Say what you will about following tradition, but when I first heard more Pokemon would be added to Pokemon GO, the first thing I thought was, “Please, please don’t add new ‘mon based on generations!” Maybe you have fond memories of evolving the Magmar my generation loved into the abominations it became, or maybe you thought the elemental monkeys weren’t lame. That’s fine. We were all dumb kids who loved weird things. I won’t judge you (too harshly, anyway).
But honestly, from a development perspective, and keeping in mind the Pokemon Company’s theme of adding something new that targets first generation fans, I feel like Niantic missed some big opportunities by focusing on the old Generation 2 Pokemon when the new Pokemon Sun and Moon games are so ripe for potential expansion content.
New, old Pokemon
First, let’s be clear: Pokemon GO isn’t dying. Niantic’s still got a money maker on its hands at the moment. That being said, if Nintendo’s game plan is to lure people to (purchasing) its consoles, I’d think it’d better utilize its partners. Tie-in events are almost like cross-overs for big companies like Nintendo. Already Big N does this with GameStop, the amiibo figures, and certain magazines. However, beyond simply reminding people that Pokemon exists, I don’t see how PoGO really brings new players to the 3DS.
If Nintendo and Niantic had planned ahead, a Sun/Moon themed update would have been in the works prior to the game’s release, giving some bonus to people who play Pokemon GO and the new 3DS games. Maybe some simple bonus, like an egg that contains a new Pokemon for PoGO players and some Great Balls for new Sun/Moon players would suffice. However, having a Sun/Moon flavor enter PoGO could have helped retain more players longer, built excitement for the new 3DS games, and also improved Pokemon GO. The big thing to avoid is trying to attract the same consumers to both products.
Starting from the newest Pokemon games rather than sticking to the original order helps ensure that you can do a relevancy push, but another thing to consider is that this game has about 81 known new Pokemon, one of the smaller updates so far. While this doesn’t include new forms of current Pokemon, such as *Glorious Hair Dugtrio, their existence does enable Niantic to add more Pokemon while recycling some art, allowing for speedier deployment of an update. At the same time, it helps entertain PoGO’s older audience, who may be more attached to the old ‘mon, while younger players may be more excited about new Pokemon in the 3DS game. We’ve seen a similar trend with Niantic releasing baby Pokemon first.
The Alola regional variants don’t just add new looking ‘mon to catch but can help change the meta. People not into the meta, feel free to scroll down! Snorlax, Lapras, and Vaporeon,currently rule in terms of difficulty, but Dragonite, Rhydon, and Gyrados are top tier too. Most of this has to do with their Combat Power (CP), rather than actual strength. Dragonite, Rhydon, and Gyrados, while decent attackers, have quad weaknesses, taking four times as much damage from certain types. This means they can be taken out rather quickly, if you have the right ‘mon to fight them. As Jolteon is a (frequent and poor) by-product of trying to obtain Vaporeon, there’s a decent number of them out there. Vaporeon is great as a defender, but also attacker, especially thanks to Rhydon’s quad water weakness. Dragonite’s a bit tougher, since all current ice-types are dual types, so just getting a ‘mon with two ice-type moves is rough. Aside from Lapras, most were weak until fairly recently.
If the new variants were introduced, we’d have some good changes. While most of the ‘mon are on the weaker side, the new Exeggcuter, Golem, and Muk provide typings that challenge the current meta, with the first two weakening water’s grip as an attacker and Muk requiring a good Ground attacker, something that lost a lot of its power when Arcanine got nerfed. Getting the new Sandslash would help keep Exeggcuter’s new variant in check while also tackling Dragonite, with Ninetales also helping in this area (unless the Dragonite has Steelwing). The new Golem would help make Lapras a little less god-like (though some people may still prefer using fire types for their resistance to ice). All of the Steel-type hybrids and (to a small extent) new Marowak would help a bit with Snorlaxes that lack Earthquake.
All of this ignores the fact that, well, most people not into the meta scene just want to catch some new Pokemon that look cool, and new art for existing Pokemon can fill that niche probably more easily than building the new monsters from scratch (with exceptions, of course). The new Marowak and Ninetales seem mostly like awesome recolors with some new effects, while the new Exeggcuter and Persian have dimensions that may make them a bit harder to simply repaint.
Still, with the new Pokemon recently introduced to Pokemon GO, it’s obvious that Niantic wants to focus mostly on familiar Pokemon before the new ones, and all this fits that theme. The problem, of course, is delivery. Eggs make sense for baby Pokemon, but what about finding a wild Ice Sandshrew? Do you just add it to the existing spawn table? Cycle out the Ground type one? Or, maybe, add a way to bring those Pokemon to the player?
Delivery system: Poke Ride and QR scanning
Pokemon Sun and Moon add some cool new features to Pokemon. Not all of them may be right for Pokemon GO, but their basic ideas could be adapted for the smaller, single screen, and rolled out. For example, the new games have something called “Poke Ride,” where you use Pokemon as specialized mounts. Tauros breaks boulders blocking your path, Lapras swims over water, and Charizard’s Flying is a kind of warp/fast travel.
How would these work with Pokemon GO? Well, consider them as a kind of expansion “key.” Maybe buying a Tauros Ride allows the player the option to attract the new forms of Generation 1 Pokemon that appear in Sun/Moon. Maybe they act as a special kind of incense that’s reuseable so players don’t feel like they have to keep buying incubators/lockboxes by another-name. Later, the Pokemon Gogoat from X/Y could unlock the same for that generation’s updated Gen 1 ‘mon. When completely new Pokemon are added, like those lame elemental monkeys, figure something else out. Again, I’m just suggesting a way to build on existing assets and tech.
There is another potential method, though: QR scanning (or even maybe just shaking phones near each other). In Sun and Moon, players scan QR codes that unlock access to special Pokemon not usually found in the games. The ‘mon you can find changes based on the day of the week and the area you use it in, and you only have an hour to find it in a specific spot. It’s a bit tedious, but perhaps this could help players (especially in rural areas) get access to a bigger variety of Pokemon. For PoGO, players could just have the monster in question spawn behind them, and only for them.
Even better, if the QR codes are player generated and have to be scanned by other players, it gives PoGO players a reason to interact. I’m sure people will just share their codes online, but imagine finding out that your code of the day unlocked a Snorlax encounter. You’d better believe I’d rush over to my fellow Mystics and share it with them! Heck, maybe gyms would also become areas people trade codes. Of course, there’d need to be a limit, perhaps one scan a day, but it’s something that grows the social aspect of the game.
New types of play
Maybe not in November during the 3DS games’ release, but months after to help keep them and Pokemon GO fresh in peoples’ minds, Niantic could add new types of play. As much fun as battling is, it’s not for everyone. That’s OK, though, because the Pokemon games aren’t just about fighting! There are bug catching contests, breeding, beauty contests, and taking pictures.
One of my favorite games in the franchise was Pokemon Snap, an on-rails picture-taking game where you got points depending on factors like proximity to the target and special poses. Nintendo added small hotspots around Alola and baked the general feel of that into Sun and Moon. As people’s phones already have cameras, this seems like an obvious addition to Pokemon GO, but again, we need to adapt it.
Perhaps allow people to pay for a “stage” that lets them bring out any Pokemon they’ve already caught. Sure, attach some cash to it. Toss in a way to call out Pokemon from your Pokedex for on-call photos as a nod to Sun and Moon having a Pokemon Snap moment, and you probably have enough to lure back achievers, explorers, and socializers. It also gets people to look up more, which is something the developers want.
If you want, add Twitter integration so people can easily share their pictures. Down the line, maybe Niantic could hold contests where the winners get some coins so there’s a non-combat way for people to earn them. If Niantic wanted to get really fancy, it could try to add AI for rating pictures, but let’s try to keep this as simple as possible. After all, the game has only been out for about six months in the states. We’ve gotten some decent updates already, so I won’t push the issue too hard.
Other useful Sun and Moon additions
I’m sure there are a lot of things from other generations players want to see entering the world of Pokemon GO. Beyond the basics, such as trading and PvP, I doubt we’ll be seeing a lot soon, or for free, but there are other features that could be rolled out in the future. Breeding is one I hear often requested, which is from Generation 2, and a pretty decent pick. But what about simple interaction with Pokemon?
The new games have something called “Refresh.” After or between battles, you can do simple things on the touch screen to interact with your minions, like pet Pokemon, dry off the remains of a Water Gun attack, or treat the paralysis your ‘mon suffered. We don’t have stat effects in game, but we do have terrain recognition. Water Pokemon tend to spawn near water, rock types in rocky areas, etc. Perhaps there could be times when, rather than constantly throwing food and balls at wild animals, we can offer comfort.
Maybe non-water types that spawn near the water need to be dried off before they decide to join your team. Perhaps you find a paralyzed Pokemon near a power plant that needs massaging. It could be a way to do event Pokemon too. After all, Mewtwo in the movies is a fairly tormented Pokemon. Do we really need to keep beating him up to capture him? Maybe he just needs some comforting.
While I’m curious about how Mega-evolution would fit into the game, I think Z-Moves might be more at home in Pokemon GO since our combat is very touch-based. In Sun and Moon, the character has to do a kind of dance so the Pokemon executes a very powerful move of the correct type. However, the actual player just taps a button. It’s a bit anti-climatic.
PoGO, being more action based, could change this. Maybe Psychic moves require tracing a pattern. Ghost types perhaps involve blowing into the mic. Fire types involve setting the phone aflame or something less physically destructive. Niantic’s smart; I’m sure it could figure out something fun and tactile to make people earn their one-hit-killing move that makes all the tapping and swiping feel like a combat appetizer rather than the main course.
Sun and Moon also introduced “Poke Pelago” and a “Festival Plaza.” The Pelago is mostly an island with functions that help with raising Pokemon stats, while the Plaza is for mini-games that help grow a personalized area (and, uh, also often lead to more Pokemon training). One, the other, or the two combined could be used as a kind of instanced housing, perhaps giving people a way to enhance a part of the game they care about most. Collectors could maybe have fields of bushes that attract rarer Pokemon once a day. Battlers could have an obstacle course that generates extra-candies for the Pokemon sent there. Maybe a fashion booth could unlock more trainer customization and tints for Pokemon, as we’ve seen color variations not associated with shininess in the Pokemon Stadium games.
Hindsight is 20/20 though. I’m sure Pokemon GO has been bigger than Nintendo or Niantic dreamed it would be. Maybe there was an idea for more tie-ins but Niantic was too bogged down with bug fixes to work on it. Maybe some of these systems are already being discussed. Or, just maybe, we’re just going to get each generation slowly rolled out in the order the series introduced them. We can dream though, right?