you can’t log in anywhere!
No doubt, in time, the game will be playable. Right now, it isn’t; just too many server issues going on. I tried a gym fight and got locked in the battle, unable to leave it, to finish it, nothing but able to attack and attack. The CPU got bored with even trying to hit me and just stood there. There is significant lag, and the battery drain is obscene, even by Ingress standards!
So let’s talk about that a bit; Ingress. To me, it’s like when you have an Android phone. Underneath is Google’s Android, but Samsung etc. always slap their skin over the top. Such is the case here – this is Ingress with Pokémon layered over it. Colours are brighter, graphics updated, augmented reality is here, and the factions have been upped from 2 to 3, to represent the three legendary birds. Portals from Ingress have been torn in half, a mix of Pokéstops and Gyms. The former is what you use to gather resources, the latter are the places you are vying for control of in your faction. The evidence clearly shows that the same source data from Ingress is in use here; portals in Ingress match up well with the stops and gyms, although the frequency of them has been dialled back – probably because in urban areas Ingress was more like In-‘mess’.
So, how is it to play? Unsure. Its fun, I enjoyed walking around, and anything that gets my lazy ass moving isn’t a bad thing. But it has a while to go. It has made tweaks to the Ingress formula, and we all know there is a pay model in the background (hopefully not too much ‘pay to win’ but I wouldn’t be surprised…). Plus, you get to throw pokéballs at things, and battle, I haven’t had a good enough experience of battling to give my thoughts yet. I’ll definitely be playing more of it as it goes on, but I hope it grows a bit beyond the Ingress model.