19 Mar 2018 19:41 IST

Leverage Pokemon Go’s strong social aspects

Niantic should enhance player-vs-player features, make game more responsive, fine-tune technology

Pokémon Go was released in summer 2016, combining the brand equity of Pokémon and a unique AR-GPS based gameplay that enabled participating fans to live out their Pokémon trainer fantasy. The game brought a fresh application of technology into a super saturated market and was rewarded for it.

Shubhanshuk Sarkar

What steps would you take to arrest the decline in consumer interest in the Pokémon Go game?

The original Pokémon games enabled players to trade with and battle (player vs player, or PvP) each other, pushing one player to “Catch ‘Em All” (see Figure 1). The overwhelming response to the app launch and consequent technical overload issues prevented Niantic from implementing these features in the app game. Niantic should focus additional resources to developing social features and reduce the feature’s time to market.

The current battling system in Pokémon Go is minimalistic and generic, designed to attract casual players. It hinders PvP implementation as any lag can make combat simulation difficult on competing devices. Pokémon Go should revert to the original turn-based battle system. Such a system rewards knowledge of the universe, driving increased engagement and allowing each character to be unique in combat. And it is easier to handle lags in turn-based battles.

Showing other players on the map will be an excellent way to connect local players and develop hot spots for Pokémon activity. This will develop a community for trading and enhance PvP features.

Pokémon Go has high processing power and connectivity requirements. Though mobile devices are getting smarter, connectivity is still an issue in many places. Niantic should make the game more responsive, even in low internet connectivity areas, thus better catering to fans located in such areas.

The AR technology used is basic, essentially superimposing Pokémon sprites on a background. Niantic should make the AR technology more sophisticated, leveraging external AR knowledge by acquisition or alliances and make the Pokémon smartly interact with their surroundings.

What measures would you put in place to discourage the cheaters?

Investing time and resources to plug in security features and shut down trackers will become more expensive for Niantic over time. A supplementary way will be to use social incentives to dissuade the cheaters. Niantic should focus resources on developing mechanisms to detect cheaters.

When Pokémon Go starts showing the users other nearby players, the detected cheaters can be flagged as a nuisance, like tagging them as Team Rocket (the villains in Pokémon TV series). The flagging will have a temporary duration, depending on the severity of cheating. Niantic will have to educate users on how someone becomes part of Team Rocket, so players know when they are dealing with a hacker.

Instead of banning such players, Niantic can alter the gameplay elements for cheaters. For instance, it could make a rare Pokémon appear but just keep it out of the reach of the spoofer. Another way would involve the Pokémon casually walking away from the capture screen and an explanatory notice being displayed to the cheater. Niantic can also turn the odds against hackers in matches by deliberately missing offensive attacks or decrease defences for the Pokémon.

What would you do to leverage Pokémon Go’s potential to become a 20-year franchise?

Successfully establishing a franchise is an extraordinary feat in the mobile games market (see the figure). To make Pokémon Go a 20-year franchise, two strategies can be explored: multiply or specialise.

Multiply: Angry Birds shot to fame in 2009 and has now branched into 17 different games with differing game-play elements. Pokémon Go can leverage its existing character brand equity and build a roster of complementary games in different genres, deriving from the rich lore in the world of Pokémon.

Developing the Angry Birds franchise required support by a host of complementary activities, such as movies and toys. Pokémon already has the existing marketing infrastructure in place and can expand at a relatively cheaper cost.

Specialise: Candy Crush Saga, an F2P (free to play) marvel, was released in 2012. Though it has spun off a new line of Crush Saga games and has endured countless imitations, it remains the major crowd-puller in its category today. Pokémon Go can build on its unique gameplay, incorporating widely demanded features and developing a continuous interaction stream with its fan base.

Pokémon Go is a unique experiment in mobile gaming with strong social aspects. The monetisation effort should be specially designed to leverage such aspects. Niantic should focus resources on cultivating fan communities to assist and offer their opinions in the development process. This way, Pokémon Go will evolve into a sticky product for players.


(The winner is a first-year PGP student from IIM Bangalore)