I never played a Pokémon game until last week. Then, like most of America it seems, I threw myself into the addictive machine that is PokémonGO. I’ve now caught somewhere around 200 Pokémon (it’s hard to count because I’ve traded many of them to upgrade others) and walked (or run) something like 50 miles in search of the wee beasties. As much as I enjoy the game, I like most users find aspects totally frustrating. Here’s the five things that bother me most.
1. The Servers. The Servers!
You know this had to make the list, and I’m putting it first because everyone knows what I’m talking about and we’re all sick of hearing about it. How is it the servers always seem to wait to crash until you’re already far from home–or, God forbid, have traveled to a specific destination in search of that legendary Pokémon?
It seems to me that to publish a game that mandates introverts leave their homes, and then have the game crash every time they get a mile from home, is a form of bullying.
And can we agree that when you’ve licensed the rights to the most popular video game franchise in the world, your servers shouldn’t come from GoDaddy?
2. The Broken Pokometer
If I have traveled 50 miles while searching for Pokémon, the game has given me credit for only about 25. If you’re a player, you know this is especially frustrating because you need to travel a certain distance to hatch an egg. I’ve actually worn a GPS watch while playing the game, and calculated that PokémonGO gives players credit for roughly half of the distance they actually travel. That means to hatch your 5k egg, you have to walk about 6 miles.
And yes, I know you have to keep the app running and in the foreground to get credit for your distance. I guess that’s why they didn’t just tie the pedometer function to Apple Health on iOS, but I don’t know why their distance tracking isn’t more accurate. I really want to know what’s inside my 10k egg.
3. The Lack of Instructions
It took me long enough to figure out Snapchat, thanks, I really didn’t need another reminder that I’m getting old.
I’m embarrassed to admit how long I tapped at the picture on a Pokéstop before I realized I was supposed to spin it–or that I don’t just tap on the picture of a Pokéball to try and catch a Pokémon. Thankfully there are now plenty of explainers out there to teach out-of-touch adults how to play the game, with or without their kids.
4. Regional Inequality
I hate to break it to you, but if you live in a big city, your PokémonGO experience is going to be a lot more fun, and a lot less expensive, than for players in more rural or suburban areas.
I learned this on a trip to visit my parents in the suburbs. Whereas Pokéstops, which distribute supplies like Pokéballs for free, are plentiful in major cities (there are 2 or 3 per block in many sections of New York City, including my neighborhood) they are few and far between in the suburbs. I walked five miles from my parents’ house, in a pretty densely developed suburb outside Philadelphia, and found exactly TWO Pokéstops. That meant that a half hour into my hunt, I found myself making my first in-game purchase when I ran out of Pokéballs just before finding a Tangela.
Not that Pokémon were abundant, either. I thought maybe by seeking out vast open fields I might find more exotic species, but instead I found nothing. Many of my friends in suburban areas have spoken of a similar plight–mile after mile of walking, and not so much as a rustle of leaves.
I was an Ingress player for two brief, obsessive weeks in 2014, and it certainly appears that all Pokéstops originated as Ingress portals, which Ingress players have (or had) the ability to add. There is no such function in PokémonGO, so you just have to live with Pokéstops where you can find them. Since Ingress was a relatively underground game popular with college students and computer geeks, you’re best off looking in densely populated areas like cities, especially near universities.
As for the Pokémon themselves, it certainly seems that they appear more frequently in crowded, popular areas. Try shopping malls and commercial districts, or restaurant row on a busy night. I can’t tell whether the area needs to be crowded at the moment you’re searching, or just generally popular. The catch here, of course, is that crowded areas seem to put more strain on the server connection, which takes us back to item one.
If I were a PokémonGO player who lived in the suburbs or country, though, I’d be pretty annoyed that players in the city are getting the same experience for free and with a LOT less walking.
5. Disability (In)access
Sue me, but I believe a game this fun, and this popular, should be accessible for everyone to enjoy. Kotaku has a good writeup of the game’s issues for players with disabilities. You might argue that the game is new, or that it’s tricky when the game mechanics are what they are, to accommodate players with disabilities. I say figure it out.
I realize Pokémon pop up in somewhat random locations, and not every one is going to be accessible to everyone–those rustling leaves in my neighbor’s yard are pretty much off limits, for example, as are the ones inside the perimeter of the ConEd generating plant in Northwest Queens (What? I really want a Pikachu!) but finding ways to include players with various disabilities is important, and Niantic should have put more effort into that up front. Now that the issue has been raised, I hope they’ll hurry to develop solutions to include everyone.