Massively on the Go: Pokemon Go Fest’s Finale was a blend of comfort content and bad bugs

    
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Pokemon Go’s yearly Go Fest was fairly rocky this year – so rocky that some of us old trainers had to remind people that we’ve seen far worse. That shouldn’t mean Niantic can squeak by with “good enough,” but in this case, most of the issues were with Go Fest 2022’s Day 1, which was plagued by bugs and possibly not managing to enable full shiny odds. Day 2 was far better for multiple reasons, including wild legendary pokemon.

While we didn’t have wild legendaries, a big part of what made the Go Fest Finale – a new event Niantic hadn’t previously done – work was the choice of Ultra Beasts and how they were introduced. It wasn’t just raiding; it was a good spread on pokemon with obvious shinies difference, many of which are also useful in some way.

As always, it wasn’t perfect, but overall, this past weekend’s finale was strong enough to soothe the pain from the Day 1 disaster.

Leading the pack

Let’s start with the format. I can’t stress this enough: This was a catching and raiding event. It was actually focused and one of the very rare times Niantic didn’t use its kitchen sink approach. Yes, there was a hatching bonus, but not a ton of eggs or walking quests. Yes, that did get muddied by a few quest requirements we’ll discuss later, but it was far more on point than the Kanto or Johto tours. Let this be a lesson, Niantic: More isn’t always fun; it’s often just stressful. And the Go Fest Finale’s narrower focus helped keep expectations in check.

But it wasn’t just the activities that were an improvement; it was also the time structure. Two-hour blocks instead of single-hour ones that rotate through were a plus for some players. One of the advantages of the two-hour blocks was that during my least favorite block, it was easier to take a break and still get my game goals in. Normally, long theme-based rotation blocks are hourly and go through two rotations, but the Go Fest Finale instead did two-hour blocks that didn’t rotate. An hour may not be quite enough if I’m going to a restaurant with friends, need to clean storage, or do some trades, that kind of thing. But two hours let me get a lot in and then tackle the few things I was interested in, rather than rush that hour away and then break again at the second rotation.

We also got new raid pokemon with various uses in content that was very easy to do. As three-fourths of the pokemon had quad weaknesses, many could be duoed if needed. Only one, Xurkitree, needed about four people, but it was also the most raid-relevant and seemed like the easiest one to find people for. Admittedly, the short raid times mean that anyone playing solo or in a poorly populated area would have to drive more and pray they could find Remote Raiders on short notice, but again, the odds were actually on Niantic’s side for once. Whether or not that was planned, I’m not sure, but I’ll save the negativity for other areas of the event.

But it was more than that. For one, Niantic’s July Community Day for Staraptor was fairly boring but also helped prop up people who didn’t have good Flying pokemon. No, Staraptor wasn’t exciting, and its featured move barely did anything to help it, but as two-thirds of the new raid pokemon were quad weak to that type, the timing was doubly relevant. Not only did it help the Go Fests that those pokemon appeared in throughout the season, but it helped with the finale. And if not giving high access to a useable ‘mon wasn’t enough, recent events pushed players to power-up pokemon via quests, which we noted earlier this month. Even I got in on the action and was rewarded with frequent “Hardest Hitter” rewards throughout the day.

This is where we had some good game design: Players were given access to the tools needed, gently prodded to invest in them, and then given a soft but rewarding target to use them on. Often this kind of thoughtful design from Niantic is geared towards monetization, such as the now gone weekly 1 coin boxes, which initially were rewarding and quickly became a game of “What will people waste coins on?”

And there was something for everyone: PvPers got Buzzwole, raiders got Xurkitree as their new non-Mega/non-Shadow Electric king, whales looking to get a minor edge over other raiders could hit Pheromosa for a new niche glass canon, and people who missed the initial Go Fest got a second chance at Nihilego, which is useful right now for Zacian.

And they would get it, thanks to the new ball type brought over from the main games. Beast Balls worked as a good “buff” to ensure this, as the catch rates were much higher than using the traditional Premier Balls, so people probably didn’t see as many “losses,” which feels good. Most pokemon I threw a Beast Ball at were caught on the first or second hit, rarely taking more than that. I suspect the Ultra Beasts will either be coming back again without the Beast Balls, be featured in new and maybe different content, or be relegated to special events only, but for Go Fest’s finale, the Beast Ball made winning the raid feel much more like a win and less like earning the right to play a carnival game to win your prize.

I heard a decent number of people happy about their shinies, at least in terms of number of shinies, and it does seem fairly normal. No, I didn’t get all the ones I wanted myself, but I got some fun ones in addition to desirable ones. I think the ultimate highlight was getting Shiny Pinsir and as the very next pokemon, Shiny Scyther (Gen 1 fans can hopefully appreciate that). I say this as someone who often forgets to shiny hunt and often deletes spares if I can’t trade them away (don’t worry, I do age a few for trades, and when possible, I send them to randoms in Pokemon HOME’s Wonder Trade).

This really feels like what the June Go Fest should have been, but it works as a Finale for sure. In fact, I think I got most of what I wanted from Go Fest for shinies today. I don’t want to make it sound like Niantic is off the hook, as the despawn issue was and is a problem, but it was far less so today.

And that’s the other success: no major bugs. Yes, the spawn/despawn bug is still around, but not as pronounced, and nothing felt so screwy that I’d ask for a makeup event. Everything seemed to have worked as it should, and that is saying a lot for Niantic. I will admit I’m sad Cowboy Hat Snorlax didn’t make an appearance, but you can’t have everything I suppose. The ticket quests to give access to the regional Go Fest exclusive research Ultra Beasts (low enough to enter Great League) helps a lot in terms of perceptible fairness, at least by a bit.

The bugs that weigh us down

While the event felt like a success overall, it wasn’t perfect, not because of some new issue Niantic introduced but because old design problems reared their head.

Let’s start with the biggest issue many of us worried about going into this: Niantic did largely fix the despawn bug, but not fully. And I’m not surprised, as I’d reported since the last event that it wasn’t fixed; incense spawns still often stick around even when despawned. Admittedly, it could be related to quick catching, which itself is technically a bug and allows single-phone players to do things multi-phone players can do. Still, a bug’s a bug, and being bad enough that people still want a refund for an event means Niantic should have put more of a priority in completely fixing it. For this reason, I don’t think anyone’s completely over that disaster, especially as the bug popped up frequently enough during the Finale to remind people that this wasn’t a make-up event.

Then there’s the long-standing history of Niantic’s timing restrictions. I was unable to play with anyone from my usual group because of event day and hours. If our core members aren’t there, it’s hard to bring in newcomers. To note, these are also my trade partners, and while I know other people and even bumped into a few I hadn’t expected to see, they’d already used their Special Trades for the day, either with people they’re more familiar with or (we’ll discuss this more later) their alt accounts.

Having a default time to get everyone out is nice when showing data to potential investors. I get that. But giving players the ability to change their event hours/days would be too. Or maybe even stretching things out over a few days in some cases. Again, for me, the day, time, and hours were good. But when someone has a three-hour commitment in the middle of the one-day event, and blocks are in two-hours without repeating later, that person misses out. The game’s community manager had previously said choosing how you “experience” the game isn’t against Niantic’s goals, but it at least feels like your experience must match Niantic’s schedule.

Now, at least for raid fans, the last hour was a good round-up, but the spawns were new. What Niantic could do is keep this idea that raids are on Niantic’s imposed schedule and then do a final round-up at the end, but the company could allow players to choose their event schedule. Maybe someone wants one-hour blocks, or someone wants to go from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. instead of 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. This isn’t exactly a new problem or suggestion, but it’s small problems like this, building in the background for years now, climaxing with the Community Day hours nerf, that many players I talked to are focused on – if they’re still playing at all.

But that’s not all. Once again, Niantic hid basic, start-of-an-event gameplay (like using incense required for event spawns) behind mid-to-end level quests. Maybe it’s greedy game design (which we’ll address later), or maybe the person who runs things from the top just doesn’t know how to play the game (or even care).

See, Niantic added a feature that lets you stack timed consumables so you don’t need to keep refreshing them, but I don’t think the game ever explains that. It’s something several of us saw in patch notes years ago and just kind of… do. And then we tell new players. And it blows their mind, so they try it out.

…and then Niantic pulls this, “Use that consumable!” after you’ve used all the ones you’ve wanted to use for the whole event. It’s not exactly a new tactic for Niantic, but it’s uncalled for, being greedy at worst and incredibly bad design at best.

But it’s probably not that “at best” scenario. Niantic also once again swapped out reasonable “sales” and put out boxes that are not actually sales. Yes, it was nice there were suddenly three free premium passes, but given we had three brand-new raid pokemon, one of which is the best in class for raiding and the other two of which are usable in certain niches, there was high demand. It’s one thing to change the price of something when a good has limited availability, but doing this with digital goods is always shady. This is becoming a new normal for Niantic, though, and that’s important to pay attention to, as dataminers have found that Niantic is planning to launch video ads inside the game.

I’ve said a lot of negative things about Niantic, but at the end of the day, one thing that often has saved its games is that no matter how awful its monetization, it’s still vastly superior to its competitors’ money-grubbing. Video ads specifically actually prevented me from getting more into both Jurassic World Alive and Maguss. Both games’ gameplay was at least comparable to Niantic games and sometimes superior, especially in terms of Maguss vs. Harry Potter: Wizards Unite (RIP to both games now), but their monetization was terrible.

The constant squeeze is being felt, and the question isn’t so much “Is this fun?” but “How little do I want it to hurt?” when it comes to certain areas of the game. Before someone says it in the comments, yes, quitting the game is always on the table, but it’s certainly not because of this event. It’s because over-monetization and disrespect for players is overshadowing the game outside of some of the better events. One thing players noted around me was that COVID was actually the new “good old days” for the game, and going from that charitable and flexible Niantic to the new Scrooge McDuck flavor is not one people seem to want to put up with much longer.

The multi-account issue

The lack of Pokestop quests “refreshing” throughout the event was another old problem that still wasn’t addressed, but it’s been a long standing problem Niantic’s never really tackled. It was nice that Niantic rotated the available quests and rewards when the themes changed, but most people can burn through a few crowded city blocks worth of quests in less than an hour. I was stingy and I could have changed areas three-fourths of the way through. If you’re playing in a rural or suburban area though, you’re just SOL when that happens, or playing Pokemon-Go-Drive-Around-Town. It’s why there’s often a gap between those of us who actually play and walk vs. those who largely drive around.

And this is probably the last major gripe about the event: multi-accounters. Despite the fact that most people were out playing without masks or really social distancing, more than a few players lamented the lack of distance trading because, again, some people missed the event, or had to play near work instead of with friends, or were out of town.

But multi-accounters don’t have to worry about that so much, as they can trade with themselves all day, every day. While Niantic’s TOS forbids multi-accounting under section 3.1, I’ve never heard of it being enforced. At absolute best, I’ve seen gyms deleted when someone with 12 accounts across two teams hoarded two gyms and win-traded himself for daily coins for at least months, if not years. Outside of that, though, any Go event will have a large number of people playing on two (or even more) phones at once, even at official, in-person Niantic events.

And the continued Mega problem

I only make mention of this because the Go Fest Finale closes out the first season with the new iteration of it, but Megas still are vastly underutilized. Again, there were lots of multi-accounters, so that could be a factor. However, for the most part, I’d argue less than 50% of the players used Megas during the event. Now for most events, this wouldn’t surprise me. There are a lot of Mega pokemon as we’ve discussed, which means a lot of Energy to be had and pokemon to invest in.

Except the Go Fest Finale could easily be done with one Mega Pokemon: Mega Beedril. As I noted, three-fourths of the event hours had good pokemon Mega Beedril could give bonus XL and regular candy for, and it did the same for three-fourths of the raid bosses. That sounds good if you have Mega Beedril, as most Megas rotate, and that’s the catch: Mega Beedril is free. Unlike all other Megas, Beedril’s Mega energy rains down on players just by spinning gyms. Back in December, a returning player who knew nothing about the Mega system found that she’d already gotten enough energy to Mega her Beed after playing for only a few days.

The Go Fest Finale should have been an explosion of Mega use, even moreso than the Mega Raids event, and it wasn’t. The absolute highest usage I saw in a raid was 70% (literally seven users with Megas out of 10 people). Full raids (20 people) never had more than 12 Mega users and often fell below that. As one reader has previously commented, it’s not necessarily a problem with the buffs; it’s the temporary buff on a specific pokemon you keep paying a tax on. Being chained to only Mega pokemon to “earn” the energy to pay that tax isn’t fun, and because Beedril is the only “freebie,” it seems most people write off the feature entirely. That’s a big L for the Mega system, which as we’ve noted, is in its third iteration.

Things can always be better, but we can’t let perfect be the enemy of good. The Go Fest Finale was good. I’d retroactively recommend it – far more than any of the regional tours Niantic has pushed out before. In fact, in terms of one-day events, it’s a good template for Niantic to start out with: build up the players with pre-main event content that scaffolds for the planned main content, give some light “fluff” content to build around, add good spawns, sprinkle in some fun shiny options, layer on a healthy dose of raid passes for actual multiplayer interaction, with unique buffs and reasonable hours.

Gameloops could be tightened, quest objectives could be made more logical, and bugs can and should be fixed, but this is still a good starting point. If only it hadn’t taken Niantic six years to get here.

Massively OP’s Andrew Ross is an admitted Pokemon geek and expert ARG-watcher. Nobody knows Niantic and Nintendo like he does! His Massively on the Go column covers Pokemon Go as well as other mobile MMOs and augmented reality titles!
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