Massively on the Go: Why Pokemon Go elite raids fail while Scarlet/Violet tera raids fly

    
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As we recently noted while updating our March Pokemon Go event round-up, Niantic has somehow made the already hated Elite Raids even worse. The single-day, highly specific raids were unevenly distributed by time this round, as Niantic primarily funneled availability to the 11 a.m. hours, and were impacted by bugs preventing people from raiding, making the pokemon harder to catch, making it unable to eat, and not even awarding the promised quest, in addition to the old bugs Niantic has still not fixed. All this as the studio simultaneously published a blog claiming that it is working to improve in-person events via the Elite Raids, never mind that dataminers found that the event was incomplete when launching – and all of that following two particularly bad Hoenn Tours.

But POGO is very much a non-main series game for a reason. That’s not the case for Pokemon Scarlet and Violet. And while Game Freak and The Pokemon Company are no stranger to the bugs and glitches that affected tera raids, it’s barely worth talking about the issues. It’s not that all of them have been fixed; it’s just that Pokemon Scarlet and Violet fixes more bugs than it introduces. Nowhere is this seen better than by comparing POGO’s Elite Raids with SV’s Mightiest Mark event tera raids.

Mechanical differences

Now, to be fair, we can’t do a 1:1 comparison between the two games. In terms of style and complexity, POGO is much more limited because of its simplified mechanics. It’s also a mobile title, which means that unlike the studios behind Main Series Games (MSGs), Niantic has more operating systems and models to worry about than The Pokemon Company (TPC) does, same as with input systems.

That being said, I do think it’s fair to discuss mechanical choices. For example, SV introduced tera types, which essentially allow a pokemon to be any of the 18 types of pokemon. As pokemon learn a diverse array of moves and abilities, a different type can really make a pokemon feel different. Look no further than the initial Charizard tera raids I mentioned in our guide to preparing for tera raids. Normally, Rock Types easily bring ‘Zard to its knees because of its quad-weakness to Rock that comes with being a Fire/Dragon type. By giving it a Dragon typing, designers erase that weakness completely. Furthermore, Charizard had answers to fellow Dragons and (thanks to having so many Fire moves) to Ice types, leaving only Fairy types to hurt it, something that’s unheard of without tera typing being a thing.

Now, as Niantic makes side games, so we shouldn’t expect all that, or at least, not yet. But at this point, Niantic could have Z-moves, a feature from Gen 7 that I previously argued could be used to bring new life to the game and meta. But Niantic, for whatever reason, left it out. PvP already has in-combat minigames, stat boosts, and stat debuffs. All and any of those could be worked into raids to add more depth to what currently amounts to a DPS race. Because Niantic builds on top of TPC’s existing work, it struggles with having to balance power creep while also making new pokemon/moves relevant. Sadly, as you’ll often see our favorite analysts JRE, Teban54, and Ryan Swag lamenting, Niantic is all over the place in this department, to the point that I don’t think anyone understands why certain moves are given out (see the new Regis or recent Boomburst comments).

Niantic could just spice things up by having raid pokemon use moves they can’t learn for players but still have access to in the main games. The biggest problem, though, is that the company is basically a data collection tech group masquerading as a game publisher, using players as employees to harvest data to use in other apps or sell to partners. If it weren’t, you could be sure that Remote Raiding would still be something people could at least do weekly for free, and more challenging raids would be easier for even rural players to participate in.

I say all this because even if we argue POGO is a simplified Pokemon game, the problem is that it’s become clear that Niantic isn’t focused on gameplay the same way Game Freak is. POGO is at the mercy of its monetization model, which puts harvesting data ahead of gameplay. That alone is why the company will often lose in any comparison with another company in terms of mechanics and “fun.” Niantic does tend to have less-predatory monetization models than other mobile games (but maybe not by much when looking at in-person event disasters or the gamble-boxes that are incubators). Even so, I’m placing most of this as a side note because while it’s not fair to judge the two games based on their vastly different basics, I do think it’s fair to judge them on what they do with those basics.

The depths of strategy

POGO strategy is simple: find the best DPS pokemon, look at your collection, match it, and invest in those pokemon. That’s it. It’s like a no-frills racing game. Yes, there are little things you can do to improve play – know which pokemon are more effective when they take a hit vs. the ones that need to dodge, know when to use a single-bar charge move vs multi-bar charge move, know when to dodged, things like that. It’s small, largely single-player stuff, and raids are defeated largely with alone-together strategies, like defeating Dynamic Events in Guild Wars 2 or FATEs in Final Fantasy XIV, but without any kind of scaling in terms of difficulty or level.

There’s a reason we really don’t talk POGO raid strategy on this site beyond which pokemon are useful with which moves and roughly how many players you may need for a raid. At this point in the game’s life, I can’t imagine a full lobby of 20 people failing any content unless they’re all new.

SV, on the other hand, is more like a puzzle. As I mentioned above, in the mechanics, TPC does hold the cards here, but Niantic could use what it has to make something more interesting but doesn’t. Now, admittedly, this does mean there’s a higher learning curve in SV. I can’t bring people in as easily, and the battles can frustrate everyone. POGO has the advantage of being easy to jump into and feel successful, but (assuming no bugs prevent raid completion) victory and defeat aren’t strongly felt one way or the other. It’s not that they don’t matter, but the stakes are often low, most of us have enough time to get support, and most losses are ones we generally know are coming, like not having enough players.

For SV players, despite the greater mechanical challenge, it’s also super satisfying to see people who were initially terrible at tera raids actually look over reading material and/or find a way to better themselves. There’s more to call out if you’re able to communicate with the other player, more randomness to tackle, and more of a challenge that can’t be overcome simply by having more people. There’s fun in mastery and beating something you can’t just burst DPS down. It’s not that POGO lacks a sense of improving one’s skills; it’s just shallow by comparison, especially when the hardest part about the game is often simply gathering enough players.

And that’s the biggest strategic difference: POGO is largely going to be about numbers. SV requires some thoughtfulness. POGO does have some thinking involved, but zerging is so common that I still know players from 2016 who largely don’t make teams, don’t dodge, and rapidly press buttons on a couple of phones to beat raids by themselves. For rural players or smaller groups, yes, there’s a thrill to beating something with a few players, but sometimes having just one more player trivializes the encounter. Worse, though, is that since POGO rewards (beyond the captured boss) are based on the time you take to defeat the boss, there’s no in-game reward for a higher challenge. You actually get less stuff for the most part by increasing the challenge. It’s very poor game design.

Fun is a relative term, of course. People who don’t want a lot of thinking or prefer building a strategy out of recruiting people and timing schedules obviously would prefer POGO. But for players looking to flex video game skills, there’s no comparison here: SV not only still allows for short-manning content but has in-game factors to sort through, and it doesn’t skimp on rewards. POGO is great for the little victories or if you’re brushing up on just getting people together, but SV does that on a smaller human scale while ramping up available strategies and allowing for easier access to a community for less money and time.

Bug differences

Again, neither Niantic nor Game Freak is a perfect company, but I have to say that one has much more serious issues than the other. SV bugs are largely visual. Some affect raids, and some affect whole game files after the recent update. But these are few and far between at this point. None affect a whole timezone or country, and they’re not ongoing practices from a company that just seems to refuse to do (or respond to feedback from any) internal testing.

If I look at the original Mightiest Mark Charizard raids, the bug that affected my groups the most was the inability to complete a Cheer, causing players to sit out of the fight for several turns. It did cost me some battles as most people don’t seem to notice when it affects allies, don’t know that not making a decision means you won’t get attacked for awhile, or don’t pay attention. Nevertheless, at least we didn’t have to drive somewhere just to start, possibly pay $1 for each raid attempt, or have time run out on all possible attempts in that area and be forced to walk/drive to another location (if one can be found at all).

When a bug affects you in SV, it’s annoying and costs you some time. POGO bugs may eat up all your attempts for the day. As I recently noted in a Massively Overthinking article, it’s one of the worst FOMO offenders I know of, with some events not only being only a few hours long but requiring the player to purchase them or maybe even travel to a specific location. Even worse, Niantic seems to forget to test or even complete said events before releasing them, and support won’t necessarily reimburse you. Again, recent bugs prevented an entire country from doing raids, and then the make-up event was also buggedSV players don’t have anything this bad to deal with in terms of bugs or real-world logistics. It may not seem fair to compare the two, but at the same time POGO, the game that’s already mechanically easier, should be more flexible and less punishing, yet it isn’t. 

Logistic issues

MOP readers probably notice that SV players have weeks to mull over potential builds. They get several days for an event pokemon, need just a single one, get desirable rewards for helping others through, and thus far immediately know when they get a second crack at it if they miss the first release.

This is not true at all for POGO players. At best, we’re told to hold a day, but it’s the whole day: Niantic rarely gives us the event hours in a timely fashion. We have monthly event roundups here because details are released at a snail’s pace, dripping throughout weeks, with Niantic sometimes “announcing” details only after content is already out in the wild. I would go so far as to say that dataminers really help the community more than Niantic by showing us the guts of the game as early as possible to give us a clearer view of what Niantic hides. It’s simply a difference of respect: TPC respects players’ time and limitations. Niantic doesn’t because, again, the player is basically an unpaid volunteer generating both work and income for the company.

As one reader has previously mentioned, it’s possible to solo SV content if you wish. As the online community can be pretty bad (remember, despite some of us playing the games since middle school, it’s still aimed at all ages, so SV could be baby’s-first-Pokemon-game), yes, soloing can sometimes be easier than group play, though with a semi-competent group and some prep-work, you can blaze through multiple high-end raids significantly faster than a solo player.

Of course, this column is about MMOs and online games you can play on the go: It’s totally possible to schedule a time when you and some friends can meet somewhere to tackle the raid together if you don’t want to do it alone in your room while chatting on Discord. POGO doesn’t have a monopoly on local multiplayer. The difference, though, is the SV content is more broadly available. You don’t need to be at a highly specific and most likely randomized location to get anything done, and you won’t need a ton of people either. Planning your raids are easy enough. Heck, you technically don’t even need to be online if you don’t want to, though it also means you can’t pick up extra players or potentially get more (legitimate) raids from online players.

Niantic isn’t into giving players options or flexibility. Look no further than POGO’s Community Day events, which have never lasted full days outside of the December round-up-weekend events. They did previously last six-hours, and then Niantic chose to manipulate data and claim that it was better to reduce them back to three. While not explicitly about raids, these events do push raiding, but the value simply isn’t there. If you’re able to play the actual event, there’s little reason to use $1 valued raid passes to catch a pokemon you’ve been chasing for hours, especially since you most likely still need time to look through everything you caught, trade with other players, and then figure out what to evolve, again, in a matter of hours. These raids are only for big spenders or sad players who need the bonus spawns because the missed out on the proper event. In that light, Niantic is asking those players to pay $1 per 30 minutes to experience the event after hours – something SV players simply don’t have to worry about.

Between driving times, finding locations to raid, getting people together, actually paying to play, and only having a few hours on a single day to do it, POGO Elite Raids in particular are a logistics nightmare and seem highly disrespectful of the player. While I admittedly haven’t played SV in public and met anyone through it, I’ve also spent far less money and angry moments in SV doing tera raids. I doubt Niantic would change the Elite Raids to make them anything like tera raids, but at the least the company could take a page from Game Freak and make content that’s less buggy and more respectful of players’ logistical challenges. Again, while fun is a relative term, I doubt most people would find driving around town to play a video game with potential additional charges and is broken when they could stay home and play something slightly more challenging that largely has humorous visual glitches, if even that.

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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