The 'Pokémon Go' Phenomenon Can't Last Forever

Or can it?

Since its release, Pokémon Go has dominated the internet. Stories of capturing gyms and catching rare specimens have become ubiquitous on Twitter and Facebook overnight. Outside, people all over are glued to their phones, getting into car accidents, finding corpses, getting arrested or robbed. Nintendo’s market value is up by $23 billion — a staggering number in or outside of the game industry. I feel okay not playing it.

Of course, this puts me in the extreme minority of what’s become a worldwide phenomenon as more and more countries are added. It’s been fascinating to watch as people I know on and offline have all started collecting the critters, hearing anecdotes about Ghost-type Pokémon hiding in the woods and guessing at how the hell the game’s “Nearby” function works. (There’s some good data that suggests it’s related to how close you are and which direction you’re facing, but still.)

By democratizing access to play a version of Pokémon through your phone, Nintendo may well have irrevocably turned the tide toward mainstream gaming’s acceptance. It’s already the most successful mobile game in history, and the medium has really never seen anything like it.

The Pokémon Company, Nintendo, Niantic

I should also clarify that I love Pokémon, meaning the original set of 151 (which the developers have cleverly decided to stick to for the time being). I have fond memories of the series dating back to the N64 era, so it isn’t a case of being contrarian for its own sake.

Partly the issue for me is just practicality; I need to upgrade my phone. A stupid problem perhaps, though with the way iOS incentivizes the latest and greatest by making old hardware run like garbage, not a completely invalid one. Still, even when that’s no longer an issue I can’t see myself testing out Pokémon Go more than a couple times.

It comes down a feeling of obligation which I don’t typically find in console games — maybe because I tend to lean away from ones where there’s pressure to log on while the collective whole is getting in on the action. I like the idea of Pokémon Go — at least the part about catching the Pokémon themselves, as almost every player I’ve met seems to think is by far its best part — but I feel fine watching the whole cultural saga unfold from outside, observing with only a slightly bemused smile.

I do also wonder what the community will look like in six months to a year. Though it wasn’t even close to being on the same scale, there was a similar trend when Nintendo released their first mobile game, Miitomo, earlier this year. Outside of resorting to designed limitations, it’s hard for a mobile game to have staying power, and despite Miitomo having the cachet of being Nintendo’s debut into the phone space, the app is basically a ghost town at this point.

You see this happen across the game industry all the time: players rush to play the hot new release at launch in order to participate in the hot new thing on social media and elsewhere. The effect more often than not is like feeding wood into a chipper — its quickly torn through, forgotten, and replaced by another new piece, repeated ad infinitum.

Pokémon’s staying power over the years has been formidable, albeit on a much smaller scale than Pokémon Go given that it requires each given iteration’s specific handheld hardware. Those are full-fledged role-playing games. As a mobile game, the newest and flashiest iteration feels designed to give players that experience on a much more casual scale, using the real world as its backdrop.

Whenever Nintendo and Niantic decide to add as many new creatures as are currently in the series proper (over 700, with more on the way in the upcoming Sun and Moon entries) I don’t doubt that the legion of Pokémon trainers already out there would continue in their quest to catch ‘em all, particularly since the Pokémon themselves seem to appear pretty much everywhere you might conceivably go, and some places you probably shouldn’t. Demanding exercise or even travel wouldnt necessarily be something that makes players drop out, since they’ve already proved more than willing to venture forth without issue.

Instead it’s just longevity. The dueling, ostensibly what anyone is acquiring Pokémon for in the first place, seems tepid on execution, and no one playing I’ve talked to feels attached to it beyond a sense of duty to, say, recapture a taken gym. People really seem to love the thrill of the hunt more than anything.

Niantic, of course, has already promised new features that add more social and competitive elements to the game, like trading Pokémon (no link cable needed) and real life multiplayer scenarios like team battle and citywide events. If Pokémon Go has proven anything, it’s that it has the power to get players to come together in frankly pretty surprising ways; the company’s plans are nothing if not ambitious.

And yet, how long can any game, mobile or otherwise, last against the endless tide of what comes next? How many expeditions to capture and battle can really be committed to before the whole thing becomes routine and trainers start to hang up their backwards caps en masse? Whatever the case, the answer may be coming sooner than we think.

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